Welcome To Glasgow International Visual Art Biennial 2021 – Clare Henry




Seventy exhibitions and events from over 100 artists. Sounds a lot? Yet, the overall result of Glasgow International is disappointingly thin. Today’s restrictions don’t help. Covid prevents international artists jetting in and gallery-goers now have to book a ticket or make an appointment, a new experience for many. Even so, Glasgow International number 9, delayed one full year, lacks memorable shows.

There are exceptions. Nowadays, unless exhibitions are ‘immersive’ or interactive and everyone needs a video – from Tik Tok to the Royal Academy. Here Selai Machache at STREET LEVEL wins hands down with her appealing streamed talk about her work and that of her friend from Kenya, Awuor Onyango (absent, of course.) Both use fabric in their photo work, but Selai dreams of enveloping swaths and drapes of red.

Kameelah Janan Rasheed Are We Reading Closely? (II)

Kameelah Janan Rasheed  Are We Reading Closely? (II)

More exceptions at 5 Florence Street, which I first had to find on a map. Here an old Gorbals school is being beautifully transformed and now accommodates two galleries on its top-lit top floor with great views over the River Clyde. Most professional is ‘Too Much Too Little’, four international artists (A Christensen, Denmark; S Napoli Italy; J Tullen Switzerland and N Turato Zagreb) show mainly large scale pieces achieving an installation style display of vivid colour, all orchestrated by Sarah Smith. Next door are huge hangings from Kameelah Janan Rasheed.

Nearby in the Old Courtroom of another historic building, the Lowlands Group of 7 celebrate their links with artist Bet Low. Low, who died in 2007, set up a trust, and these seven have all benefited from grants. Several, like Claire Forsyth, Al Gow, Rachel Duckhouse, Bronwen Sleigh and Alasdair Wallace, have close links to Glasgow Print Studio, so not surprisingly, their work has a graphic quality. Maw researched Low’s connection with 1940s theatre, while Duckhouse’s precise drawings focus on Low’s favourite Orkney light. All have taken on board the location too. The show includes some of Low’s minimal sketches plus notes from her archive – which should, I hope, go to Glasgow University’s Hunterian.

Friends Sheelagh Boyce and Annabelle Harty create abstract compositions with recycled fabrics

Friends Sheelagh Boyce and Annabelle Harty create abstract compositions with recycled fabrics

Glasgow Print Studio itself has an unforgettable display of quilts. These are not your ordinary or conventional American, Victorian-style affairs, though they are sewn with a needle and thread. Friends Sheelagh Boyce and Annabelle Harty create abstract compositions with recycled fabrics, often from old, well-washed favourite garments. All so well expressed by Fiona Watson, “Weaving in and out of these beautiful abstract quilts is a soothing experience – each quilt whispering stories from worn and loved garments- a healing calmness after the sensory deprivation of lockdown.”

For many Glaswegians, the main venues will be their only contact with Glasgow International. GoMA benefits from a dramatic large-scale colourful display of work by Canadian Nap Sidhu. This, his first European solo show, is inspired by Sikh histories interwoven – sometimes literally – with Canadian Indian symbolism in impressive tapestry hangings. At Kelvingrove, another easy-going display by France-Lise McGurn fills the south balcony. McGurn normally paints on walls but here has made do with freestanding glass panels, which work well. The imagery – fluid, colourful, appealing – is, however, over-influenced by Allan Jones.

Kelvingrove’s second show, a memorial to Carol Rhodes, contains many of her immaculate small studies for paintings. Known for her aerial views of airports and industrial sites, her focus is entirely architectural. Cubes, domes, rods, blocks combine to create silent but compulsive urban scenes.

Sammy Baloji

Sammy Baloji Glasgow International At Tramway

Tramway’s shows range from “immersive” installation to film. Martine Syms’s “immersive” zigzag scaffolds of film and mirror are too sparse for Tramway’s space. In contrast, Van Zyl’s 2021 nightmare fantasy “immersive hallucinogenic horror” uses film and sculpture to really grab attention. Also good to see Georgina Starr’s surreal new film Quarantine, which addresses an alternate controlled schooled reality -reminiscent of the Handmaid’s Tale while knockout photos by Sammy Baloji and models by Isek Kingelez, both from the Congo, make theirs a memorable show.

Eva Rothschild at the Modern Institute

Eva Rothschild at the Modern Institute

Another woman well worth a look at is Eva Rothschild at the Modern Institute. I have followed her work since the 1980s and her New York exhibitions have always been intriguing. Here her display is assured and defined.

Last and least is the Hunterian’s ‘Tobacco Flower’, which is sparse to the point of emptiness. Jimmy Robert from Guadeloupe and Berlin relies on tenuous links with tobacco – from a lovely 1964 poem by Edwin Morgan, digital print wallpaper from the famous Timorous Beasties Alistair Macauley & Paul Simmons, two well known Macintosh textile designs, a Whistler etching plate and James Paterson 1887 photo plus Tom Ford fabric to compile a bare wall, two gallery display centred around a photograph of himself posing with huge brass earring designed by Mihalache Fiastru and another of his mother smoking. ‘Selections from the Archive” would have been a better title.

There are many more shows – some far-flung, others pop-ups, some like Pui san Lok, visible from the street through the Briggait windows. The organisers have tried hard to include black, Asian, multi-ethnic, gay, LGBTQ etc. etc. It doesn’t necessarily make for a good festival but admirable nevertheless.

Glasgow international Fri 11 – Sun 27 June 2021

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