Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The 39 Steps @ Playhouse Theatre

It seems I can only write intelligently when I’m snarling like a beast. Give me something nice and fluffy to write about and I’m like Lennie from Of Mice and Men. I might adore it, but I’ll probably accidently crush it’s skull.

The 39 Steps is dangerously near perfect, a gloriously playful panto for the grown ups. To do anything  other than gush happily to the point of being incomprehensible would be to damn this play with light praise.

That’s it. It’s so good it’s actually fried my critical faculties... could I sue?

Monday, 30 November 2009


It probably says something about my myopic view of the world that I could never really get with Urbis. To me it always seemed a soulless space with a paltry veneer of art and heavily edited culture splattered on the inside. This might well be because I've spent a lot of my time in the intellectual company of very dead, fairly bearded white men, with the result that I can often feel out of touch with the prevailing views on arts and culture.

My issue with Urbis is that it never provided me with the intellectual sustenance I was looking for... though to be frank, few exhibition do. I'm like a man who has been spoiled by a doting mother and excessive pornography, it is unlikely I will find a lady who will live up to my expectations.  Little short of the Great Exhibition of 1851 will please me.

This view hasn't changed with the decision to forcibly inject the National Football Museum in Urbis' glassy shell. I'm not going to retrospectively become horrified by football's ascendancy into a cultural space. In some ways it's a bit of a relief: I'll never feel that I'm somehow letting down the middle class art lovers side by my reluctance to subject myself to the cultural fare Urbis offered. It's football, and, like tripe, no one will mind if I turn my nose up at it.

Looking round Urbis on a rainy Sunday afternoon, it became clear to me that perhaps I should apply the same logic to the attitude of display that currently infuses the space. Audio-visual interpretative displays and blown-up photographs for me have always had a supplemental purpose - yet with Urbis they are the mainstay of both major exhibitions currently on display. The suggestion of smugness, which so offended their CEO, is not rescinded: the exhibitions remind me of nothing more than complacent secondary school text books, which the key difference that there is apparently no attempt to present a unbiased argument. Both the TV and Hip Hop exhibitions feel celebratory to the point of being blinkered.

However, I do understand that many people love the place, and with this in mind it's clear to see that the major issue with the Urbis decision is that it smacks of the same dangerous logic which inspired Southampton Council to attempt to sell art to fund a Titanic-themed tourist attraction. Economic decisions cannot be ignored when planning culture, but the public floundering over it the future of Urbis makes it seem that there has been no planning for something to take its place.

Just as the exhibitions seemed to sit superficially in the surroundings of that god-awful arrogant buildings, perhaps when removed from it they could take on a new subtleness and nimbleness? When I was 19 I wrote a plan for a building-less Gallery of Popular Culture - even then I knew that a building would hamper rather than help a curatorial idea which attempted to pin down something so ephemeral. I still have the document somewhere... if you're interested.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Saturday, 24 October 2009

The Rise of Women Artists @ Walker Art Gallery

Lady artistes seems to be in vogue at the moment. Angels of Anarchy is making waves over at Manchester Art Gallery, and, apparently timed to coincide with their Bridget Riley micro-retrospective, Walker Art Gallery presents The Rise of Women Artists.

Though prominently asking questions - Does the gender of an artist matter? Should artists be labelled? Are decorative arts any less significant than paintings? - this exhibition stoically refuses to make any kind of argument. It is like a rather earnest, rambling, but not well developed, discussion of the possibilities art holds for the fairer sex.

Frankly, for me, the whole thing got off to a pretty poor start. Right by the entrance, a corner of tapestry seems to imply needle work was automatically creative art and the women who practised this craft automatically artists. To begin an exhibition with such a un-nuanced and wrong footed statement doesn’t inspire. At the end of the day, even though undoubtedly some women found creative output in stitching dainty napkins, isn’t it a bit like stating that all children working in Primarni sweatshops are somehow fashion designers?

Laying aside the oppressive curatorial notes, this is both a beautiful and pointless exhibition. Beautiful, because it brings together an incongruous collection of art and objects from a broad selection of periods and practises, with nothing more than the impossibly broad remit of gender. Pointless, because it evokes one of my favourite types of gallery space: those small regional collections where works are placed together without the stifling dependency on movements, periods and themes. Art for enjoyment, rather than didactically forced interpretation.

