Glasgow International is Scotland’s biennial festival of Contemporary Art, springing very much from the city itself, which becomes home to a huge number of exhibitions throughout the city. The ninth edition of the festival, which should have been this year, would have involved 150 artists, but found itself cancelled due to Covid-19.
A small ‘taste of what visitors might have expected to encounter’ is however available on the festival website, and the journey it welcomes us in is anything but ordinary.
ATTENTION is the theme of this year’s edition. The festival has chosen to focus on seven artists whose video work captures the spirit and the feeling of the current uncertain times we live in.
Our journey starts with the haunting, melancholic and dreamy sound work of GEORGINA STARR. A 30-years-old recording of her whistling The Beatles song ‘Yesterday’, which she played from her locker in college as means of secret communication to the world. This bittersweet, intimate art piece asks questions that we’ll bring with us throughout the exhibition: how much do we miss art in this moment of detachment from real spaces and human interaction? What is our relationship with time in our own life story and our connection with others? The apparent simplicity of STARR’s ‘Yesterday’ makes us reflect about all that’s missing in this phase of reality we live in and what really matters to us.
The next piece brings us straight back into the current climate. ALBERTA WHITTLE’s video ‘business as usual : hostile environment’ is a reflection on the voluntary and involuntary movement of people in the UK through time. The opening sequence, dedicated to the essential work of foreign force in the NHS, is the starting point of a wider, profound investigation into a reality of interaction, integration and co-existence that affects every aspect of our society. Past and present are intertwined by juxtaposing images, showing both history and the present impact of the black community in the UK. Whittle’s work is an invitation to understand the past, as this is necessary to inform the present and shape our future.
A profound reflection on absence is brought to us by YUKO MOHRI’s video ‘Everything Flows – distance’. The artist chooses inhabited scenes from the film Tokyo Story (1953) to evoke reality in this phase of lockdown. We find ourselves immersed in a silent, empty world: houses seem inhabited, only shadows signal the fleeting presence of people. The wider shots of smoky chimneys, trains and boats tell us that somewhere, away from our daily sight, it’s business as usual. People are living, working, surviving. Life somehow exists behind closed doors, but it’s forcefully kept away from our eyes.
Next, JENKIN VAN ZYL offer us a mix of bonus footage from their film ‘In Vitro’, for ‘In Vitro (all the love mix)’, part of a labyrinthine installation to be developed for the next edition of the festival. Presenting itself as an evocative triptych, this work bring us again to wide, empty spaces, where one individual is thrown into the unknown, left to explore suggestive, inhabited landscapes in complete solitude.
The energetic, frenetic cry for expression of LIV FONTAINE almost serves as a counterpoint to the previous pieces. The artist’s loud, sarcastic performance in ‘Some People Say’ gives voice to suppressed feelings and represents an almost archaic scream in the face of the world: the need to be listened to, to be given space. “This is a cruel world and there is no help for the not well,” cries Fontaine, demanding us to look inwards and pay attention to mental health: the crisis we are experiencing is social but first and foremost personal. Fontaine presents us with the violence and injustices of our world, where “wealth is a matter of luck, not merit”. We don’t learn from history, and the ‘call to arms’ opening of the piece turns into a cynical acceptance of reality, a sarcastic surrender to degradation and cruelty. All we can do is try to be appealing to “those who have everything”.
Sound is the protagonist of SARAH FORREST’s video work ‘The Unreliable Narrator’. We are presented with the dance of hands of a magician, performing tricks with coins and cards. Almost didactic, these hands reveal delicacy of movement, they bend our perception, and with it our sense of reality. Obsessive repetition takes our attention from the image to the sound, sometimes overlapping, generated by the magician’s movements. Perhaps unconsciously, there is a shift in our senses from sight to hearing. With this piece, the artist invites us to experience reality in a non-conventional way, enriching our fruition of art.
Closing the virtual exhibition, we find the irreverent and humorous work of URARA TSUCHIYA. Her piece ‘Give us a Meow’ presents us again with the idea of isolation, this time focusing on the difference between being alone and being lonely. The artist experiences confinement in a courageous, harmonic and carefree way, being prepotently and unapologetically happy. Both domestic and natural space are experienced energetically and positively: the artist appropriates both, accepting confinement and never losing a strong sense of identity. ‘Give us a Meow’ is a strong invitation to remain ourselves despite isolation and not take ourselves too seriously.
Glasgow International’s Digital Programme will be available for free online until 31 May, 2020 at glasgowinternational.org.
Words: Chiara Viale
Image (alt-text): Artist Urara Tsuchiya, who is of Japanese heritage, stares at the viewer with resignation in her eyes. Her eyebrows are thick, hair platinum blonde, and she wears a zebra-striped top. She is framed by floral print curtains. The image is in greyscale.