Hillary Nicoll: Look Again... there is a lot more to Aberdeen than just grey granite

Look Again Festival of Art and Design is a relatively new fixture in the cultural calendar in Aberdeen, but one that is making an increasingly important impact on the city, not only with its annual celebration of great new art and design in public spaces, but also by encouraging creative talent to stay and work in the city.

Doric Boule, created in 2017 by Nick Ross, a graduate of Grays School of Art in Aberdeen, featured a series of granite benches sourced from quarries all over the world installed in Marischal Colleges quad

As an initiative of Robert Gordon University (RGU), Look Again is deeply embedded in Aberdeen, and, along with other partners, is working to cultivate a new and thriving creative scene. As well as the extensive programme of festivals across the year, Aberdeen is now enjoying an unprecedented surge in home- grown cultural activity, with new art and design collectives forming, creative spaces opening up and more to get involved in that ever before. This new confidence is backed by a cultural strategy that provides a vision of Aberdeen as a creative, lively and innovative place we can all sign up to.

Look Again Festival invites the public to ‘see the city through fresh eyes’, by commissioning prominent artists and designers from the North- east and further afield to respond to the city with new artworks and installations, films and events. In doing so, we draw attention to the exceptional cultural assets, collections, and world-leading archives and buildings that can be overshadowed by the dominant ‘oil and gas capital’ narrative.

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Previous festival highlights include working in 2016 with Turner Prize winners Assemble, who explored some of Aberdeen’s high-rise tower blocks for their ‘Brutalist Playground’ installation’ a hugely fun, foam reinterpretation of familiar 1970s concrete playgrounds that was fully playable.

Hilary Nicoll, Associate Director, Look Again Festival

Artist Janet McEwan’s ‘Ring Tones’ highlighted the Carillion of St Nicholas’ Kirk, the largest in Scotland. By inviting contemporary composers to work with the Carillioneur, new music rang out across the city, and could be downloaded as a digital ringtone for your phone.

The Mirrored Pavilion of 2016, made in partnership with Aberdeen Architects Society, continues to resonate globally. Designed by architecture student Lucy Fisher, it won a construction industry award and has been a huge hit on Instagram.

And in 2017, Stockholm-based designer Nick Ross, a graduate of Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen, created the ‘Doric Boule’, cited as one of the ‘must see’ outdoor installations the year by international design bible Wallpaper. A series of granite benches, sourced from quarries all over the world were installed in Aberdeen’s Marischal college quad. The subtly colourful work alluded to Aberdeen’s iconic material, its’ global connectedness, and made it clear that granite doesn’t always have to be grey!

Behind all these public projects, the Look Again team work throughout the year to create opportunities for up-and-coming artists and designers to build their confidence, skills and knowledge, and to help them feel it is possible to stay and work in the city, instead of making their way to the Central Belt and beyond.

Hilary Nicoll, Associate Director, Look Again Festival

Working within the Scottish Government “Years of...”, Look Again 2018 sees a special focus on young people, with the theme of ‘Serious Play’. Alongside our major commissions, several of our projects will involve groups of Aberdeen-based emerging artists, designers and performers, who we have invited to produce and present new work for the festival, or will be made by artists and designers working with groups of local young people.

We have introduced a very successful series of mentored residency programmes that have already catalysed two creative collectives to stay and work in the city, and that will support a new group of designers in 2018 to produce a public art work for the festival, based on contemporary flags.

We are excited to launch the festival at the time of Gray’s Degree Show, a key cultural high-point in the city. Alongside this we welcome artist Emily Speed. She will work with six young dancers to create a new film and performance, ‘Facades/Fronts’, exploring how we construct our identities in our teens. And designer Supermundane will produce a new work with Street Sport, the city’s highly successful initiative that empowers young people to be confident, capable, independent and responsible citizens within their own communities. Alongside that, a group of RGU architecture students have designed a playable pavilion with help from Kaimhill Primary school and Bridge of Don Academy which will be available for some fun interaction in the city centre. ‘Dial A for Whispers’ is a new project by a young collective of artists making experimental, engaging performance work that will be live at the festival.

Also very exciting is ‘Positive Geography’ an important exhibition for the festival. Curated by Jon Blackwood, this exhibition will feature six highly talented contemporary art graduates, who will be presenting new sculpture, installation, film and performance in a new gallery space in the city centre before touring the work elsewhere.

There will be lots of family-friendly workshops, talks and films to accompany the festival exhibits, and we really think there will be something for everyone. Come to Aberdeen in June, and Look Again at what the city has to offer.

Hilary Nicoll, associate director, Look Again Festival