Want to make art in a whisky distillery?

Finding a marriage in the maverick spirit shared between artists and whisky makers, Glenfiddich opens its 2017 Residency Prize up to Australian artists.
Want to make art in a whisky distillery?

While the distillery looks picturesque in winter, the 2017 Glenfiddich Artist Prize for an Australian artist will be offered in summer; image supplied

It sounds like a riddle: What do a whisky distillery and an artist have in common? The answer, however, is deadly serious. A maverick spirit.

The dreadlocked go-to-guy-in-a-kilt and Curator of the Glenfiddich Artist Residency Program, Andy Fairgrieve explained: ‘It’s always been the Glenfiddich way to do things slightly different from the rest of the herd; no doubt some might have thought we were a bit crazy to invite a group of artists into our lives each summer but that’s just the way we roll in the valley of the deer!

‘The word maverick certainly sums up an individual’s attitude and approach which is often out of the ordinary, perhaps choosing to do something that could equally result in splendid triumph or unmitigated disaster,’ he said.

But over the 16 years of this international program, which has featured more than 100 artists passing through the distillery doors, there have been few “disasters”; indeed quite the opposite.

Fairgrieve said a good example of the ethos behind the program was captured by 2015 Canadian resident Jon Sasaki, who constructed and flew a single seat, ultra-lightweight aircraft made during his residency.

‘People often ask what has this got to do with whisky, but the strength of the program is that it is non-prescriptive and allows artists to do what they want. For me, Jon’s airplane project is as risky and almost as foolhardy as William Grant was in giving up a reasonably secure and well-paid job to follow his dream of building a distillery to make the best dram in the valley,’ said Fairgrieve.

It is a concept that Mark Little, Marketing Manager, William Grant & Sons Australia, understands from a brand perspective.

‘All these artists who have been selected have this maverick drive in making their work, which we really relate to in terms of the brand at Glenfiddich,’ he said.

‘We pioneered the single malt category and came up with different way of enjoying whisky. And last year, we became the first whisky in the world to work with a brewer and finished off our Experimental Series in an IPA cask. Everything we do is about pairing up maverick thinkers.’

William Grant & Sons Australia will host an Australian artist to live and work in the Glenfiddich Distillery for three months in 2018 as part of a bigger residency program that Fairgrieve has been heading up since its inception in 2002.

‘Craftmanship, passion and dedication are common ground between the distillery workers and artists; distilling is certainly a sort of science but making single malt whisky is in itself a sort of art, and over the years there have been many collaborations between the distillery workers and the artists resulting in projects involving the spirit itself, such as Dave Dyment’s 100 year old Whisky project – A Drink to Us ( When we’re both dead)  (2008) and Luis Bisbe’s Not Scotch Whisky (2007) or the films works by Zhang Qing and Jillian Mcdonald both of which made use of workers and locals as extras,’ Fairgrieve said.  

But while the whisky distillery is the residency’s location, it does not necessarily have to be the topic. The program has won a reputation for its un-prescriptive and supportive approach.

2018 will mark the third time an Australian artist will head to Dufftown, the small Scottish Highland town – population 2,000 – which is home to William Grant & Sons’ signature distillery. Past recipients have been Joan Ross (2015) and Stanislava Pinchuk (2016).

Submissions for the 2017 Australian and New Zealand Artists in residence is now open.

Winner of the 2015 Glenfiddich Artists in Residence Prize, Joan Ross; supplied

Want to make art in a distillery?

Living in a distillery is a pretty wild idea, and adding artists to that mix is even crazier. 

For the Glenfiddich Artists in Residence Prize, William Grant & Sons hosts an Australian artist to work and live for a period of three months at the Distillery – a period long enough to grow a connection with the landscape, and catch on to the accent.

‘Twelve weeks can at the outset seem a very long time, and although there is a timeless feeling to the pace of life in Dufftown, the three months can speed past so quickly,’ said Fairgrieve.  

‘One of the main planks of the programme was to make our artists feel welcome and settled here and to allow the time it takes for them to fully absorb the wide range of inspirational opportunities the Glenfiddich experience can offer.’

He understands the creative thought process and is able to visualise not only the artists’ proposed pieces but the path needed to turn it onto a reality. His knowledge of the distillery is essential, particularly, when it comes to knowing who to speak to in order to help make the artists’ ideas come to life.

But Fairgrieve assured ArtsHub that the residency is not all work and no play. ‘It’s important there is adequate time to socialise through dinner parties, bonfires and celidhs … Each artist becomes like a member of an extended family; many have said to me that being at Glenfiddich has been one of the greatest experiences of their lives.’

The residencies are slightly staggered with the main bulk of arrivals occurring in May and early June meaning for the greater part of the summer all artists are at the distillery at the same time.

‘Having such a strong peer group is one of the great strengths of the programme, allowing artist to bounce ideas off each other and provide assistance or even collaborations,’ he added.

How to apply

The Residency Prize is valued at $21,000, which consists of travel costs, accommodation, a monthly per diem, and a materials allowance.

The residency is for a three month period sometime between April and October 2018. The program is also open for artists to extend that period.

The selected artists will have the opportunity to show their ‘in progress’ work or perform a project during the residency period.

Read the application guidelines.

Candidates will be shortlisted by jury consideration, with five finalists presented at Sydney Contemporary art fair in September.

The winning artist will be agreed upon by the Artists in Residence project manager / curator in conjunction with the Glenfiddich Australian Brand Manager. They will be notified by 18 September 2017.

Applications close 31 July 2017.

About the author

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW.

Twitter: @ginafairley
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