MoC On The Turntable # 1!

Look Again Fesitval 2019!

As the weekend approached everything turned to Look Again Festival as they kicked off their 5th Annual Art & Design festival in Aberdeen! When looking at the cultural make up of Aberdeen Look Again has been a central rally point for many in the creative community, creating a host of public artworks and interventions that aim to make the viewer feel like a tourist in their own city. And that's exactly how I approached this years festival.

I spent the best part of my Friday afternoon wandering around Aberdeen in glorious sunshine as I followed the handy Look Again map and tried to find some of this years exciting artworks!

Perhaps the biggest in the festivals 5 year history is the 'Love At First Sight' installation by Morag Myerscough situated at the Castlegate. Over the course of a week giant colourful panels slowly surrounded the ancient Merkat Cross, providing a new focal point visible from the other end of Union Street. Each board has been carefully measured out and painted at the Look Again hub in RGU before being carefully assembled on site, an undertaking that took almost 30 days in total with hundreds of volunteer's and man hours. But the end result is quite frankly, stunning and feels like a great continuation of the Look Again story, from year 1 reworking statues with a modern twist to year 5, up grading monuments and providing an endless set of backdrops for the insta generation! 
But to really get into 'Love At First Sight' you need to jump back a few months to Morag Myerscoughs brilliant Guest at Grays lecture where she spoke about her artistic practice and projects to date. She treated the audience to a little preview of the up coming project and outlined her plans for something big in the heart of Aberdeen. Bold bright colours and geometric patterns are the trademark of Morags work but the scale and complexity of her designs really take it to another level. It was fascinating to see into her studio practice through time lapse videos and a healthy understanding of social media.

Through the talk we also found out about Morags parents and their story, finding love in Aberdeen being very much at the centre. This would form an important part of the finished piece with a collaborative poem from local Doric author and poet Jo Gilbert forming a part of the installation. A huge undertaking but this years festival feels tempered on big ambitions combined with a nice set of smaller scale works that let the viewer become their own guide, exploring the city and hopefully walking down some unfamiliar streets.
Indeed when looking at exploring the city two of this years artists found inspiration in abundance at the Indoor Market site. 'Trading Faces' brought photographer Steve Smith & Writer / Researcher Ian Grosz together as they explored the fascinating stories and lives of the Indoor Markets current resident traders. As we've seen happen time and again with these older market spaces, developers step in with plans of up grades and facelifts, gentrification by another name, often leading to massive rent increases and forcing out many of the traders that give these spaces their heart and soul.

Through photography and audio recordings from the traders themselves telling their stories, 'Trading Faces' gives the viewer a look at the real people who's lives depend on the market and what makes the space so special and it is a special place, both historically and culturally. It was certainly a special feeling to be in the market after closing time for the official exhibition opening, glass of prosecco in hand while the blinking neon lights of Amusement Land served as a reminder of our location. I'd take a day in the Indoor Market over a day in Union Square every time!
We made our way up to Broad Street, bumping into familiar and friendly faces along the way as they made their way to the next stop on their own Look Again adventure. We spotted a few friends standing at the back of the Court House and went to say 'hello' before realising a very special welcome matt had been laid out. 'Threshold(s)' comes from local artist Kirsty Russel who's work often looks at different materials and their inherent properties. Welcome mats can often provide a first impression when entering a home or space but how does that concept work when scaled up to welcoming someone to the city? Well quite effectively in my opinion. The swirling mat seemed at once at home in the Broad Street underpass and yet its obvious that it shouldn't be there. Sometimes its that juxtaposition that creates the best reactions, subtle changes with impact.
The mat quickly led to a meeting with my good friend Craig Barrowman and his 'Mobile Ploposal Machine' a giant sculpted mobile head of famous Aberdeen architect Archibald Simpson, one of the city fathers who left an incredible architectural legacy to the city. Continuing Craigs previous work, the machine can be wheeled out to any site in the city centre and is completely sell sufficient, running power from a car battery and solar panel (not much use for that over the wet & cloudy weekend). Anyone can make their own piece of plop art using plasticine and then through the wonders of photoshop Craig reveals how their miniature plop could become a giant sized sculpture right here in Aberdeen. Craig spoke about the idea of plop art, seemingly random public sculptures that appear to be plopped into new and often contentious office and retail developments 'ahem' and give little to the viewer or the people who use our public spaces.
I was recently overwhelmed by some plop art in London, bang in the middle of a multi high rise development, a series of horses appeared to run through a pool of water as automated splashes looked to replicate their hoofs breaking the water. Instead the effect came off more like the bog of eternal stench from Labrynth and the piece left a bit of a weird taste in the mouth. But through technology Craig is addressing this problem and giving everyone and anyone the chance to be a publicly sited artist. It was great to see examples of works created by kids and passes by taped up around Broad Street, almost like miniature protest gallery but of the best kind. Here's hoping some of the council chiefs caught a few of the designs as I'd love to see a giant head at the entrance to Marischal College.
We stepped away from the hands on work of Craig Barrowman to experience a fully immersive vision of legendary maximalist artist John Walter. Located in the quad at Marischal College, you find a rather unassuming set up office chairs filled with people looking around in all directions, their faces obscured by interesting looking VR head sets, each one radically reimaged by the John with eye holes and bright tubes. We quickly joined the que and awaited our turn to take a dip into The Fourth Wall!

