RICHARD Parry is sounding enthused. When The National speaks with the new director of the Glasgow International, there are just a few days until the eighth edition of the prestigious biennial art festival when the largest exhibition of contemporary art in Scotland opens in upwards of 70 venues across the city.

“This is the most exciting part, to be honest,” says Parry. “There’s a lot of breathless dashing around the city. After all those months of work you finally start to see the works of art coming together, and the exhibitions about to become fully formed.”

Launched yesterday, Glasgow International runs until May 7, with more than 45 group shows and 40 solo exhibitions presenting work from more than 260 artists from more than 30 countries around the planet. Having started in 2005, the festival is formed by two major “slabs”, Parry says: a showcase of the work Glasgow-based artists are making right now, and a director’s programme of major, mostly solo exhibitions.

The one group exhibition in the director’s programme is titled Cellular World: Cyborg-Human-Avatar-Horror and runs at the Gallery of Modern Art until October. Featuring work by nine internationally-renowned artists including Cécile B Evans, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Joseph Buckley and Sam Keogh, the exhibition explores concerns around technology, identity and the world we currently find ourselves in “where the future frequently appears as a precipice between utopia and dystopia”.

These themes are echoed throughout the director’s programme, which also includes work by Paris-based Canadian artist Kapwani Kiwanga, Glasgow School of Art graduate Hardeep Pandhal (below), US sound designer E. Jane, Mark Leckey and Lubaina Himid.

Parry, who was made director of the Glasgow International in May 2017, has already worked with the latter two during his four-year tenure as director-curator of the Grundy Art Gallery in Blackpool. There he presented a solo exhibition by Leckey, the Birkenhead-born 2008 Turner Prize winner dubbed “the artist of the YouTube generation” for his found footage music videos, most notably the emotive, strange Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, a work from 1999 which retains cult status today. For Leckey’s Tramway exhibition at GI2018, he is set to scale a sculpture of the Biblical Job, and convert it into a surround sound system.

Himid, an artist whose work challenges colonial history and racism with lively satire, made waves last year when she won the Turner Prize at the age of 63. For GI2018, a giant, specially commissioned installation will hang from the ceiling of the main hall at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Parry says the work – a huge wagon decorated with mythical creatures inspired by the museum’s architecture – is a departure for Himid, whom Parry worked with in her capacity as an experienced curator and professor of contemporary art at the University of Central Lancashire.

“When I was in Blackpool, Lubaina was on the gallery’s advisory board,” says Parry. “She was based just up the road in Preston. So my relationship with her in the past had been on a more advisory capacity, she was more helping us out.”

He continues: “When I left the gallery, I visited her studio, and we talked about what might happen in Glasgow. It was around that time that she was selected to be one of the artists on the shortlist for the Turner Prize. Everything happened very quickly from that point. We are totally delighted that she won, and also to be showing her work in Glasgow.”

Across the street from the museum at the Kelvin Hall is Lavendra, an intimate space created by New York artist E.Jane intended to recall “an imaginary, brown dwarf star” set in harmony by the smooth 1990s r’n’b of Aaliyah, Whitney Houston and Toni Braxton. Also at the Kelvin Hall is Pandhal’s Self-Loathing Flashmob, an installation inspired by his Sikh upbringing in Birmingham and the student sit-ins of 2010.

“He makes these giant cut-outs, essentially,” says Parry. “They are both sculpture and drawing and painting at the same time. There’s almost a graffiti-like edge to them, with motifs and imagery from musicians like Tupac and films like Scarface woven through his work. There are a lot of threads and real stories going on in his work.”

Like Pandhal, who remained in Glasgow after graduating, the majority of work featuring at the GI is non-commissioned work from artists based in the city. Many events, exhibitions and performances are specific to the city, such as the film, performance and installation programme by acclaimed artist-musician Douglas Morland at Anderston Fire Station. His works there are inspired by the death of Matthew Clydesdale in 1818, a colliery worker hung for murder and whose body surgeons reportedly tried to re-animate with primitive electronic apparatus.

