Artist Graham Fagen and Hospitalfield's Lucy Byatt discuss plans for the 2015 Venice Biennale

Artist Graham Fagen and Hospitalfield's Lucy Byatt discuss plans for the 2015 Venice Biennale

Fagen has been asked to represent Scotland in next year's event

‘I can tell you for definite that I’ll do something. I’m not sure what yet, but there will definitely be something.’ It’s understandable that Glasgow-born artist Graham Fagen is reluctant to discuss any specific ideas for his solo presentation at the 2015 Venice Biennale, where – it’s just been announced – he’ll be representing Scotland. It might be the world’s biggest and most prestigious contemporary art event, with pavilions representing countries from all over the world jostling to attract the attentions of the hundreds of thousands of visitors out to experience the cultural cutting edge. But it’s still over a year away – it runs from 9 May to 22 November 2015. ‘It’s inevitable that some of my thoughts are already starting to go towards what could be possible for Venice,’ he continues. ‘But we don’t even know the venue or the location yet, and I could be imagining something that wouldn’t even fit, for example. I think it would be unfair to think about things too soon when we don’t even know where they’re going to go.’

And in any case, Fagen has plenty on his mind right now, with several large-scale projects in the coming months. ‘First there’s the Generation project, for which I’ve been invited to do seven different exhibitions. I suppose that’s where my head is at the moment. I’ve got a solo exhibition at the Glasgow School of Art that starts towards the end of June, and a big installation at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art that opens the following night. Then I’ve got another big solo project with theatre director Graham Eatough in Marseilles in September.’ Fagen’s previous work has combined video, performance, photography, sculpture, text and even plants, and he’s previously tackled issues of human identity and culture through the recurring use of flowers, journeys and popular songs in his work. He was invited by the Imperial War Museum to work as the official war artist for the Kosovo conflict in 1999, and this isn’t his first time in Venice, either: his work was previously shown in Venice at the 50th Biennale in 2003. ‘That was part of a wee group exhibition called Zenomap, with Simon Starling, Jim Lambie, Claire Barclay and others,’ says Fagen. ‘I guess the buck stops with me when it’s a solo show – if you’re in a group exhibition, you can always blame other people if it’s rubbish!’

Fagen’s selection, announced on 24 March, was made by the Scotland + Venice partnership of Creative Scotland, British Council Scotland and the National Galleries of Scotland. And it’s being curated and commissioned by Hospitalfield Arts, a residential artists’ learning and exhibition space based in the house of 19th century artist and collector Patrick Allan-Fraser near Arbroath. ‘The house has continuously been occupied by artists since then,’ explains Hospitalfield’s director, Lucy Byatt. ‘We work closely with artists to produce new work, and we’ll be working with Graham to deliver his project. And we’ll be working closely with the British Council and Creative Scotland to make it a very striking and visible project in the cacophony of clamouring voices that is the Venice Biennale. He may or may not use Hospitalfield and the area as a context, but we’ll show his work here after Venice, and it will probably be shown somewhere in the central belt as well. It’s fantastic for us to have this platform, to build visibility for our work, but it’s not that different from what we normally do.’

It’s a timely boost for Hospitalfield’s prominence at a time when Byatt is planning on expanding the centre’s activities. ‘We need to do a lot of renovation to the house, so we’re working on a £11.5m capital development. The majority of that will go on the house and the collections, but we also want to renew the artists’ studios and build a new reception building, which in addition to our own collections will house two amazing Bruegel paintings that are owned by Arbroath Council. I think we’ve been a little bit invisible for a little while, but we’ve become much more visible in the last year or so.’

And it’s not Fagen’s first contact with Hospitalfield. ‘I went there as a first year art student in Glasgow,’ he explains. ‘It was one of my first art school trips – we were there for a week on a sculpture project. We made all sorts of different sculptures on the beach and up at Hospitalfield House itself. It’s great to see a place like Hospitalfield start to come back onto the cultural map of Scotland.’

And how does he feel about the responsibility of representing his home nation in the world’s most important art show? ‘There are two ways you can think about it,’ he explains. ‘One it by dealing with your work, and for me, it’s really important to try and stay in that area. If I go out of that area and start to look at it from the outside, that’s when the pressure of responsibility gets in the road. But I guess to a degree at least, Scotland or Scottish culture, or the idea of Scottish identity through culture, are all who I am anyway, and that connection with Scotland is there in my work simply because of who I am and where I’m from.’

Re:new – Contemporary Art from the Permanent Collection

Contemporary work from Scottish and European artists, divided into a section offering different views of Dundee and another section featuring work inspired by the natural world. Featured artists include Catherine Yass, Ruth Ewan, Graham Fagen, John Stezaker and many more.

Graham Fagen: Cabbages in an Orchard

Graham Fagen has been researching the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his peers, and this exhibition presents work by Mackintosh and others, selected by Fagen, alongside new work.

Studio Jamming: Artists' Collaborations in Scotland

Work created as part of artistic collaborations, featuring pieces by Graham Eatough & Graham Fagen, Full Eye, Ganghut, and Henry VIII’s Wives.

Generation: 25 Years of Contemporary Art in Scotland

As part of the nationwide Generation programme, National Galleries Scotland mounts an epic two-part exhibition showing work by some of the country's most vital contemporary artists. Modern One features work by Ross Sinclair, Graham Fagen, Victoria Morton, Alison Watt, Julie Roberts, Lucy McKenzie and others, as well as…