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Glenfiddich welcomes six artists from around the globe for 20th Artists in Residence programme

By Lorna Thompson

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GLENFIDDICH'S Artists in Residence (AiR) programme has been able to go ahead safely this summer, despite pandemic uncertainty, to bring artists from all over the world to the Dufftown distillery.

The Glenfiddich AiR programme is one of the largest privately-funded artist residency programmes in the UK, with a total budget of £130,000.

Speyside residents have become accustomed over recent weeks to the sight of Chinese artist Guo Haiqiang cycling around the area to paint local landscapes.

Haiquiang is one of six artists taking part in this year’s AiR programme.

While many arts events have had to cancel for a second year, the Glenfiddich programme is in full swing at the distillery.

This year, the programme is hosting artists from Canada, the US, Taiwan, China, Korea and Scotland. They will live and work at the distillery for up to three months.

William Grant & Sons launched the project in 2002, and it has run annually until last year when it had to halt due to the pandemic.

It was feared that the same could happen this year, but organisers pulled out the stops to meet all requirements to bring the artists to Scotland safely.

AiR co-ordinator Andy Fairgrieve said: "After last year’s enforced hiatus, having the artists here at Glenfiddich feels like a massive achievement, especially given all the uncertainty over international travel.

"This is our 20th year so, no matter how difficult it was going to be, I felt it was important to ensure something went ahead, while keeping everyone safe.

"We made the decision to start organising visas in March/April as we normally would, even though we were still in lockdown. Then we had to wait until restrictions started to ease here, so the programme started a bit later than normal. The artists had to try to get vaccinations in their home country and had to isolate for 10 days on arrival.

"The real issue was the uncertainty. There was always a chance flights would be cancelled, or the status of a country could change from green list to amber or red. I was on the edge of my seat until each artist arrived in Aberdeen Airport.

Chinese artist Guo Haiqiang painting in barley fields above Glenfiddich Distillery in Dufftown.
Chinese artist Guo Haiqiang painting in barley fields above Glenfiddich Distillery in Dufftown.

"The pandemic has caused us to do things slightly differently, but still with the aim of giving the artists the best possible experience of being here. If they had the courage and fortitude to come from the other side of the world to a country that might have a far higher rate of infection than the one they’ve left, we owe them that."

Another of this year's participants is Dean Baldwin Lew, from Montreal, Canada. He said: "I’m really happy to be here. Even at the beginning of this year, we weren’t sure if the residency would go ahead, and travelling during the pandemic brings a huge saddlebag of anxiety in addition to the extra paperwork and Covid testing that has to happen.

"A lot of my work is event-based, around food, and when I applied for the residency back in 2019 I had hoped to organise a feast of local foods and invite lots of people. Obviously, we’ve had to make a few changes to that, but I’ve been hiking and foraging and cooking. Currently, it’s looking more like a recipe book than a feast.

"All the experiences I’ve had alone in the landscape of Scotland have been quite sublime."

The other artists taking part this year are Hou I Ting, from Taiwan, Megan O’Connell, from the US, Gabrielle Gillott, from Scotland, and Jongheon Bae, from South Korea.

Organisers are currently looking at ways to share the work produced by the artists with an international audience when their time at Glenfiddich ends later in the autumn.

The programme is open to artists in all disciplines from painting, sculpture and digital work to graphics and graffiti art, and has also hosted writers and composers.

The artists are provided with a house and studio, a monthly stipend and a budget for new work. One piece of work produced at the distillery will be accessioned into the Glenfiddich art collection.

To date, more than 140 artists from 20 countries have participated.

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