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Look Again Festival asks Aberdonians to see the Granite City through fresh eyes

Craig Barrowman - Seed Fund - Through the looking glass

This week sees the opening of the Look Again Visual Art & Design Festival - a celebration of the very best contemporary visual art and design, showcasing both local and internationally acclaimed talent in Aberdeen. The festival aims to challenge the way that people see the Granite City, encouraging its audience to 'become a tourist in their own city' and take time to look at the spaces and places through fresh eyes.

We spoke to Hilary Nicoll, Associate Director, to find out more about the festival and what visitors can expect from the extensive programme of exhibitions, public art installations, workshops, talks and events.

What’s the thinking behind 'becoming a tourist in your own city'?

We’re interested in encouraging people to look at Aberdeen through fresh eyes; to see the city in a new light.

Aberdeen has an incredible history and amazing cultural assets that have perhaps been overshadowed in recent years by the oil industry. We want people to find out new and unexpected things by connecting with the artists and art works in the festival, and get a sense that this is a really creative and vibrant place.

We also wanted to connect with the excellent cultural organisations working in the city year round, to really highlight the art and design sector in Aberdeen.

Look Again Festival - Allan Watson Seed Fund - Seeing is Believing

Why is it important to Aberdeen to have a festival like this? Do you see it shifting perceptions about the city?

Look Again is about showcasing really great art and design in a city that has been fairly modest about these particular creative practices. Aberdeen has an impressive year-round programme of festivals covering all sorts of art forms from jazz to dance, and it's important that art and design really figure here too.

We also want to help build the creative sector here, by providing opportunities for artists and designers to develop their careers without having to leave the area, and think this is a good way to start to create some impact. We very much want to shift perceptions, both within the city for the people living here and for people outwith the Northeast about what Aberdeen is and what it can offer.

Tell us more about how it supports local artists and creatives?

The majority of the artists and designers we have commissioned have strong connections to Aberdeen, because they were either brought up, trained or have settled here. We have set up a commissioning fund specifically for artists from the area, and this has resulted in four public commissions as part of the festival.

We also supported two Aberdeen-based collectives; Look Inside Design Collective and STACK, who we have been providing professional development for. We have trained our cultural ambassadors, supported a project to develop branding for a design collection, and created paid positions in various roles to make the festival happen.

So we feel we are really building capacity in the city and that Look Again will have a tangible legacy.

STACK Artist Collective

How did you approach curating the content for the festival?

The curatorial framework is based around a couple of themes. The first is the ‘Years of..’ with this year being History, Heritage and Archaeology. So to make this meaningful we invited artists to connect with some of the really amazing collections and archives in Aberdeen.

The City Archive is recognised by UNESCO, and the Seven Incorporated Trades collection dates back to the 1200s – so this is really rich material for artists to explore. We also delved into Aberdeen Harbour Board’s archive – it is the oldest company in the UK, and we have invited artists into the Robert Gordon University collection.

So all of this has been really inspiring, for the artists and for those working with them, producing some beautiful, thoughtful and insightful works that make the familiar unfamiliar, at times provoke, and really resonate within the city. Many of the works also connect Aberdeen to the wider world in subtle but powerful ways, looking beyond borders. And there is a definite kind of ‘sub-theme’ of listening to the city and its varied stories and voices.

What are you hoping audiences of all ages will take away from the festival?

We hope that they will have a lot of fun discovering the works across the city, and in turn discovering new things about the city and its amazing cultural assets. We hope it really will make them feel like tourists in their own city and see it with fresh eyes.

It's a wide and diverse programme – can you share some of your personal highlights?

There really is something for everyone! I am really excited for the launch with Wayne Hemingway, and to seeing the commissions in situ, and how the audience interact with them - like Nick Ross’ Doric Boule at Marischal college, Jason Nelson’s The Listener opposite His Majesty's Theatre, Janet McEwan’s work with the carillion at St Nicholas’s Kirk and Thomson and Craighead's Control Room at Peacock. Look Again is an initiative of Robert Gordon University, and the programme on the Garthdee campus is also really exciting. Don't miss Ruby Pester and Nadia Rossi as they launch this year with their project ‘Inflato – Optical Image Intensifier’.

I am also looking forward to meeting and talking to the artists who live and work in the city at some of the talks and events and to feeling part of something that really creates an impact in the city.

Wayne Hemingway - courtesy of Glasgow Evening times

Other festival highlights

‘Record Store’ - AKA Obstacle Soup - is a project curated by visual artists Janie Nicoll and Chirs Biddlecombe in collaboration with 36 artists from across Scotland. Part exhibition, part fantasy record shop, the project explores and celebrates the cross over between visual arts and music. Set to include new works by 12 invited artists from the north east, ‘Record Store’ will be shown at Seventeen - the creative hub and exhibition space in Belmont Street that was formerly the much loved One Up Records.

Visual artists Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead, who are based in London and the Scottish Highlands – will present a new generative moving image work, inspired by Aberdeen Harbour, called Control Room, alongside two existing artworks, Aberdeen Wall and Here.

The Listener led by Scottish artist Jason Nelson includes a set of follies which tell the story of Aberdeen. The project is both an object to be viewed and a space to be used by people, from which to hear the histories and the urban myths that form the collective consciousness and identity of Aberdeen. Large trumpet-like shapes dominate the design of the sculpture.

Jason Nelson - The Listener

Look Inside, a design collective of Aberdeen based makers - Anne Marquiss, Gabi Reith, Mags Gray and Aubin Stewart - will showcase a new collaborative ‘Aberdeen Collection’ which explores and celebrates the architectural characteristics and history of Aberdeen. The collection offers a contemporary emblem, souvenir or keepsake that Aberdonians and visitors to the city will treasure in the future. Included in the collection will be jewellery, ceramics, illustration, apparel and more.

Swedish-based designer Nick Ross will showcase new work inspired by Aberdeen’s Seven Incorporated Trades. The project known as The Doric Boule’ connects ideas of local power and influence to a wider view of the world. A public meeting point will be created in the city’s Marischal quad made not just from local stone but from varieties of granite from across the world.

Stephanie Smith and Eddie Stewart will curate an exhibition that re-interprets the tradition of the nude in a potentially provocative installation on campus.

Look Again Festival kicks off on Thursday 20 April 2017 with Look Again @ Garthdee Campus, a programme of exhibitions, performance, films, talks, jazz and workshops at Robert Gordon University. The main festival runs from 27 April - 1 May at venues across the city.

Look Again Festival was awarded National Lottery funding through Creative Scotland's Open Project Fund.

This article was published on 18 Apr 2017