Meanwhile, The Old Hairdressers in the city centre will host a series of events, screenings and talks featuring other local artists such as Malcy Duff and Jane Topping intended to “form a focused articulation of what this hub of the Glasgow creative community does year-round, in terms of providing space in which artists can try out new ideas and mix up practises, creating opportunities for cross-pollination of ideas.”

“The GI is totally unique,” says Parry. “It’s not like any other arts festival in the world in that most of the work comes from the city itself. If you are an artist based in Glasgow, you can apply to be part of the festival. When I came in, I was able to lift from what artists and curators in the city were doing, and what their concerns were, and marry that with some of the ideas and concerns that I came with.”

Those concerns, explains Parry, often included a wish to represent different voices and to explore ideas and experiences of personal identity.

This is true of the work of Alys Owen (below left) and Beth Shapeero, whose prints, drawings, installations and live pieces will feature in stations and carriages around the city’s Subway. With pieces including a “screen print giveaway”, a sculptural work co-created with local young people and a video depicting the bizarre hairstyles we can sometimes experience courtesy of the strong winds in the tunnels, Owen and Shapeero’s work explores the sometimes absurd moments of everyday life experienced by commuters, students, shoppers and visitors.

“I got the Subway this morning and came out at St Enoch and the whole floor of the station was covered in these vinyl artworks,” says Parry. “They have transformed the space while not being overpowering. It lets everyone get on with their thing while being very beautiful.”

He adds: “This is something really special about the festival and about doing something across the city. You get these little kind of puncturing moments in the city of very considered artworks.”

Perhaps the most significant of these – it’s certainly the largest – is The Regenerators, “a sculptural intervention” by Glasgow artist Mick Peter at the Dalmarnock gas purifying building. Using the empty facade of the historic building in the city’s east end, Peter has worked with young people from the west of Scotland to create a 76-metre-long “billboard” depicting architectural changes throughout the eras.

“It’s often very satirical, almost like the sort of cartoon you’d find in a magazine like The New Yorker,” says Parry.

“There’s a lot of witty things going on and if you get up close you can see lots of places and characters specifically pertaining to Glasgow.”

The work of the young people was built into the commission, a joint initiative by GI, the Year of Young People 2018 and Festival 2018, the cultural programme of the Glasgow 2018 European Championship.

A group of students from the Glasgow School of Art’s Widening Participation team acted as mentors, and Parry says it’s often not clear who is responsible for what in The Regenerators: the youngsters or Peter.

“Their work shows a real thinking about the themes,” Parry says. “They’ve been looking at their built environment and asking questions, and have also been experimenting formally by making sculptures and drawings. It feels very seamless but it also has a real personality too.”

Professor Thom Inns, director of the Glasgow School of Art, says: “The GSA’s Widening Participation team works with young people from across the west of Scotland enabling them to access a broad range of creative opportunities. We are delighted that their project with GSA MFA graduate Mick Peter will be part of the 2018 GI Festival, especially in this Year of Young People.”

Inns adds: “We’re particularly pleased that the young people’s contribution will be part of a wide programme of GSA projects featured in the Glasgow International alongside major new commissions by GSA alumni Torsten Lauschmann and Susanne Norregard Nielsen.”

Parry is right to be excited as the first GI under his directorship kicks off. When he worked at Grundy, and previously to that at galleries in London, the festival was a highlight of his year.

“I would always look forward to coming up to Glasgow,” he says. “There was always a great energy. You knew this would be when you would discover what artists were thinking and feeling right now.”

Parry continues: “Glasgow is one of the key art centres of Europe, and it’s really not hard to see why. There’s such a lot of activity, it’s very reasonable to live here and there’s a lot of studio space which allows you to get on and make work that’s maybe a little bit further away from the market. So maybe you have a chance to do more of what you as an artist want to do. I think that’s very powerful indeed.”

Looking to the future, Parry says he wants to increase access. “Within England, across Europe and internationally, Glasgow is really respected in terms of the artwork on show. And while there are a lot of people who know and love the festival, I think the biggest thing for us to do is to reach and invite as many people as possible to come and discover the amazing work being made here.”

He adds: “Maybe they’ll think about coming to live and work here too.”

Glasgow International 2018 runs in venues across the city until May 7. @GiFestival #Gi2018