The 2nd International Alasdair Gray Conference runs from the 16th – 17th June, and SNACK spoke to writer, academic, and Alasdair Gray biographer Rodge Glass to find out what’s happening when and where, who is going to be in attendance, and how you can get involved.
What can you tell us about The 2nd International Alasdair Gray Conference?
It’s a gathering of folk from around the world who are interested in the work of one of Scotland’s finest literary and visual artists, Alasdair Gray. The idea is to make it an interrogation and a celebration – a way of pushing things forward by encouraging new people and perspectives on his work and those connected to him. I believe that in 200 years, folk in Scotland are going to want to know about Gray’s work. So these are the early days of what I call ‘Gray Studies’. That field is best served by being welcoming and generous, as the man himself was.
The conference has a couple of titles, ‘Making Imagined Objects’ and ‘Across Space & Form’. Can you explain and break those down?
Alasdair often described himself as a ‘maker of imagined objects’ – he used that term because it allowed him to include all the things he made under that umbrella: books, murals, landscapes, portraits, public works of art…he thought of himself as a craftsman and wanted to live in a world where artists could make a useful contribution to society. ‘Across Space & Form’ is the theme of the conference, chosen because we want to encourage folk in the worlds of visual and literary arts to talk to each other, and share their knowledge.
What can attendees expect?
It should first and foremost be fun, and social. We’ve all been stuck at our wee home desks for a long time, and this will be the biggest gathering ever of people interested in research around Gray’s work. So folk should have plenty to talk to each other about! We’ll also be wandering around Gray’s Glasgow, having events among the murals and seeing exhibitions of the art.
Alasdair Gray is often seen as a particularly Scottish, or even Glaswegian, writer and artist. Can you talk about his international reputation and reach?
I’m glad you mentioned that. The old cliché when Alasdair was alive was that he was sometimes ‘too Scottish’ for folk in other countries to be able to relate to his work. Not true. Some English publishers were unsure how to promote his work, and certainly some doors remained closed to him because of his insistence on making his life and work so closely connected to Glasgow. But he always had a lot of supporters in England, and in his lifetime his works were widely translated, as well as novels like Poor Things, soon to be released as a film, seeing notable success in the US. That literary international reputation continues to grow steadily – but the main difference in the last 10-20 years has been with the visual art. For most of Alasdair’s life he was considered a footnote in contemporary Scottish art, no more – a curiosity, whose work was totally absent from even small Scottish galleries. That’s so different now. His work is in Tate London, has been exhibited in Europe and North America, and the value of his art is much more widely acknowledged. Many Scottish galleries, including GoMA, which we’re visiting as part of the conference, feature his work. So things are really changing. His Scottishness is an asset, both at home and abroad.
Gray’s writing and art is often examined separately. Why do you feel it is important to bring them together as this conference does?
Because that was Alasdair’s mode of creation. For nearly 40 years during his life, Alasdair’s literary art was much, much bigger than his visual art reputation. That’s really started to even out in the last decade – you only have to look at, say, the Hillhead Subway mural, or the Òran Mór auditorium – Scotland’s biggest free to access work of art – to understand how views of Gray have changed in the 21st century. Alasdair composed his ‘objects’ to always include both word and picture at the same time. The two swim into each other in his murals and his books. At the conference, we’ll bring together folk from these two worlds, and talk about Gray’s work not just as being ‘books’ or ‘paintings’, say, but as works which contain both, two elements in continual conversation with each other. As Gray’s international reputation as a visual artist blossoms around the world, it’s a great time to have a conference like this that makes a point of putting the literature and art on an equal footing.
Can you tell us about some of the speakers?
There’s a lot on over two days and nights. We’ll be hearing readings of work responding to Gray’s own – Juana Adcock’s pamphlet of poems Vestigial is being launched, for example, at the Hunterian museum. But there will also be excellent talks from the likes of one of Scotland’s very finest writers, Ali Smith (who credited Gray with ‘giving her permission to write’ and Jenny Brownrigg (Exhibitions Director at the Glasgow School of Art, where Gray was a student in the 1950s) – both of them will be giving keynote speeches that we intend to publish after the conference. There will also be filmmakers, postgrad students, and Gray experts from around the world.
How can people get involved?
Most of the tickets have gone now, I’m glad to say, but there are some left – so it’s not too late to register for the conference:
The 2nd International Alasdair Gray Conference is on the 16th til 17th June. For tickets visit: bit.ly/Alasdair_Gray_Conference