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Artists from Scotland making waves at major international events

Scotland is a distinctive creative nation connected to the world - and our ambition is for the artists and creative practitioners who are based here to have opportunities to deepen their practice through international dialogue, exchange and collaboration.

2017 sees three major international exhibitions being staged in Europe – Documenta (which takes place every five years); Skulpture Projekte Munster (which takes place every ten years); and the Venice Biennale (which takes place every alternate year).

We take a look at artists from Scotland who are presenting work at two of these key international events and other venues this summer.


documenta14 is one of the most highly anticipated and critically acclaimed exhibitions of international contemporary art. Taking place in Athens, Greece (8 April – 16 July) and Kassel, Germany (10 June – 17 September), it endeavours to encompass a multitude of voices in, between and beyond the two cities.

Ross Birrell is currently undertaking two related works - The Athens-Kassel Ride, which launched in Athens in April, and a second work, Criollo, to be exhibited in Kassel.

The Athens-Kassel Ride is a 1,865 mile (3000km) equestrian long ride across Europe, linking the two cities of documenta14. A mobile, open and participatory, human-equine ensemble taking place over 100 days.

Athens-Kassel Ride

The Athens-Kassel Ride has been devised by Birrell and developed in collaboration with experienced long riders, Peter van der Gugten and David Wewetzer (members of the Long Riders Guild), and is supported by the Vereinigung der Freizeitreiter und-fahrer in Deutschland e.V. (VfD), one of the largest equestrian associations in Germany. A ‘posse’ of 4 riders and a documentation team are undertaking The Athens-Kassel Ride. Departing from Athens they are making their way northwards through Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and onto Kassel, Germany.

Ross Birrell

Birrell explains the inspiration behind the work:

The Athens-Kassel Ride and Criollo are inspired by an autobiographical account of a 10,000 mile equestrian journey from Buenos Aires to New York by Swiss-Argentine horseman Aimé Tschiffely, from 1925-1928.

"In its remarkable feat of endurance, crossing of border territories and war zones, and its arduous and determined passage North, Tschiffely’s Ride perhaps presages countless contemporary migrations. Tschiffely’s account was printed in 1933, the same year Hitler seized power in Germany and implemented a bio-politics of race hatred. Tschiffely’s words resonate strongly again today as we witness the resurgence of a bio-politics of intolerance of the other and the strengthening of national borders across Europe and North America."

Riders at Akropolis

It’s an important and exciting opportunity for the artist, as Amanda Catto, Head of Visual Art at Creative Scotland explains:

“It is a great accolade for any artist to be invited to exhibit in documenta and it is a recognised platform for some of the most significant and influential voices working in contemporary art today. Artists included in documenta are able to stretch their artistic and creative capacities in order to produce new work that resonates with a global audience, that reflects the times we live in and that creates maximum impact.

“Working at a pace that is different to other annual or biannual festivals, the organisers of documenta encourage and support projects of an ambition, scope and scale that could not be realised elsewhere.

"The Athens-Kassel Ride is a timely and relevant work that encourages us to reflect on the changing face of Europe by exploring its borders (past and present), the movement and migration of people, and the endurance of the individual in the face of constant social, political and economic flux.

"The fact that this work is made by an artist based in Scotland - a country which has been exploring its own position with regard to Europe - adds to its timeliness and appeal.”

Elsewhere at documenta14Lucy Skaer is exhibiting her video work, Why Are You Angry?. A collaboration with Rosalind Nashashibi, the work revisits Gauguin’s images of women in Tahiti and looks at the problems and potentials of imagining women through his particular gaze.

Scotland + Venice

Rachel Maclean is representing Scotland at the 57th International Art Exhibition, the Venice Biennale, until 26 November 2017.

The widely acclaimed major new film commission is a dark Venetian fairy-tale entitled Spite Your Face, exploring the dubious language of truth and how this is used and abused to enhance personal, corporate and political power.

Rachel Maclean in Venice

Rachel recently commented: “With this new film I set out to respond to significant changes in the political climate in the UK and abroad over the last 12 months - in particular the divisive campaigns in the lead up to the Brexit vote and the US Presidential election. These events have been central in heralding a new post-truth era, where politicians feel free to say what they want to help them gain popular support, with little regard for factual accuracy.”

An emerging and influential voice in the visual arts in Scotland, Maclean’s work presents a bold and often disturbing vision, creating fantasy narratives involving studio based green-screen techniques, custom prosthetics, costume, and voice actors.

Spite Your Face characters

“Rachel possesses a unique and compelling vision,” explains Amanda Catto “and Venice is the perfect opportunity to promote her work.  The Biennale is a significant international platform that will generate new audiences and critical profile especially with the large number of international visitors who attend.”

Curated by Alchemy Film & Arts, Richard Ashrowan, Creative Director told us "Rachel is known for her bold originality and unflinching ability to satirise the economies of desire and wish fulfilment inherent in contemporary life. In this new film, she has turned her penetrating gaze to the nebulous question of truth, its relationship to current political discourse, greed and the will to power. It questions our fundamental desire for a better life, while asking which brand of truth we will choose in the pursuit of an ideal life. Rachel is an artist whose work speaks powerfully to our generation, with unsettling clarity and an uncanny astuteness, while reflecting Scotland’s own energised spirit of political reinvention.”

Also appearing at the Venice Biennale is Glasgow School of Art graduate Sybren Renema. Exhibiting in the Antarctic Pavilion, the Glasgow-based artist has created the video work Discovery and the sculpture Great God! This is an awful place.

Following her 2011 Scotland + Venice presentation, Karla Black is showing new work at the Biennale’s International Exhibition Viva Arte Viva exhibition, curated by Biennale Director, Christine Macel. Karla is also exhibiting new works at Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Belgium.

Meanwhile, Graham Fagen (Scotland + Venice 2015) and Charles Avery (Scotland + Venice 2007) are both exhibiting work as part of Fondazione Berengo’s Glasstress 2017 exhibition and Douglas Gordon is showing a new video installation, Gente di Palermo! (Citizens of Palermo).

To find out more about Ross Birrell’s work and documenta visit the website here: documenta14.

For more information about Rachel Maclean and other artists exhibiting at La Biennale di Venezia, visit the Scotland + Venice website here: http://scotlandandvenice.com/