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Glasgow International Stands to Attention

By Ellie Wiseman  |  Glasgow, 30 June 2021

Georgina Starr, Quarantaine (2021). Exhibition view: Attention, Glasgow International, Tramway, Glasgow (11–27 June 2021). Courtesy Glasgow International. Photo: Matthew Barnes.

One year after its planned 2020 opening, Glasgow International (GI2021) finally returned for its ninth edition between 11 and 27 June 2021, with a hybrid programme of physical and virtual events and exhibitions organised around the theme of Attention.

An installation photograph features patterned wallpaper pasted on a wall to the right, with a portrait of a figure hanging on the wall to the left.

Awuor Onyango, 'Memoritual' (2019). Exhibition view: Body of Land, Street Level Photoworks (12 June–1 August 2021). Courtesy the artist.

Beyond the hyperdigitised Covid-19 world, the concept of Attention has evolved greatly over the past year, as social and political landscapes have been forced to adapt to new ways of living as a result of the pandemic, and this is no less true for the artists and curators involved in GI2021.

GI2021's podcast Encounters, found on the festival website and audio streaming apps, facilitates free-form discussions between artists including Catalina Barroso-Luque, Daniella Valz Gen, Aman Sandhu, and Andrew Black, among others. Offering insights into the development of the exhibitions and work made, the discussions demonstrate an increased dedication to accessibility, and exploring new ways for artworks, artists, and their audiences to communicate.

Silver geometric forms are pictured in a video still, showing from a screen in a darkened gallery space. Hands above the geometric shapes seem to interfere with them.

Exhibition view: Nep Sidhu, An Immeasurable Melody Medicine for a Nightmare, Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow (11 June–5 September 2021). Courtesy GoMA. Photo: Matthew Barnes.

Twelve Theses on Attention (2019) acts as a manifesto for GI2021. Developed by the collective Friends of Attention, this takes the form of a written document, which can be accessed on the Friends of Attention website. On 11 June, Alyssa Loh and Lane Stroud, filmmakers of the collective, presented an online screening of 12 short films individually illustrating each thesis, which can also be viewed on the collective's Vimeo.

Twelve Theses on Attention is fluid, designed to accommodate future theory, and brings together concepts presented across GI2021; of empathy, connectedness, and responsibility. It is aptly surmised by thesis XII: 'This work is the work of freedom and understanding. It is a work, through attention, of world-building. This work is fundamentally political.'

A video screen in a darkened gallery space features a figure walking towards the horizon in a barren landscape, their arms raised in the air.

Jenkin Van Zyl, Machines of Love (2021). Exhibition view: Attention, Glasgow International, Tramway, Glasgow (11–27 June 2021). Courtesy Glasgow International. Photo: Matthew Barnes.

There were definitely challenges to archaic systems across GI2021 exhibitions, tapping into the zeitgeist. The 'Commissioned Programme', curated by Richard Parry with Poi Marr, included 13 shows across 7 Glasgow locations, while 'Across the City' comprised over 30, with some shows remaining on view until later in the summer.

The installation Tobacco Flower (2021), a body of work by artist Jimmy Robert (to 5 September 2021), utilises the Hunterian Art Gallery's historic collections to playfully explore queer and racial identities, whilst drawing attention to Glasgow's colonial past.

The past year has seen a huge reckoning for the systems that uphold systematic inequalities, and that shift is mirrored in the work on display at GI2021.

Robert highlights the significance of the tobacco trade to the city's growth with a selection of watercolour and gouache designs by Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, giving the exhibit its name. Pink Tobacco Flower (1915–1923), with its bright red bouquet and geometric patterns against an ochre background, exposes the appropriation of Caribbean culture by artists like Mackintosh.

A geometric, multi-coloured pattern swirls on black background, with its central forms surrounded by a ring of flowers.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Textile design: tobacco flower (1915–1923). Drawing, watercolour, and gouache on paper. Courtesy The Hunterian, University of Glasgow.

In retaliation, Robert poses for Creole Earring I (2021). The dominating photograph depicts the artist voguing in the dining room of the reconstructed Mackintosh House. Roberts' seated profile and raised hand draw attention to a large brass hoop earring, defiantly claiming visibility in both the Mackintosh House and the Hunterian Art Gallery's space.

The past year has seen a huge reckoning for the systems that uphold systematic inequalities, and that shift is mirrored in the work on display at GI2021. At Tramway, Martine Syms' installation juts through the centre of their largest gallery space (to 25 July 2021). Zig-zagging metal scaffolding supports S1:E4, the latest episode in the ongoing video project SHE MAD (2015–ongoing): an imagined sitcom exploring representations of Black experience in American television and media. In this installment, Syms' character has a flashback to a girls' summer camp stay, challenging micro-aggressions by playing with archetypal roles.

A purple metallic structure forms an installation by Martine Syms showing in a gallery space, with video screens hanging from it. One screen features a woman lying on a sofa.

Martine Syms, SHE MAD S1:E4 (2021). Exhibition view: Attention, Glasgow International, Tramway, Glasgow (11–27 June 2021). Courtesy Glasgow International. Photo: Matthew Barnes.

Visual representations of Black femininity highlight diasporic identities and spiritualities in Body of Land. This duo exhibition at Street Level Photoworks (to 1 August 2021) features work by Zimbabwean-Scottish visual artist Sekai Machache and Kenyan artist Awuor Onyango, who both use photography to observe ritual.

In the gallery, Machache's body of work Ritual Manifestations (2019) inhabits incorporeal spaces. Based on a dream, a trio of photographs titled Oracle (2019) show a figure draped in red cloth against a dark background: her hands, the only visible skin, offer up mysterious items, which recall the knowledge she once whispered to Machache's subconscious mind.

