Glasgow International 2018
Richard Parry and George Vasey in conversation
Ahead of Glasgow International’s opening on the 20th April, the festival’s new Director Richard Parry meets with George Vasey to talk about planetary scale computation, Twitter politics as well as leading Scotland’s largest festival for contemporary art.
George Vasey: How has it been putting together your first festival?
Richard Parry: I started in May last year, got going in June, and launched in October. The core of the director’s programme was fleshed out in four months. There was only one project already in place.
GV: That’s quick!
RP: When I arrived, there were only 3 of us. The character of the festival really comes from the city, and it’s very ground-up. The strength is derived from working with others, including co-commissioning and partnerships with other venues.
GV: What will feel different about this year’s festival?
RP: The important thing about this festival is that, since 2016, the world has changed so much. We’ve moved into a new historical era since Brexit and Trump. In light of these events, there is a sense in which it has never been so important to listen to the voices of artists.
GV: You talk about these “current urgencies” in your programme notes. How do you think the artists in your programme are responding to these current political urgencies?
RP: I’m interested in this question of how social media is enabling the political situation. Trump’s presidency was, in some sense, created by Twitter. There are positive and negatives effects of social media and I’m interested in, on the one hand, opinions becoming ghetto-ized but also the opportunity for it to give a voice to those who have been marginalized.
GV: You seem to have shifted the director’s programme so it seems a bit more embedded in the open elements of the festival.
RP: The open call makes up the bulk of the programme, and this is really important. For instance, we have a bursary for recent graduate artists and curators and arts organizations can apply for small grants. We’ve refreshed the website, and it felt like a good time to bring a bit more parity between the various strands in the programme.
GV: Your group show, Cellular World, at GoMA seems to set the tone for the broader programme.
RP: Certainly. The subtitle of the show is “Cyborg-Human-Avatar-Horror.” Many of the ideas in the show were brewing when I started this job but also have resonances with ideas that were coming through the open submission.
GV: So the programme emerged quite responsively?
RP: Definitely. There was a lot coming through that touched upon science fiction. There was a general emphasis on non-binary positions and issues of inclusivity, looking to voices and subjects that have been historically marginalized.
GV: There is also a strong sense of this relationship between bodies and technology in different forms.
RP: Yes, I was really interested in this idea of planetary scale computation.
GV: In what way?
RP: Most of us have a computer on us at all times that dictates the way that we interact with companies and states. For instance, Google is a huge transnational company that looks at us as users. What does this start to mean on a planetary scale? This touches upon Donna Haraway’s writing on the cyborg and the collapsing of human and non-human actors. There is also a strong sense of post-humanism and a more fluid approach to gender and non-binary identities.
GV: Can you talk about Lubaina Himid’s commission at Kelvingrove?
RP: Lubaina will be making a suspended wagon in the main atrium. She’s been interested in the symbol of the wagon for a while, as it touches upon so many concerns that are core to her work, including movement and migration.
GV: The location of Kelvingrove is particularly significant.
RP: The wagon relates to the fact that the collection at the museum was established by Archibald McLellan, who made a lot of his money by making carriages. Kelvingrove is a great repository of Scottish identity, and we felt that needed some interrogation.
GV: Hardeep Pandhal, who is also showing at Kelvingrove, touches upon ideas of nationhood.
RP: Hardeep is making a series of new animations that I’m really excited about. His work relates to his upbringing as a Sikh in Birmingham, and it has a strong political dimension touching upon Brexit, for instance.
GV: Over at Tramway, you’re showing new work by Mark Leckey and Tai Shani?
RP: Mark is making a sculpture based on a statue from the Wellcome Collection that depicts the biblical figure of Job. He’s scanned it, scaled it up, and fitted it with speakers. Like much of his work, it explores the body and mind alongside a digital space and, of course, references music culture.
GV: There is a spiritual quality to much of his work also…
RP: Yes, I think he’s interested in the territory of the real, imagined, and digital self and how these all fit together.
GV: What about Tai Shani?
RP: She’s making an installation based on a proto-feminist novel from the Middle Ages. It’s inhabited by characters who are conceived as female archetypes “in a world of excess.” Also at Tramway, we’ll be showing work by Kapwani Kiwanga, who is interested in deep geological time. She’s making a work premised on the concept that Europe and Africa are moving closer to each other at a rate of 2 centimeters a year.
GV: This takes us back to Haraway’s writing and a re-thinking of ecological concerns through a de-centering of the human. There is a real sense of materiality throughout much of the work in the festival. It seems to me there is an interest in reclaiming the body as a site of pleasure.
RP: Definitely. Art can connect us to what is it to be human; it can communicate beyond the text. The idea of the human, non-human, and inhuman runs through much of the programme.
GV: What is your main ambition for this year’s festival?
RP: I want it to resonant with the historical moment and artistic community in Glasgow. I’d like the art to refresh the way that audiences encounter the world. Just a small ambition, then!