The lives of our nation’s historical figures will intertwine with those of upcoming artists and designers next week. Andrew Youngson finds out why there has never been a better time to look again at our immediate surroundings
The north-east’s visual arts and design scene is vibrant and exciting. That’s a statement which may surprise the average man on the street. The problem behind this lack of appreciation, it seems, is the fact there have been few large-scale showcases of the talent in the region.
That’s certainly the opinion held by a dedicated group of local artists, cultural managers and academics – and it’s not one they have landed upon recently, either. Ten years ago, Sally Reaper, the founder and director of SMART Consultants, was the main force behind Look – a showcase for visual artists and designers in the region and of the talents of Robert Gordon University (RGU) art, design and architecture students.
The event was hailed a success by many, but the momentum petered out unfortunately. Flash forward 10 years, Sally and her team are once again at the heart of a fresh endeavour to show the people of the north-east and beyond just what we have to offer. The first port of call was to get people back round the table – namely key members of RGU and Aberdeen City Council.
“We were talking about the offering out there for visual art and design in the region, and we agreed there was no core project to celebrate the successes and to show the younger practitioners why they should stay in the region,” Sally explained.
This very conversation was the birthplace of Look Again – a brand-new festival showcase for visual art and design which pays tribute to its predecessor 10 years ago, but which has an eye firmly on the future. A three-year plan is in place, with a threefold vision to re-engage people in these art forms, make a mark on local and international communities, and to export homegrown talent beyond the boundaries of the Granite City’s walls.
In the group’s opinion, there has never been a better time to remount the charge.
“The playing field in the region has changed in the past three years significantly. People are more joined up in how they convey cultural offers. It’s now a more comprehensive approach,” Sally continued.
“There has also been a groundswell of independent groups, like us and Peacock (Visual Arts). People are getting things done rather than waiting for it to happen.”
The festival’s inaugural year, which kicks off next Wednesday, April 8, focuses on the first part of the vision: to re-engage. The programme comprises a series of exhibitions, talks and workshops across the region, but the main event will be something that nobody – not even the aforementioned man on the street – will be able to pass by.
The Look At Me sculpture trail will see six of Aberdeen’s most iconic sculptures re-dressed in weird and wonderful clothing and adornments. The sculptures of Robert the Bruce, Robert Burns and William Wallace may have become wallpaper to local residents, but, thanks to the creative talents of six local, national and international artists, they will look upon these figures with renewed wonder for the festival’s five-day period.
“The programme is full of ways to get people to re-look, re-engage and take notice of things that may have gone unnoticed for some time. We are inserting interventions and cultural experiences into those places that will connect and express these messages,” said Sally.
“We want people to become tourists in their own city. We want them to look at the value of their own community, to celebrate it and engage with it on a new level.”
While it will be a joyous and lighthearted celebration, Look Again has a sincere message at its heart. The committee behind it, from members of SMART to RGU and the City Council, not only want to showcase artistic talent, but also shine a light on the importance of the historical figures who stand like sentinels throughout our city.
“This is not about putting a tutu or toilet brush on Wallace. It’s about researching the history of these figures through a different approach – not just historical, but from a creative background,” Sally said.
“It’s about highlighting something unknown about these figures, and we’ve definitely done that with the artists we have selected. They have all focused on the impact these figures have made, their value and the things they fought for.”
The Look Again visual and design festival runs throughout Aberdeen city centre from Wednesday to Sunday, April 8-12. For further information visit www.lookagainfestival.co.uk
MEET THE ARTISTS BEHIND LOOK AGAIN
NAME: Gordon Burnett
WHERE ARE YOU FROM? Fraserburgh
WHAT IS THE NAME OF YOUR PIECE? Above and Beyond
WHAT MATERIALS ARE YOU USING? Knitting of wool by guerrilla knitter Rosy Wood and plastic digitally printed and perspex formed by me.
WHAT IS THE IDEA AND MESSAGE BEHIND IT? To shed light on aspects of Robert Burns’s life, his international and interstellar impact, perhaps unfamiliar to the general public.
HOW DID THE IDEA COME TO YOU? By researching various internet sources about Burns’s life, then developing strong ideas to be seen at a distance.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE THE PUBLIC GO AWAY WITH HAVING EXPERIENCED YOUR ART, AND LOOK AGAIN IN GENERAL? Hopefully, Burns wearing cool headphones and colourful socks will generate a smile and provoke curiosity regarding Mercury* and shift people’s perception of such an iconic Scottish figure. My wish is that this innovative public art festival will inspire further cultural projects for Aberdonians and visitors alike, especially while the Art Gallery is closed for regeneration.
*In 1985, Robert Burns was honoured with the naming of a crater on Mercury
NAME: Helen Schell
WHERE ARE YOU FROM? Sunderland
WHAT IS THE NAME OF YOUR PIECE? Guardian
WHAT MATERIALS ARE YOU USING?
Hi-vis fabric and light-reflective tape.
WHAT IS THE IDEA AND MESSAGE BEHIND IT? By re-inventing this everyday working uniform, the fabric will dramatically dress the five-metre-high William Wallace statue as a space-age futuristic figure. This is an optimistic statement about the political situation in Scotland, expressing a shining vision of this 21st-century country.
HOW DID THE IDEA COME TO YOU? Although based in England, I have been very impressed with the dynamism of recent Scottish political events and the message about a new future for the UK. William Wallace is an enduring symbol of Scotland and so the idea of dressing this gigantic statue as a futuristic warrior is very inspiring.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE THE PUBLIC GO AWAY WITH HAVING EXPERIENCED YOUR ART, AND LOOK AGAIN IN GENERAL? Visitors are encouraged to take pictures on their phones and upload them to the internet, so as to create their own digital interactive project. It is hoped that this will be lots of fun for the audience and also engage them in Scottish history. The aim is that, by looking again at the past, they can invent the future.