Shifting ‘attention’: Glasgow International Director Richard Parry reflects on the theme for GI2021
Shifting 'Attention': Glasgow International Director reflects on the theme for GI2021
The theme of this year’s Glasgow International is ‘attention’ but in light of world events and the decision to postpone the festival from its earlier slot in 2020, it may also be apt to think about ‘shifting attention’.
As everything has changed around us in the past year, the way we pay attention has changed as well. The tempo of people’s lives adapted. For those lucky enough to retain regular employment, a commute might have transformed from an hour of boarding crammed trains to shuffling from the bedroom to the kitchen. The question of attending to those around us has changed too. The way in which how we care for those we love has needed to adapt at a time of both intense proximity in many living quarters, compounded with an enforced separation and distance from others.
Nonetheless, lockdown has provided us with the opportunity to consider what it is we truly prize in life. For many of us, the answers have lain in things that aren’t ascribed financial value. Alongside human relationships, we have been reminded of the true worth of expression and culture.
To pay attention to something is to bestow the value of concentration and time upon it. It is the decision of what to focus in on in detail and what to leave out or withdraw from. These past months have brought about substantial personal and social realisations for many. The events and protests following the murder of George Floyd have turned worldwide attention to the daily experiences and inequalities faced by people of colour and other marginalised communities. In doing so, it has placed a global focus on the examination of privilege and how to be more attentive to those around us, particularly those who face more barriers.
Similarly, the increasing urgency around climate change has refocused people and populations around the world on the convenience versus sustainability of our everyday lives, requiring new attention on even the most habitual actions in our homes and everyday lives.
Many of the exhibitions in Glasgow International are three years in the making now. We have sought to present the festival originally planned for a year ago as faithfully as possible, but also allowing space for re-appraisal. Some exhibitions have in a sense lain suspended in time for a year, others taking on changes and tweaks in the interim. A number of shows in the Across the City in particular have necessarily shifted fundamentally – whether to an online format or just in response to a different world today.
The placing of attention in something may relate to a curiosity and the pursuit of formal or aesthetic ends. It reminds us how art and expression permeate and give colour, soul, perception and intention to our lives. Attention seeks to step outside the everyday and open up a new space for looking, thinking and spending time with the work of artists and to see afresh the intent behind the work.
Whilst we have remained enclosed in our bubbles this past year, the desire to come together and reflect on political upheaval, personal changes and global concerns has not dimmed. The festival is a special moment in the creative rhythm of the city – and this year its way of enabling people to collectively share in this resonates like nothing in living memory.
Richard Parry, Director of Glasgow International
Image: Duncan Campbell, Untitled (2020) / Photo Patrick Jameson, courtesy of the artist.