If this exhibition serves to illuminate anything, rather than the subject of females who make stuff, it is the tension between art and culture. Teapots and needlework may not be art, but they are certainly cultural objects. Neither, I'm certain, is it historically accurate to designate the decorative arts as women's work. It’s just unfortunate that this delicious oscillation has to be sidelined by a clumsy faux-wave-feminist essay.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Fantasies, Follies and Disasters: The Prints of Francisco de Goya @ Manchester Art Gallery

There is perhaps only one thing which could rival my post Manchester Blog Awards hangover this morning for sheer warped horror and disturbing folly.

I mean, of course, the prints of Goya.

On my last visit to Manchester I ducked into Manchester Art Gallery, and managed to edge my way into the crowded Fantasies, Follies and Disasters: The Prints of Francisco de Goya.

I remember when I first saw one of his prints, perhaps during my first year at university. It was like I could not comprehend what I was seeing. It’s odd that I was so shocked, one of my earliest art memories is pawing over a book of Hieronymus Bosch paintings in late toddlerhood. So why are these prints so much more shocking?

We all know that the playful horror of his prints are embedded in a very real social/historical/political situation. The scenes are not purely imagined, for all the strange witches and winged creatures. There is a reality to the images which seems to smash against reason, threatening the comfortable solid institutional surroundings of Manchester Art Gallery. They are the falling man of the 17th Century.

The medium lends Goya’s representations further hysterical power. It’s one thing for an unsettled mind to set down on paper something so horrifying, but to carefully create for reproduction is something else. It is just too calculated to figure into our current understanding of artistic practice. Just as the images undermine our faith in society's innate goodness and stability, they rankle against our snug understanding of the consumable nature of reproductive art. These images are not for bedroom walls and postcards to relatives, unless you are a member of the Adams Family.

The Chapman Brother’s gruesome micro-sculptures Disasters of War are the perfect addition to this compulsive exhibition. The toy vignettes of Goya’s horrifying scenes lend to the unsettling atmosphere. It is like thinking for one moment you glimpsed a severed finger in a packet of pink wafer biscuits. It’ll be a while before you’ll be completely happy tucking into pink wafery goodness. You’ll never be able to look at a toy solider casually again, and the idea of old men marking out historical battles with tin figurines takes on a bloody, calculated air.

This is not an easy exhibition, there is something car crash like about it. You leave feeling as though you have been rubber necking. It seems to reveal the innate instability of society, lifting the skirt of our comfortable lives and revealing a rotten, rickety pair of legs beneath. It is both compelling and compulsive, and has left me thoughtful and moved.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2009 @ The Cornerhouse

The aspect which links all the works in Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2009, currently at Cornerhouse, is a certain lack of depth. It feels like a vaneer of art, rather than a well rounded exhibition. To me it is apparent that the content we are presented with is not art as practise, or art as product, but art as produce. It’s the equivalent of a biggest vegetable competition at a country show. There is only so much you can be impressed by a marrow, how ever bloody big, shiny and perfectly formed it is.

The issue is that New Contemporaries feels like a very glossy degree show, which in many ways is exactly what it is. The best bits are attractive competent demonstrations of art by rote, like Barbara Wolff’s photography/painting/textile works. The gauche and embarrassing reaches it’s pinnacle in Hannes Ribarits painful video The Void, but is supported by numerous works which are simply just utterly unimpressive.

This show left me feeling unaffected and slightly bored. Yes, often technically brilliant and theoretically solid, but lacking something important in both its components and composition.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Bridget Riley Flashback @ Walker Art Gallery

So disgusted was I by the hoards of painting photographers that I forgot my primary purpose for wandering down to the Walker on Sunday. Although I fully intended to have a good ol’ explore, I mainly wanted to see what was going on with the Bridget Riley exhibition.

Now, I’m not a particular fan of Riley. She’s one of those archetypal artists, like Rothko, that you cannot escape having encountered during secondary school art class. “This is Op Art,” Ms. Bull would dutifully explain,”doesn’t it make your eyes go funny.”

