Focus your ‘Attention’
Writer Amah-Rose Abrams explores how three Gi2021 works intersect with one another and the theme of 'Attention'
This edition of Glasgow International is presented with the theme ‘Attention’, a visceral word with a broad spectrum of meanings. The works presented reflect these myriad meanings resulting in a varied and thoughtful programme which boasts a diverse range of artists, exhibitions and projects including Eva Rothschild, Martine Syms, Paul Kindersley and Nina Beier. The aftermath of the pandemic has meant our attention has been guzzled, grabbed, diverted, consumed and shattered so as we begin to emerge into a new landscape how does this potency translate into the realised projects of the participating artists.
Issues of work and labour have dominated life in recent times and this is explored in the group exhibition Songs For Work at the Glasgow Project Space. Aideen Doran, Beth Dynowski and Susannah Stark explore our relationship with work in this project which was started prior to but realised through the pandemic.
“Over the past year, from what I’ve seen from my own working life and the working lives of people around me, those of us still lucky enough to be in employment, have seen an intense sort of overspill of their work into their life,” says Beth Dynowski whose work comprises poetry and performance.
Inspired by the plight of the performer in current times Dynowski has, alongside the publication of Songs For Work, employed actor Christopher Scanlan to rest in the space as part of his performance. Stark’s sculptural work uses elements of mechanics and sound in response to deep psychological experiences she had due to illness but also through mindfulness.
“It is partly to do with meditation, which I took up more during the lockdown, and also about experiences of illness, of out of body experiences, being outside of my own body, then coming back into it and starting to visualise interior parts of the body in different ways,” says Stark.
Doran has created a sound work in response to feminist poet and thinker Karen Brodine’s (pictured top, courtesy of Red Letter Press) collection of poems Woman Sitting at the Machine, Thinking published posthumously in 1990.
“There is this spectrum between attention and presence that’s interesting, explored in different ways in this presentation,” says Doran. “There’s so much in Brodine’s poems, which talk about how the kinds of labour that she’s been that she’s involved with demand so much of her and her body and this basic kind of attention but she also carves out a space to let her mind wander.”
On view at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall is Gretchen Bender’s seminal work Total Recall, 1987. Widely considered to have been recognised late, Bender’s work is an integral protagonist of the first wave of media art. Total Recall comprises eight channels of film across twenty-four televisions stacked in formation, with three projections choreographed to the beat of a single soundtrack by her oft-collaborator Stuart Argabright. At a time when those of us locked down at home have had our attention focused, almost as one mind, on television as entertainment, this work and its challenging of the power of television media has particular resonance.
Bender described this huge scale and immersive work as electronic theatre and uses animation, news, advertising and film to explore and focus attention on the manipulative power of visual media. While Bender was a key member of the New York art scene in the 1980s her legacy is only just being assessed alongside her peers such as Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer. This is a fantastic opportunity to see an important, lesser seen work.
While there has a been a welcome focus on art made in the African continent and its diaspora of late the focus has been on predominantly male painters; this show takes that re-balancing focus on contemporary African art and shift it onto the feminine and the queer.
Body of Land which is installed at Street Level Photoworks is a joint exhibition of work by Nairobi based and Glasgow based Awuor Onyango and Sekai Machache as part of the British Council’s East Africa Arts programme, produced by Fòcas Scotland with the support of their hosting gallery. Focusing on the feminine, queer, subconscious and the spiritual both artists use photography and film but have produced separate bodies of work for this shared exhibition.
“The two of us basically spent the whole year talking online and listening to those meetings, I then went to Kenya for a month and Awour came over here in September, in that same year, 2018,” says Machache. “The project hasn’t been collaborative in the sense of us physically making work together, but it’s been collaborative in terms of the generative process of making the project between the two of us and how we’ve engaged like over that time.”
Across Glasgow International artists are addressing our changing socio-political landscape. Realised through the pandemic Body of Land and Song of Work are part of the physical and online programmes tackling issues such as body capital, employment, race gender and sexuality. These exhibitions sit in dialogue with Bender’s Total Recall which serves as a reminder to question and respond as we move into an active rebuilding of our lives.
Words: Amah-Rose Abrams, June 2021