Glasgow's Barrowland Ballroom may have been devoid of bands and gig-goers for over a year, and of smokers for even longer, but as I walk up the famous stairs lined with posters and close my eyes for a second, I swear there's a whiff of stale booze, smoke and sweat emanating from the poster-strewn walls. Outside, while a Glasgow smirr envelopes the city, we are standing in the middle of Barrowland's famously sprung maple dance floor adjusting to the Stygian gloom.

As our eyes calibrate, the odd flash of a lit cigarette end and jag of laughter emerges from a vast screen which dangles from the rafters. Is this the ghost of Barrowland past? No, it's Duncan Campbell's 12-minute film, o Joan, no… (2006).

As the film spits and gurgles, I'm marvelling at how small the ballroom is while trying to conjure up 19-year-old me. For a moment, I catch my much younger self dancing manically with pals in a line one long-ago Hogmanay. On stage, the late Stuart Adamson is belting out In a Big Country.

As we fumble for torch apps on our phones, a member of the venue's team asks my colleague Sarah, who does press for Glasgow International, if we'd not have a better experience with the house lights up?

"What's this actually for, hen?" he asks. "I have two journalists here," Sarah replies. "They're reviewing Glasgow International." Silence. "It's a contemporary visual arts festival across the city featuring more than 100 artists…," she volunteers. "All about getting contemporary art into places where people might not normally see it…"

"Oh aye," he replies. "Well, just let me know when you want the house lights up."

I cannot tell a lie, having spent more than a year living through a screen, I find it hard to concentrate on Campbell's film when I am excited about the everyday drama of being out of my house.

Later, I read in my programme notes that the film, "begins in darkness; abstract darkness; primordial darkness perhaps. […] Nothing happens." Sounds familiar.

Campbell, a graduate of the Glasgow School of Art and winner of the 2014 Turner Prize, was commissioned to create a new work especially for this edition of Glasgow International, but like many plans in the last year, that one went agley. His new commission will be aired at a later date with his 2006 film being brought in as a late sub.

The theme of this year's Glasgow International, Attention, was set three years ago during the planning stages for GI2020.

According to festival director, Richard Parry, overseeing his second edition of Glasgow International, it became more appropriate to be thinking about "shifting attention" rather than "paying attention" when last year's festival was postponed for a year. Having had so much of his attention diverted over the last year, the relief in Parry's voice at having a festival open for business is palpable.

"I still can't quite believe this massive festival is now happening across Glasgow and that we are open for business," he laughs.

"For many people, it's the first time they have been out of the house to see art. There is something about close looking and paying attention to detail in art which we have all missed.

"A lot of the work in this festival responds to the 'attention economy' in which we always on smartphones. What does this constant flow of news feeds and social media do to our attention spans?"

The 2021 edition boasts a programme of larger-scale commissions and exhibitions in collaboration with partners and venues, as well as Across the City, a wider programme of exhibitions and projects, selected from proposals by artists, curators and producers who live and work in Glasgow. This year’s festival also offers a digital programme.

A voyage around Glasgow International takes careful planning. There are big exhibitions in major venues, such as the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) and Tramway. GoMA presents Nirbhai (Nep) Singh Sidhu's first solo show in Europe, while Tramway features new commissions by Martine Syms, Georgina Starr and Jenkin van Zyl.

At Kelvingrove, there is a major solo by the late Carol Rhodes, a huge influence on a generation of Glasgow contemporary artists. There's also a brand new vitrine-style painting on Perspex from Glasgow artist, France-Lise McGurn. Aloud is a very personal and gallus response to a louche painting called Reading Aloud by Albert Moore, which McGurn was fascinated by as a child.

Expect standout presentations in smaller venues such as Glasgow Women's Library, in which Ingrid Pollard's No Cover Up, responds to its unique Lesbian Archive and Information Centre.

At the Pipe Factory, beside the entrance to The Barras, I was charmed and a bit over-excited by Japanese artist Yuko Mohri's Piano Solo. This new work, installed by curators liaising with the artist over video calls, presents a contemporary homage to John Cage's most infamous work, 4 ́33”, in which the pianist plays nothing and the sound of the audience. In Mohri's new work, three video installations play on a loop and their individual soundtracks are picked up by microphones connected to a self-playing piano. The tiniest vibrations or movement around the installations triggers the piano to burst into life. If you jump around near the mics, the piano goes nuts. Such fun.