The first thing I noticed was that the exhibition was startlingly small. The reading room, come biography gallery, was at least half the size of the space dedicated to the exhibition itself. Although containing some wonderful large scale canvases, the number of sketches and studies makes me feel as if the curator desperately needed to take up space. This isn’t particularly endearing when it was quite a small space to begin with.

However, just because this does not feel like the major exhibition we’ve been promised, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go. The whole thing works as quite a nice little taster of Riley’s catalogue. The scintillating, depth-less beauty of her canvases work well when compared to each other.

Riley’s trademark hypnotic abstraction is pleasantly incongruous in the wonderful trad-collection of the Walker Art Gallery.

(... and I only saw one person taking a photograph of a painting, and they looked suitably, forgivably sheepish.)

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Photography in Art Galleries

Today I went to have a pleasant Sunday afternoon wander around Walker Art Gallery. I adore this type of gallery, the comforting provenance of the place and the encompassing and incongruous collection makes me feel right at home.

Standing in the sculpture gallery, surrounded by sinewless alabaster bodies with globular unfocused eyes, watching a small oriental man photograph everything in sight, I had an almost disorientating sense of déjà vu. I was momentarily transported back to that odd time two years ago when I worked as a gallery assistant at Gunther Van Hagens' Body Worlds. Although photography was strictly forbidden, it was a constant battle with the public. They seemed compelled the touch and photograph the bodies, often becoming quite combative when challenged.

A little later, while having a wander through the John Moore’s winners, three Spanish tourists were systematically photographing every painting in the gallery. Barely pausing to look at what they were snapping, they moved briskly from painting to painting, capturing each in shoddy digital renderings. Another room, another person was photographing, and in the next the same again. On this early Sunday afternoon, the photographers seemed to out number the lookers.

Now, Walker Art Gallery allows photography. I have no issue with that decision. I know how almost impossible it is to stop people. What I question is why people feel the need to almost systematically photograph every painting their eye falls upon?

It has become a fact of our contemporary age, that when disaster strikes, people film and photograph. The statement that photographers felt compelled to place the camera between themselves and the unfolding horrors, such as during 9/11, has become a truism. Is it this which makes people feel they must photograph every painting on display? Like disaster, must art be mitigated by the lens?

Perhaps I have become a very angry person. I felt a deep disgust for those who could not refrain from touching the corpses, and this disgust is mingled with pity for those who seem unable to look at a work of art. I doubt these people are taking away their photographs and tenderly looking at them later. What else can these photographs do but evoke the experience of looking at the artwork and if they barely looked at the art work, what is the point of it all?

Britain has become very good at shedding taboos, bum sex and homosexuality are positively trendy. I’m a fan of both. A permissive society is generally understood to be a good thing. However, just because it’s allowed by rule, like ugly men with far right politics, does it mean we shouldn’t frown and say something? Personally, I’d like to thump both photographers and fascists round the back of the head, but I probably won’t. I think we should all just participate in a campaign of frowning and hushed mumbling, just so those pesky photographers understand what they are doing may be technically okay, but so they feel like the twats they are.

Let’s create a new taboo: the casual painting photographer. Who’s with me?

Friday, 2 October 2009

Apichatpong Weerasethaku's Primitive @ FACT, Liverpool

It would be easy to become preoccupied by the screen which shows rhythmic blasts of lightening smashing into the ground, spitting down in domestic scenes of village, graveyard and temple. Taking over one wall in FACT's Gallery 1, even if you make a concerted effort to study the other scenes depicted on the other walls, the white flashes draw you back. The screen showing young men firing semi-automated weapons through windows at unseen targets verges on the mundane when placed next (as it is) to those violent cracks of light and sound.

I guess this is just one way in which Apichatpong's installation touches on the idea of the Primitive. Skipping between perception of past, present and future, this work is both grim and playful.

In the gallery, dominated by a structure which oscillates between being an eminently practical thing to hold video projectors, guard tower and spaceship, you can create your own narrative from the films we are presented with. Instead of following a narrative prescribed by the author, the viewer can become editor, swapping our attention between video feeds and creating something for ourselves. It's a simple and generous device, I like it.

