Wednesday 14 October 2015

Glenfiddich Artists in Residence and interview with Lead Curator, Andy Fairgrieve

Last month, the 2015 Sydney Contemporary International Art Fair was held over five days at Carriageworks, south east of the CBD. The fair presented curated arts and collections from various local and international galleries, showcasing contemporary artefacts from photographs, sculptures, paintings, prints to modern, dynamic audio-visual animations and installations.


There were many artefacts being exhibited - in fact, over 30,000 artefacts were being exhibited at the fair, also available for sale (for the right price). Personally, two striking highlights for me were the Golden Teardrop (Pyramid) by Arin Rungjang (above) and the MDF and LED installations by Jason Sims of Mars Galleries (below).


" what does this have to do with Whisky?" we hear you ask. Well, Glenfiddich was also present at the 'Fair' to host both a swanky bar, and also the Glenfiddich Artists in Residence Competition. 

The Glenfiddich Artists in Residence Competition first began in Scotland in 2002 and opened to Australian residents for the first time this year. The competition provides the winning artist with the opportunity to reside at the Glenfiddich distillery for 3 months, to be inspired and to be mentored by the Glenfiddich Artists in Residence Curator, Andy Fairgrieve.

A panel of judges led by Andy that included representations from the Sydney Contemporary International Art Fair Advisory Council was tasked with selecting the winner of the competition. As we highlighted in our recent This Week in Whisky post, dual Blackheath and Bondi resident Joan Ross was selected by the panel as the winner of the competition for her work titled 'I Have Your Cake and I'm Eating it too' (pictured below).

We spoke to Andy Fairgrieve about the competition, and the development of the Artists in Residence program by Glenfiddich.

Can you please briefly describe how you fell in love or how you managed to get involved with contemporary art?

My arts background is not exactly orthodox, I did spend a good few years after school working as a layout artist on magazines for a large publishing company in Dundee, but I have spent as many years working on farms and as a self employed building contractor. My last job before joining Glenfiddich was working at a historical interpretation centre covering the pre history of North east Scotland from late Mesolithic to early Roman period. I have a Masters degree in cultural history and I play drums in a punk band, I like things that make me think.

My road into the world of whisky and contemporary art might have been pretty random but then it is a very unique role overseeing the creation of new art at a working distillery so understanding of the creative process as well as the practical skill to make it happen are important factors.

How did you get involved with the Glenfiddich Artist in Residence program? Looking back, is the program anything like what you had expected at the start?

While I was studying at Aberdeen University I took a summer job at Duff House in the coastal town of Banff, which is home to a large historical collection of art and serves as a northern outpost of the Scottish National Galleries in Edinburgh. It also has a wing dedicated to touring exhibitions of contemporary art. This led to further part time work with a local art organisation called Deveron Arts based in Huntly, who in turn were given the consultancy to run the Glenfiddich programme when it was being set up in 2002. Given the programme was initially only to run as a pilot for the first year, the fact that it is still going strong and entering its 15th year is almost beyond any expectation!

What inspired the development of the Artist in Residence program by Glenfiddich?

The inspiration and indeed continued appetite for the residency programme is rooted in the fact that Glenfiddich is a family owned and run company. It was our late chairman Charles Gordon who first suggested that William Grant and Sons should look to build a collection of art and it was his nephew Peter Gordon who refined the idea of the residency programme.

They chose to take on all the built in challenges of engaging with artists directly by inviting them to live and work at The Glenfiddich Distillery. These artists would be not be producing the type of art that might be expected for a Single Malt Whisky Brand - i.e. traditional heather and weather, were both incredibly bold choices and are what makes this programme so exciting and dynamic. This confidence is continued through in that the programme is non prescriptive in what should be produced. At Glenfiddich we aim not just to provide time and space to artists but freedom as well.

From your experience in mentoring many artists through the Dufftown Distillery doors since the Residence began, what messages can you share with potential artists out there or those that simply love contemporary art?

Embrace experience and embrace it often.

What can we expect from the upcoming Glenfiddich Artist in Residence exhibitions across Scotland, India, China Taiwan, Canada and Korea?

The weekend will see the final exhibition of the summer at Glenfiddich; one of the two artists exhibiting is Krupa Makhija who has been collecting what she terms as architectural trash from Balvenie House, which at one time was home to William Grant and his family. It is now a derelict shell but will remain so for not much longer as a major renovation project has just begun to restore it to its former glory.

Krupa has managed to salvage some artefacts such as light fittings and bell pulls which will be worked into an installation alongside fragments of old photographs showing the house and its inhabitants reproduced on chunks of plaster from the wall of the house itself. Krupa shall also be showing works in her first solo show at Art District 13 in Delhi next summer as the follow up to her time at Glenfiddich. 

In early November Su Chang shall be exhibiting works inspired and informed from his summer here at Glenfiddich at the Don Gallery in Shanghai, and the following weekend in Taipei Chang Huei-ming opens his post residency exhibition at IT Park.

Finally, with all the lovely Glenfiddich expressions that you have sampled, any expression you prefer, and why?

For me it has to be the Glenfiddich 15 year old, the rich fruit and honey notes from the sherry butts it is matured in is enriched through our solar process which just finishes all the warm flavours off perfectly.

Thanks to Andy for taking the time to talk to us. As Andy noted, "embrace experience and embrace it often".

Hendy would like to thank Teresa of Agent 99 for arranging this Q&A with Glenfiddich Artists in Residence Curator, Andy Fairgrieve.

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