Glasgow International

The Changing Face of GI

by Carmel Wilkinson-Ayre, May 3rd, 2018

Since it was established in 2005, Glasgow International (now in its eighth edition) has developed in many ways. Below, Carmel Wilkinson-Ayre looks back on the very first festival and considers its relationship with GI 2018.

Glasgow International’s 2005 debut edition consisted of over 150 artists and contributors. Founded and directed by Francis McKee, with 29 exhibitions and installations for view, the festival included long-established names such as Adrian Wisniewski, John Byrne and Alasdair Gray alongside emerging artists from Glasgow and beyond.

Located primarily in the city centre, the exhibitions ranged from performances, such as Creative Review at Glasgow Project Room (Jenny Hogarth and Kim Coleman) to video works at Market Gallery (Will Duke), Tramway (Francis Alys) and Glasgow Printmakers (Douglas Gordon). Although the programme had no official theme, recurring references were made to the ever-current concerns of “civilisation’s beautifully scarring and augmenting nature”, as ‘Map Magazine’ put it.

CREATIVE REVIEW, Jenny Hogarth and Kim Coleman, 2005, performance still, Glasgow Project Room. Photo: Map Magazine Jenny Hogarth and Kim Coleman, ‘Creative Review’, 2005, performance still, Glasgow Project Room. Photo: Map Magazine

Many of the venues and institutions that participated in Glasgow International’s first edition are still involved 13 years on. There’s been noticeable development in the variety of non-profit organisations, artist-run spaces, studios, institutions and indoor and outdoor spaces participating in this year’s festival.

However, the festival still plays to a key strength described by Moira Jeffrey in ‘The Herald’ in 2005: “What I’ve seen at Glasgow International is an eye for site-specific detail, a willingness to open up, Tardis-like, the city’s hidden spaces.”

Founding Director Francis McKee explained his vision for the 2005 festival in an interview in ‘The Scotsman’ at the time: “I don’t think we want to invent a glossy biennale feel which is purely international, like an airport. Some biennales and festivals you go to, you could be in Amsterdam, you could be in Germany, you could be in São Paulo. I like something where I feel I’ve actually been to a country.”

This original aim is still in evidence well over a decade on; a sense of community is a constant presence at GI. This year’s festival is supported by the work of a large but close-knit team of over 100 volunteers, who have responsibilities in every area from invigilation, photography and install work to social media and blogging. A newly commissioned work for GI 2018 by Mick Peter, ‘The Regenerators’, involved the cooperation of young people from across the West of Scotland, coinciding with Scotland’s Year of Young People. Glasgow International continues to aim to promote the city as a whole, introducing local and international art to Glasgow’s art community and new audiences.

Mick Peter, 'The Regenerators', 2018. Photo: Erika Stevenson Mick Peter, ‘The Regenerators’, 2018. Photo: Erika Stevenson

Directed by Richard Parry, GI 2018 follows the biennial structure established in 2008, with the programme divided into several strands: the Director’s Programme, the Supported Programme, Open Glasgow and Across the City. Expanding to a mammoth selection of around 270 artists and 90 exhibitions as well as well over 80 events across dozens of venues, the festival stretches east to Dalmarnock and west to Glasgow Botanic Gardens, spanning the width of the city and its outer suburbs.

Adding to the intrigue and diversity of GI 2018 is the exciting range of venues and spaces included. Many make truly innovative use of space, such as David Dale Gallery and Studios, which occupies an industrial exposed and enclosed warehouse. Blurring the boundaries between indoor and outdoor, the gallery challenges many of the ‘freshest’ art spaces in Berlin and London. The main hub for the festival, at Trongate 103, is also home to a wide range of galleries, workshops and project spaces hosting GI shows. These include the likes of disability and mental health initiative Project Ability, where Esther Ferrer’s ‘House Party’ and Nnena Kalu’s colourful exhibition are currently on display.

Nnena Kalu, 2018, Project Ability Gallery. Photo: Carmel Wilkinson-Ayres Nnena Kalu, 2018, Project Ability Gallery. Photo: Carmel Wilkinson-Ayre

The loose thematic focus of this year’s festival is on the age of the internet and human-tech interactions, with links to science fiction. Shifting individual and collective identities, alternate realities and fantasy worlds feature heavily.

For example, Ulrike Ottinger’s ‘Still Moving’ exhibition at the Hunterian Art Gallery provides a gateway to the invented landscapes of this internationally renowned filmmaker and photographer. Tai Shani, too, transports visitors from one universe to another with her installation ‘Dark Continent: SEMIRAMIS’ at Tramway. The show marries performance, audio recording and set design. A truly immersive experience, an afternoon can quickly fade when spent listening to the poignant, poetic yet sometimes graphic scripts, often read in soothing tones.

Tai Shani, 'Dark Continent: Semiramis', 2018, Tramway. Photo: Carmel Wilkinson-Ayres Tai Shani, ‘Dark Continent: Semiramis’, 2018, Tramway. Photo: Carmel Wilkinson-Ayre

Described by ‘The Guardian’ as harnessing the spirit of Glasgow’s “uniquely collaborative scene”, GI 2018 continues to provide often local insights into the artistic practices and themes circulating internationally. Despite the difference in scale, this year’s festival is similar to the very first: Glasgow and its community are at its heart.

More about previous GI editions in the archive

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Glasgow international 2018