Upstairs in Gallery 2, the Primitive (Nabua Song) seems disposable when compared to the fantasy documentary A Letter to Uncle Boonmee. Displaying a intriguing circular narrative that puts Tarantino to shame, this film tells a story in whispered hints. It is a softly spoken work. Good for a Sunday afternoon after your cat has just been run over.

P.S. Look out for the ghoul.

P.P.S. Doesn't Damien Hirst sound like a twat in the Radio 4 Front Row promo.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

DJ Spooky - Rebirth of a Nation @ St. George's Hall

Ah, Abandon Normal Devices. Possibly the first arts festival that I've got into the swing of without having to violently guzzle every free glass of wine going. (Though I did partake of a can or two of imported Chinese lager.) Perhaps it works because it doesn't take itself seriously - The opening film being HumpDay, a hilarious and every so slightly titillating movie about two straight best boy buds contemplating bum sex with each other. That cinematic experience was greatly improved by the small, saried, cackling Indian woman sitting next to me.

However, despite being a unspoken movie buff, this isn't a film blog. I will not be inflicting a rambling critical discussion of the visual mind fuck which was a midnight showing of the narrative mash-up Mock Up On Mu.

I am going to allow myself a little study of DJ Spooky's representation and remixing of that Ku Klux Klassic The Birth of a Nation. I got quite excited about this event - It was free and in a big shiny, arrogant Georgian monstrosity. Additionally, after many years of closely held animosity, I'm changing my opinion on video art.

Rebirth of a Nation manages to overcome my crumbling defences, sweeping away my issues with video and chronological art that demands attention for an extended period of time. Although, the word 'demand' is not applicable when you are held utterly transfixed.

For almost two hours I was held in mesmeric awe. Suspended, torn between that dangerously sexy racist rhetoric, which inspires both revulsion and compulsive viewing, and the soothing and troubling rhythmic remixing of those familiar images. Although I have never watched the original 1915 blockbuster, the style and imagery are utterly unavoidable in popular culture.

Although presented in a building which was probably built with the proceeds of slavery to an audience of mostly white people, the film was not presented in an overly political context. A few gentle words about context from the soft spoken and handsome DJ Spooky and that was it. Thank fuck. The unspoken context added a delicious air of the uncanny in the regal surroundings of the Hall, with faux-renaissance statues watching on as the light from the projector glints off the gold gilt surroundings.

This made it all the more troubling and beautiful. It would probably be easier to create a violent opposition to the politics of the original, but what we have is something which is all the more delicate and powerful for that delicacy.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Buy Art Fair 2009 @ Urbis

Here a thought for you - Could the Buy Art Fair, 24 - 27 September at Urbis, have picked a worse night for its preview/opening night?

I blagged my way into last years affair, which was spectacularly uninspiring. Obviously I'm not the market, not having the cash, bad taste or cultural desperation that seems to be the prerequisite for these things. I remember being pretty underwhealmed by a fairly lazy commentary on Art Fairs; hadn't someone paid for a pitch and then stuck a real estate sign in it?

Anyway, what are you going to do if you don't have the pecuniary fluidity or profile to receive an invite to tonight's preview (last year they were selling open night tickets for a tenner or so).

In Manchester:

In Liverpool:


Most of these things will be continuing over the course of the Buy Art Fair (God bless the Iplayer!) so your spoilt for choice. Unless of course you really want to buy some rancid pastel naked women or neon flowers that look like O'Keefes without being so offensively vaginal.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Colour Chart @ Tate Liverpool

When I started writing this blog, I thought I was in Manchester to stay. Less than a year later, an unexpected but pretty awesome, sequence of events has led me to relocate to Liverpool.

While I was flat hunting I went to have a nose around Tate Liverpool and it's very appealing sounding Colour Chart exhibition - a welcome break from viewing dishwater dull execu-flats.

The whole setting of Albert Docks is pretty unfortunate, a snarled tangle of pedestrianised bits and one way streets, which equalled cyclist hell. Why do traffic calming measures always bring out the worst in motorists?

Anyway, Albert Docks feels like a pretty odd place to put this gallery. The other Tates stand with architectural arrogance that reflects the institutional prowess and self confidence. Tate Liverpool is bunged into a colonnade with nasty tourist shops selling overpriced gewgaws and leather sofa packed chain wine bars.