Other off-centre exhibitions include; Sarah Forrest at Maryhill Burgh Halls, Glasgow Open Dance School (G.O.D.S) at Springburn Museum and Jacqueline Donachie's STEP at the Govan Project Space.

A new film and a series of audio works by Alberta Whittle, who is representing Scotland at this year’s Venice Biennale, explores the colonial history of the Forth and Clyde canal outside Glasgow Sculpture Studios.

You might even bump into the odd exhibition, as I did when I stumbled across a couple of Sam Durant's billboard drawings off Albion Street responding to the current debate on how we relate to symbols in public space. Keep your eyes peeled for this work, curated by The Common Guild.

The festival, which ends a week tomorrow, plays to Glasgow's reputation as a centre for the production and display of innovative contemporary art.

At the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Gretchen Bender's 1987 video installation, Total Recall explodes into life some 17 years after the death of this pioneering US multi-media artist.

Viewed as a seminal work by Bender, one of the Metro Pictures generation of New York artists interested in mass media, it plays out over a host of blocky old school television monitors. Now 34 years old, with its buzzy apocalyptic mash-up of mass entertainment and global media, the work seems to predict the global attention deficit which is par for the course two decades into the 21st century.

It pays to pay attention.

Glasgow International, at venues throughout Glasgow,, Until Sunday June 27. Free but booking at some venues is required. Check website for details and for opening times.

Critic's Choice

There are various exhibitions happening throughout Glasgow at the same time as Glasgow International which don't fall under the aegis of its official programming.

LOWLANDS is one. This exhibition in the Laurieston area of Glasgow is hosted by a group of seven established artists based in Glasgow, Fife and Finland.

Andreas Behn-Eschenburg, Rachel Duckhouse, Claire Forsyth, Alistair Gow, Bronwen Sleigh, Karen L Vaughan and Alasdair Wallace all had an existing association with the Glasgow Print Studio when they came together as a collective in 2016.

The spur was a realisation that they had all individually received support from the Bet Low Trust.

This new exhibition in the gritty urban space of the "Old Courtroom" at Oxford House is the second iteration of the LOWLANDS project.

The artists have used this opportunity to make new work in response to the space and to themes evoked by Bet Low, such as place, connection, community and the Glasgow School of Art-trained painter's attitude and non-conformist approach.

Low was one of several artists who organised a group exhibition in 1956 on the railings of Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens as a response to the lack of opportunities for contemporary artists in the city at that time.

Referencing those railings and in abstract reflection of their form, the artists have designed a series of metal frameworks creating an integral structure for the works to be hung on, within, or in relation to them. The arrangement of the structures also provides the suggestion of a route, allowing opportunities to view work in relation to its neighbours, up close and from multiple angles as the viewer moves through the space.

Printmaking is the one unifying aspect across the range of work by the collective. Styles vary from the formalist abstraction of Sleigh and Duckhouse, to the more representational exploration of place by Gow and Wallace, while Forsyth continues her meditation on psycho-geography and memory. Behn-Eschenberg and Vaughan respond to Low's work through their diverse, process-led practices.

The aim of the LOWLANDS projects is to acknowledge the connections between this varied set of artists and to celebrate the blithe and adventurous spirit of Low, who despite her relative invisibility today continues to support future generations of artists through the Trust, which she established before her death in 2007.

LOWLANDS, The Old Courtroom, Oxford House, 71 Oxford Street, Glasgow G5 9ER,, Until Sunday June 27.Tuesday – Sunday 12 – 5pm or by appointment

Don't Miss

Two Angus museums are set to host the finale of the Royal Scottish Academy Ages of Wonder touring exhibitions as part of the venues’ post-lockdown reopening this month. The first, Ages of Wonder: The Art of Etching, opens today while Montrose Museum will feature Ages of Wonder: The Life School’ from June 26.

Ages of Wonder: The Art of Etching, The Meffan, West High Street, Forfar, DD8 1BB, 01307 491771,, Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 3pm. From today until January 15 2022. Free.