Very quickly the granite courtyard of Marischal College melted away and I was thrown into the fully immersive world of John Walter. If you're familiar with his paintings then you'll recognise the mix of British TV soap icons with flashes of bright colour, text and a strange space where analogue techniques and digital technologies mash together to create what feels like a new aesthetic or certainly one that's a trademark of John. Add in a constant changing of scenes as walls drop down to reveal more layers, more elements and more ideas in a constantly rotating mash up and you've broken through the fourth wall. And all the while John is softly singing into your ear with prose and famous hit songs, reimaged to create a surreal and perfect soundtrack as you look around in every direction, trying to find the floor or the roof, instead finding more artwork! For what seem's like a rather old hat technology in the ever advancing tech world, this marked my first VR experience and I'm sure many other folks virgin voyage into the unknown. It was special.
There's a level of detail in the execution that John Walter brings, a firm belief in his own ideas and an ability to overcome any hurdle as we later found out during his discussion with Creative Review editor Eliza Williams. Creating multiple 360 degree worlds, John spent weeks inside the VR head set, hand painting elements using specialist software, importing and exporting elements, arranging and curating each layer until he was satisfied with the end results. And they were fantastic, especially when the digital walls of Marischal College drop away to reveal giant paintings of Pomeranians, helixes and big bold colourful shapes. I can think of few artists who could handle such a project and I can think of even fewer who could do what John did with four and a half minutes, an eternity in VR time but one I was eager to experience again!
From the full on digital world of John to the more colloquial 'Glisk' installation at the newly refurbished Music Hall by Design & Code! The team have been great supporters of our Kekun space during our run of residencies so its fantastic to see the fruits of their labours displayed for all to see as the entrance became a buzz with people stopping to stare at the special doric screens. Through the Glisk app, viewers were able to add their own favourite doric phrases to the melee and sure enough over the course of the week phrases like 'We Love Stovies' and 'We're Folk Oo A Kinds' would flash up and swirl into the next set of words. You can see a short video of the screens here.

Again this is another part of this years festival where the execution comes of so slick yet many hours have gone into designing not just the screens but the software app and all it entails which is no mean feat. Writing computer code and scripts is a complicated process, certainly akin to learning a new language or five and one I'm envious of. As we start to look Aberdeen and its future, tech development will become a key factor and I'm sure the team at Design & Code will be leading the way for us in no time!

Within the music hall I found two brilliant exhibitions, one featuring embroidered artwork by Betty Fraser Myerscough, mother to Morag and ex tutor at Grays School of Art which provides a great connection for Morags 'Love At First Sight' piece. Indeed the leap from these stunning ornate and colour tapestries to Morags own use of words and shape in her current work is astounding. In the downstairs gallery we found a brilliant selection of prints from last years Look Again artist Supermundane, aka Rob Lowe. Titled 'I Know Its Over' ( a Smiths reference?) the new print works provided a handy tie in to the work Rob completed at last years festival with a permenant community piece being installed on Catherine Street. The new prints showed his progression and exploration of shape and form with added humorous and up lifting titles like 'Its Takes Guts To Be Gentle And Kind'. Both shows run til the end of June so be sure to catch them soon!
The final piece I caught during the festival came in the shape of the Radical Caterpillars, a joint project from Katie Guthrie and Emma Chapman, aka Studio N_Name. During the lead up to this years festival, the team worked with pupils from Skene Square and Manor Park primary schools to create a brand new political manifesto called the Radical Caterpillars! Although free to join, new members were required to pick up a manifesto designed by the duo who issued a new passport which could be stamped, allowing you to enter Aberdaberdoo as the caterpillars have renamed our city. The brightly coloured passport both stood out nicely on the Green, even amongst all the Painted Doors & Nuart murals and saw lots of young people sign up for the cause. Inside the booth walls were adorned with pink and green posters designed by members of the party, some of which were pasted up the street in the Tunnels. The piece managed to combine a few of my favourite things, getting kids engaged with art, good design and thinking outside the box!
Throughout the festival we attended artist talks including a great chat with local author, poet and performer Shane Strachan who provided a great insight into his show 'The Bill Gibb Line'. The work combined colourful outfits designed by fashion students at Grays with special prose written by Shane, inspired by news paper clippings and stories of Bill Gibb. It brought new life and energy to one of the North Easts lost fashion icons but also provided a great parallel in the rural up bringing of both Bill and Shane, allowing him to delve a little deeper into Bills life and story. I would have loved to see the outfits in all their splendour but the short videos that Shane shared provided a glimpse into the incredible talents currently working in the Grays fashion department and also highlighted Shane's acting talents (a man of many talents). I'll be heading over to Grays to check out this years designers along with the rest of this years Degree Show in just a moment.

And that's a wrap for 2019. Despite my best efforts I was unable to check out everything that Look Again had to offer but I always take that as a good sign. It's been by far the biggest endeavour for the team and their volunteers but they've done exactly what they set out to do, helping create a sense of community and made me feel like a tourist in my own city, Aberdeen, a place that I love. Here's to everyone making Aberdaberdoo a better place to be!

Thanks to local photographer Alan Longmuir who kindly allowed me to use some of his photographs for this piece.

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