Alexander Kennedy, 'The Lines in the sand' (The List, 30/03/2006)


As Glasgow prepares for its second international art festival, Alexander Kennedy talks to four of the city’s major art world players to find out what exactly the Glasgow International is achieving for its home town.

Does Glasgow International work? As the contemporary art festival enters its second year, it is surely too early to ask whether the project is a success. But with the solid critical acclaim of last year to build on, and a more modest but no less impressive 2006 programme, it is becoming difficult not to answer in the affirmative. Until recently, things looked decidedly inauspicious. For starters, just a year into its life, it was announced that this will be the final annual incarnation of the Glasgow International, with the festival mutating into a biennial event from 2008, so that more time can be spent organising the programme, gathering resources and rallying artists from around the globe.

This could be construed as a sign of weakness, but in practice it’s not a bad move: Francis McKee, the organiser of this year’s festival (and also of the inaugural event), can barely have caught his breath since last year’s saturnalia. This is especially true because, since last year, he has taken over at the helm of the struggling CCA, and is charged with the tricky task of turning around its flagging fortunes and relocating it at the heart of Glasgow’s artistic life, while also sorting out its vertigo-inducing budget deficit. The second inauspicious sign was that, alongside the festival’s change of frequency, McKee has been talking about the possibility of expanding the festival from 2008 so that it might also take place in Edinburgh and Dundee, and even allowing for the possibility that the event might change its name. However, rather than being another sign of weakness, this move looks like it could represent an act of considerable chutzpah – and McKee is one of only a handful of people working in Scotland who has the ability (if perhaps not the working hours available) to carry it off.

But back to the present: against a backdrop of exhausting negotiations, strategising and the rebuilding of bridges at the CCA, McKee has managed to pull together 140 artists and luminaries to take part in this year’s events, exhibitions, performances and seminars. In the 13 days between 19 April and 1 May he will bring some eminent international art world players to Glasgow to show their stuff, with the best of our local artists taking this opportunity to reciprocate. All in all, it’s an exhilarating prospect. Most of the city’s arts venues (over 30) will be taking part, including private and public galleries, and artist-run spaces. Is Glasgow ready? Is Glasgow really international? The List spoke to four of the main players and strongest participants involved in this year’s festival to see what they’re up to.

THE RISING STAR: Sorcha Dallas Gallery director, Sorcha Dallas Gallery

Dallas has her finger firmly on the pulse of contemporary art in Glasgow. After studying painting and drawing at Glasgow School of Art and working as part of Switchspace (a curatorial team with Marianne Greated, showing site-specific work in spaces around Glasgow from 1999 to 2004), she established herself as a gallerist with a keen eye for artistic talent in the city. This year she shows the work of Glasgow-born artist Gary Rough. How international is your gallery? Dallas: As the gallery is a commercial space and the market locally is generally very traditional it’s key for me to create a profile for the artists I represent on an international level. The gallery has always been committed to a new generation of artists working within the city, offering an alternative to what has previously been supported. The gallery is almost two years old now, and many of the artists I work with are gaining an international profile and exhibiting overseas. This has enabled me to invite artists in from abroad with the express aim of them enhancing the gallery programme.

How central is GI to the development of Glasgow artist’ international profile? Dallas: I think what has been positive about Glasgow International is its support for local organisations, in allowing them the freedom to dictate their own projects. Hopefully the festival will work better as a biennial event – the lead in time for Glasgow International so far has been pretty fast. It’ll also be interesting to see how the curatorial side of it develops as the commissioned projects so far have succeeded due to having Francis McKee on board.

‘Gary Rough (who will be exhibiting in the gallery during GI) has a multi-faceted approach to his practice and his exhibition for Glasgow International will be in three parts, which will really highlight this. For me being able to invite him over sums up the combination of presenting a local and international profile. Gary is one of the few artists I work with who is actually from Glasgow but has been living overseas for some time, so we felt GI 2006 was the ideal time for him to exhibit back in Glasgow.

Gary Rough, Sorcha Dalles, Sat 1 Apr-Sat 6 May; Gary Rough, Sorcha Dallas Gallery Offsite (details available from Sorcha Dallas).