Glasgow International 2014 — Reviewed

On her first visit to the GI, Frances Disley is left excited about the wider possibilities of the visual arts…

Having never experienced Glasgow International (or GI) before, I would compare it to All Tomorrow’s Parties music festival; going along knowing a few names, being prepared to be astounded or disappointed, with the chance to make discoveries along the way. I came away feeling high but exhausted, secretly hoping that it could happen again next weekend.

The launch consisted of a series of events, starting on the Thursday from 3pm and throughout each day, so that you could get around most of the venues by the end of Sunday. This included over 53 exhibitions; all listed in nice fold out maps and newsprint publications that had been floating around city centres for weeks.

There was a real sense of democracy in the way the weekend had been planned and publicised; the result being that visitors seemed to be attending absolutely everything that was on, us included. Somehow this managed to create and maintain a real buzz, which can be quite a tall order during arts festivals.

“Moore had created a kind of tableau of found objects for his piece Deffered Ceremony; surrounded by a fake electric fence, it seemed to suggest some elaborate ritual had occurred”

First stop: the Glasgow Sculpture Studios for Gareth Moore’s sculptural exhibition, produced during a recent residency. I was really quite taken with this show. Moore had created a kind of tableau of found objects for his piece Deffered Ceremony; surrounded by a fake electric fence, it seemed to suggest some elaborate ritual had occurred. Carefully placed and suspended objects were transformed; one simple bar of soap, for instance, was somehow transmogrified into a cosmic stone of destiny. For Dawn Chorus, Moore had created a giant animal hutch complete with sacks of generic animal feed. On entering the interior space, you were faced by pastel-coloured boxes, like creatures all gazing hopefully towards you, mouths open… Oh, I get it now! Maybe I was supposed to feed them?

There was a lot of excitement on the train up for Aleksandra Domanovic’s solo exhibition at Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA). Domanovic’s site specific work was described as ‘re-contextualising’ the gallery space as a ‘survival’ pod, ‘exploring the marginalised representation of women within popular science fiction and time travel’. Unfortunately, the large scale vinyl prints of satellites and robots didn’t live up to expectation, and we noticed it spent the weekend in passing being described as, ‘Oh, the shower curtain piece’. 

This disappointing experience made me consider the strange game to be played here of acknowledging the audience; one which is trawling around an epic arts festival, and not viewing work in the same contemplative manner that they usually would do (when visiting one specific venue). Perhaps this influences what artists choose to present at festivals and biennials.

Onwards. Anthea Hamilton and Nicholas Byrne’s Love inflatables in the Govanhill Baths was a welcome bit of fun on Friday afternoon — we could enjoy a coffee, cake and a good bounce around. It tackled head-on the issue of presenting art in a beautiful historic building, where, I imagine, other artworks could’ve been overpowered by the surroundings.

Thinking again about the comparison with a music festival, I started to get the same sort of excited feeling before seeing Bedwyr Williams at Tramway. Having previously seen him perform at Ceri Hand in Liverpool and at last year’s Venice Biennale, his work at Tramway didn’t disappoint. Everyone seemed to have turned up early, so by the time the doors opened, it was quite a weird experience entering on mass.

“His dystopian future is spellbinding. Yes, I’m a Bedwyr fan”

We were led through a bark-filled pine walkway into a large dark space with tracks and lights; moving towards the light, you came across an old coach with a film being projected from its luggage hold. There were suitcases to sit on and watch, so I obliged. I get the feeling that Williams creates these videos by expressing his train of thought first, without even considering how he will produce the footage that accompanies them, resulting in a wild ride. His dystopian future — describing bouncers with muscle-bound faces creating chewing gum mountains, bankers trapped rotting in miniature greenhouses, and him lying down in a sports hall floor surrounded by snoozing pensioners — is spellbinding. Yes, I’m a Bedwyr fan.

From Bedwyr to Beyonce, and I have her songs stuck in my head. It’s all thanks to Jordan Wolfson. One person I spoke to said they had visited his exhibition at the McLellan Galleries six times already, describing it as some kind of trashy addiction. Wolfson’s video Rasberry Poser was displayed in an elegant blacked-out room, with thick cream carpet (you have to take your shoes off to enter). Led by an animated character, we were taken on a journey through a series of generic ‘aspirational’ interiors, self-build homes, and children’s bedrooms, all interspersed with bouncing condoms full of hearts and aids viruses. Wolfson appears himself as a muddy-faced punk, cruising a Parisian park.

Shifting between up-beat and slowed-down blastings of Beyonce (making her voice at points sound male), the scene seems to get darker and more troubled. Wolfson plays with the viewer, projecting this notion of someone struggling with their sexuality. I found the piece exciting and moving and will have to stick with my first reading of it when I left the room.

A few other highlights include a talk from acclaimed Mexican artist Gabriel Kuri; ceramicist Jessie Wine at Mary Mary gallery; Michael Stumph‘s installations at the Glasgow School of Art; Reclaimed: The Second Life of Sculpture at the Briggait; and, of course, drinking free gin and tonics at the magnificent Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

So what of the festival as a whole? I recommend that you try it out for yourselves. Glasgow International will leave you excited about the possibilities of the visual arts, which is no mean feat. You get a real sense that Glasgow is great place to make, see and showcase art, and as an arts destination, offers a different model to London that other UK cities could emulate.

There were lots of great Glasgow-based artists represented at the festival, and I think that this was an incredibly important aspect to consider in terms of how biennials function. It also added a lot to the positive atmosphere. It would be fantastic if more artists could see Liverpool as a place to base themselves, leading to (hopefully) more independent art spaces starting and flourishing. I am left tired, happy and wondering how I could help make it happen in Liverpool.

Frances Disley

Glasgow International runs until Monday 21 April 2014, free entry

Read our list of Top Glasgow International Highlights here

Posted on 14/04/2014 by thedoublenegative