Three photographs hanging on a white wall each figure draping red fabric, from beneath which hands offer up objects such as a lamp and a mirror.

Sekai Machache, Oracle (2019). Exhibition view: Body of Land, Street Level Photoworks (12 June–1 August 2021). Courtesy the artist.

Onyango's work 'Memoritual' (2019), a biographical portrait series featuring members of Scotland's Yon Afro Collective, is showing in the next room. Using digital editing, Onyango has transformed the images into iconography, featuring spiritual symbology from across Africa.

Back at Tramway, Georgina Starr's Quarantaine (2020) expands on a personal iconography developed over her career to dissect and pay homage to filmmaking. Produced prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, the title is coincidental—initially referencing the French word for a 40-day period; but Starr welcomes any new associations.

A group of women on a film set draped in colourful fabric, are also wearing colourful clothes and sit around one figure who is standing on their head. The film is shown in a darkened gallery space.

Georgina Starr, Quarantaine (2021). Exhibition view: Attention, Glasgow International, Tramway, Glasgow (11–27 June 2021). Courtesy Glasgow International. Photo: Matthew Barnes.

The 43-minute film certainly takes on fresh meaning in post-lockdown, as it follows two women, 'V' and 'L', through a surreal journey into another world, far removed from normality. With no dialogue, Starr's experimental audio track and accompanying choreography tell the story of 'V' and 'L's initiation. Vocalisations and fitful movements, demonstrated by the other women in this Lynchian wonderland, equip them with the ability to communicate with one another after they emerge.

A film screen shows two women sitting at a table adorned with a flower in a vase. One holds a cigarette and looks forward, while the figure in the foreground looks across her shoulder and off to the right.

Georgina Starr, Quarantaine (2021). Exhibition view: Attention, Glasgow International, Tramway, Glasgow (11–27 June 2021). Courtesy Glasgow International. Photo: Matthew Barnes.

Women also lead in Home Economics, Margaret Salmon's dedication to feminist economic theory at The Pearce Institute, accompanied by select photos from To Let You Understand (1988–1989) by the late Franki Raffles.

Salmon's Icarus (after Amelia) (2020–2021), a 58-minute-long 35mm film also available as part of the 'Digital Programme', is a topical offering after reports of the discrepant negative effects of the pandemic on women, particularly working mothers. Salmon follows the lives of women living and working in Govan, Glasgow, one of the U.K.'s most deprived areas, to offer an intimate insight into the lives of women who are holding together their communities in a society that neglects their emotional and physical labour.

A black and white photograph features two women in a room surrounded by fabric, busy tending to the fabric's repair.

Franki Raffles, Kenda Knitwear (1989). © Franki Raffles estate. Courtesy University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums.

Nep Sidhu offers remedial action for the forsaken with his first European solo exhibition: An Immeasurable Melody, Medicine for a Nightmare, an interdisciplinary presentation taking up residence in Gallery 1 of Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art (to 5 September 2021).

Attention is necessary for change. GI2021 demands it, as do others in the city and elsewhere.

Three mural-sized tapestries from Sidhu and Nicholas Galanin's collaborative series 'When My Drums Come Knocking, They Watch' (2018) hang from the vaulted roof, serving as a memorial for the victims of India's 1984 Operations Blue Star and Woodrose. Acknowledging these horrors is painful, particularly as it pertains to the current ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the West Bank.

A large tapestry is hanging from the ceiling an a gallery space that features columns, while smaller tapestries, each one featuring colourful geometric patterns, are to the far right-hand side of the room.

Exhibition view: Nep Sidhu, An Immeasurable Melody Medicine for a Nightmare, Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow (11 June–5 September 2021). Courtesy GoMA. Photo: Matthew Barnes.

At Glasgow Sculpture Studios, Alberta Whittle shines a light on historical and contemporary injustices through a new body of work titled business as usual: hostile environment (A REMIX) (2021). Whittle invites Glasgow residents to consider the colonial history of Glasgow's Forth and Clyde Canal, encouraging residents to walk along it while listening to her series of soundscapes, developed in collaboration with Francis Dosoo and available to download from Glasgow Sculpture Studios' website.

Two members of the public are sitting on an inflatable chair outdoors, viewing a screen in front of them.

Alberta Whittle, business as usual: hostile environment (A REMIX) (2021). Exhibition view: Attention, Glasgow International, Glasgow Sculpture Studios, Glasgow (11–27 June 2021). Courtesy Glasgow International. Photo: Matthew Barnes.

In a moving image work that shares the title of the overall exhibit, Whittle cuts together footage of members of Maryhill Integration Network's Joyous Choir cruising along the canals while singing, with archival footage of the Windrush arrival.

Whittle narrates, quoting March 2020's Windrush Lessons Learned Review: 'The Windrush scandal was in part able to happen because of the public's and officials' poor understanding of Britain's colonial history.' Whittle goes on to report on the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on BIPOC, and the increasing systemic inequality being enforced by stricter immigration laws.

A stack of 22 television sets are showing in the far side of a darkened exhibition space, with a screen above them that shows a red glowing mass.

Gretchen Bender, Total Recall (1987). Exhibition view: Attention, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow Sculpture Studios, Glasgow (11–27 June 2021). Courtesy Glasgow International. Photo: Matthew Barnes.

Attention is necessary for change. GI2021 demands it, as do others in the city and elsewhere. Just last month in Glasgow, residents protested the detainment of two men in the neighbourhood of Pollokshields by immigration officials, enacting a sit-in protest around the officials' van and preventing it from moving for eight hours. Here is the work of the collective. Here is the work of attention. —[O]

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