Inside it feels more like a Tate, and with not a lot of time on my hands I went straight to the top floor to see Colour Chart. I'm saving the rest of Tate Liverpool for another day... like a kid hiding sweeties from themselves.

It's a wonderful exhibition. At the best moments the profusion of colour creates an ambience I last experienced in the Rothko room at Tate Modern. At the worst it feels a little stark and dehumanised. But in some ways this scintillation between states is exactly what you need and expect from an exhibition based upon such an utterly abstracted art concept. It's hard to find the right critical phrases to apply to such a beautiful monster of an exhibition, apart from that is is both marvellous and enthralling, stepping between the simply delightful and the sublime.

Perhaps the unusual downplaying of figurative images allows the viewer to experience things in a new manner? Although we are used to seeing non-figurative art, it is not often in such a focused presentation.

Beyond what is a marvellous and enthralling exhibition, the commercialisation of the show is a little annoying. There are so many things to purchase from the shop, so centrally displayed on the website, that it feel a little too much like a shopping opportunity. We do love colour, but the endless merchandising is just a little too much for me. When did shopping become such an integral part of a visit to a art gallery?

Friday, 7 August 2009

Seriously, Southampton Art Gallery, what are you thinking?

Being from Southampton is a strange burden. On the whole it can look like a pretty shitty place, full of small minded bigots, ketamine fuckheads, bad retail and worse memories.

However, the further away you get, both physically and chronologically, a certain nostalgia seems to set in. If you read Owen Hatherley's blog, you'll notice that a certain wistful tone worms its way in when he writes about Shirley High Street. Southampton has nice parks, at times ace charity shops and a Waitrose right near my parent's house. Ah, Portswood. It also has a somewhat kick arse art gallery.

Southampton Art Gallery, in both its building and its collection, is certainly the jewel in what can be considered the rather rusty crown of that dilapidated port town. It's collection is both varied and comprehensive. From my childhood visits everything I understand and love about art stems. There is not a thought or feeling I have in relation to art that can not be traced back to the place. Beyond what I experienced in my home, beyond what I was shown by my artist mother, Southampton Art Gallery is what I model my relation with all other institutions. I'm not saying its right, or useful, but it's frankly the truth.

That is why I'm distressed and pissed off when I discovered that Southampton Art Gallery is intending to sell off some of it's collection to fund a shitty heritage museum. Fuckit, they'll probably call it a Local History Family Experience Centre, or something else equally twee and meaningless! It's not a case of "robbing Peter to pay Paul"; the inevitable editing and re-presentation of Southampton's history, almost certainly coupled with stultifying didacticism, could never equal the value and immediate personal impact that those lost works of art could deliver.

Southampton needs an identity beyond West Quay, the Saints and the Titanic. As well as setting a dangerous precedent for regional collections throughout Britain, it undermines any cultural ambition that Southampton could ever hope to foster.

As usual, Jonathan 'intellectual hunk' Jones says it better - http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2009/aug/06/southampton-art-sale

If you one of those who believe in the possibilities of democracy, sign the petition - http://www.gopetition.co.uk/petitions/save-our-collection.html

Yours sincerely,

Appalled in Rusholme

P.S. If anyone from Southampton Art Gallery is reading this, you seriously need a better website.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Trade City @ CHIPS

Finally getting round to writing something which is not about the Cornerhouse.

New Islington is a weird place. For cyclists it moves between two extremes, beautiful quiet roads with lovely new surfaces to dual-carriageway, bumper-to-bumper-traffic, broken-glass hell. It's not an easy place to get to, even if it's just a few minutes walk from the Northern Quarter.

However, this awkward combination of untenable luxury flats and knackered social housing is actually quite a suitable context for Trade City (4 - 19 July). This is the first exhibition from Contemporary Arts Manchester, a new, not-for-profit consortium of arts organisations from across Manchester.

A rather tired looking set of objects and audio visual installations are sprawled around the space, the unused and incomplete space on the ground floor of the improbably named CHIPS. Even though I may be fully conversant with the theory behind the pieces, "site specific" piles of building materials or rubbish stuck to the walls, for me at least, needs a little more pizazz if they want to be more than the sum of their parts.

However, there is something hopeful and virile about the rather disorderly and earnest way that the exhibition is (not/group) curated. Though I don't really like most of the stuff that the exhibition contains, there is a maturity which cannot be denied.

This is a classic case of something not just being my cup of tea.

Jeremy Deller's Procession: An Exhibition @ Cornerhouse

Quieten down and listen carefully, pay attention you at the back! You are going to hear something very special which doesn't happen very often.

I bloody love the current exhibition at the Cornerhouse.

Jeremy Deller's Procession: An Exhibition (9 July - 23 August) is the friendliest and most inspiring thing I've seen this year.

Sadly, I missed the Procession itself - sea swimming and getting sunburned in Anglesey was my consolation prize - but the if it was anything like the exhibition it must have been really something. The slightly manic, ethnographic, nonsensical atmosphere in the galleries of the Cornerhouse was invigorating. At the opening the attendance of participants from the Procession itself meant that the sea of faces was different to the usual Cornerhouse crowd. The banners were fascinating and the photographs beautiful. The inclusion of the recreation of that Bury Cafe had an even weirder than expected effect on the gallery space.

Where POI was lovely and wistful in the best bits, Procession: An Exhibition is just sheer joyful and perfectly odd. How often does that happen in an art gallery?

'Nuff said, go and see.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Jeremy Deller’s Procession: An Exhibition OR "Everything That Happens Will Happen When You're Away"

I woke up this morning with the words of the Eno & Bryne song transmogrified into "Everything That Happens Will Happen When You're Away"

And It is kinda true, apart from summer exuberance - never mind the sweaty red faced damp grimyness of summer in the city - means that no event is just an event. Events all must have a full gamut of meta-events, otherwise how do we know they've happened?

I'm pretty annoyed about missing Jeremy Deller's Procession. The combination of nutty frivolity and hefty provenance makes very appealing. Although, I can't help but think that a parade like this is the perfect opportunity for some creepy Cape Fear/I Know What You Did Last Summer type shenanigans. If anything happens along those lines, let me know.

However, this parade is not just a parade. For those intent on spending the weekend in rain swept Wales, the Cornerhouse is presenting Jeremy Deller’s Procession: An Exhibition (Thu 9 July – Sun 23 Aug). Curated by The Salford Restoration Office, the exhibition will bring together a collection of objects from Deller's Procession.

Luckily, the exhibition looks to be just as playful, obscure and thoughtfully flippant as the event it is spiralling off. The inclusion of a full size replica of a cafe in Bury - which I'm rather sorry I won't get to see as a float - which will apparently be serving tea and cake is a master stroke. Is there anything which isn't better for the addition of tea and cake?

( I'm looking at you, Yorkshire. )

Friday, 26 June 2009

Whatever! Criticism is not a democracy...

If you haven't worked it out already, I have a fairly sweaty intellectual crush on Guardian blogger Jonathan Jones. He managed to mirror so many things I feel in my voluminous gut - plenty of instinct there - and be so wonderfully succinct with it.

Once again he's done it with his spot-on post "Art criticism is not a democracy"

Jones writes :

"The reason so much average or absolutely awful art gets promoted is that no one seems to understand what criticism is; if nothing is properly criticised, mediocrity triumphs. A critic is basically an arrogant bastard who says "this is good, this is bad" without necessarily being able to explain why. At least, not instantly. The truth is, we feel this stuff in our bones. And we're innately convinced we're right."

Monday, 8 June 2009

POI: Moving, Mapping, Memory @ Cornerhouse

Yukari Yoshikawa

Despite the British summertime deciding to stab the nation collectively in the back with this shitty weather, and a yummy dose of anonymous bitchiness, my previous state of pessimism about art in Manchester has somewhat lifted.

I feel a little bad for writing rather brutally about the last few thing I've seen at the Cornerhouse. It is perhaps too easy to blame the institution for what it contains. However, art by it's very nature is always going to be hit or miss with individuals.

The first of a series of Editions, a new Cornerhouse scheme to introduce us to new and experimental art, POI: Moving, Mapping, Memory is a very mixed collection of work, all tracing path around ideas of how we map and remember time.

For a subject which could get really bloody stale rather quickly, POI for the most part nimbly avoids the worst pitfalls and in places introduces really innovative ideas.

Here I don't mean the same-old-same-old wearing a t-shirt with the word "INNOVATION" on it. No, actually innovation! and with out being depressingly clunky like a 90s era website.

Joel Porter's Ubiquitous Interactivity is a lovely introduction to the exhibition, although it unfortunately needs to be explained a little too much. Toying with the number of IDs we now have to carry which contain RFID chips, the work relies on participants to wave a card - either their own or provided by the artist - over a scanner, which then triggers changes on an opposite screen. These smashed together images are both attractive, eerie and playful.

Unfortunately the first gallery is dominated by a video projection which is accompanied by a soundscape which manages to be both obnoxious and generic. To be an artist, or indeed a curator, is famously about making choices. Why do, so often, people make the same bloody choices about what works of art sound like?

Fortunately, the use of sound is much more evocative and lovely in Gallery 2.

Yukari Yoshikawa's Colour and Colours has to be experienced, beautiful and hopeful, this work for me makes the exhibition. It draws you in with a flirtatious, powerful but not un-nerving, use of sound and colour. It intriguingly hints at narrative and an almost ephemeral, yet palpable, sense of something "more". Very simply, it is a visually and mentally delicious experience.

Instantanes ( Marseille ) by Eimer Birbeck is in principle very simple, but in reality rather an appealing and vivid auditory manifestation of the streets of Marseilles.

Upstairs, Andrea Zapp's Google Gaze, textile renderings of urban scenes, do not stand up well against the playful, and often beautiful, interactivity and dynamism of the other works in POI. Equally, An Exploration of Consciousness by Richard Charnock - e.g. that rabbit thing - seems a little overly complex and clunkily implemented when considering the actual result.

In an exhibition where some of the objects are, each in varying measures, joyfully playful, smoothly interactive and verging on beautiful, the low points are not spectacularly low. The lack of politics and aggressive intellectualisation - as seen in State Legacy - means this is a really assessable exhibition, and perhaps a good introduction to what can be done with digital methodologies in terms of art.

As for low points, the nasty soundscapes in the first gallery and the rather disparate and unconnected organisation of the top gallery spring to mind.

It would be easy to point out that I can be ruthlessly critical. However, in my defence, I refuse to be pointlessly celebratory. POI: Moving, Mapping, Memory is not perfect, but it's a happy step in the right direction.

( If that direction is keeping my fascist sensibilities happy.)

Saturday, 6 June 2009

The Cutting Room Experiment - a final word on the matter ...

Encouraged by a rather creepy comment, I've decided to finish my commentary on The Cutting Room Experiment.

I've decided to reappraise and reassert my expectations of the Arts & Crafts stream of The Cutting Room Experiment.

For the record, I had no problem with the Experiment it's self, rather how people's paltry, and frankly depressing , imagination manifested through it.

It would be easy to point to me and demand I do something about it. However, I didn't spend years of my life studying art and culture, pumping up my critical muscles at expense of everything else, to become a mere-participant. I am a historian, not a failed artist.

My own idea - submitted on a Bank Holiday afternoon after being plied with rose-aye wine - was whimsical and, yes, fuelled by a vague sense of competitiveness. Which I believe is exactly what the organisers hoped would happen.

The Experiment itself will almost certainly be considered by all involved a success, however for me its been a poignant demonstration of our apprehensions and stultifying precognitions about art.

It was a hot coal that I refused to pick up, but that doesn't mean I can't be dispirited by no one else rising to the challenge.

Image from flickr here, used under a creative commons licence.


Sunday, 31 May 2009

The Social Lives of Objects @ Castlefield Gallery

Summer is here, bringing with it a new lightness and fanciful feel to the Manchester art scene. 

Along with the upcoming POI at the Cornerhouse, the darkly frivolous The Social Lives of Objects at the Castlefield looks set to riff off ideas and concepts I'm an absolute sucker for. I'm susceptible to anything which manages to be really joyfully playful and still gracefully retain it's intellectual credentials while being friendlily intelligent. Barthes is my touch-stone when judging things on this aspect. 

We all know that excessive stuff is both the suffocating cancer of life in a post-modern age and the absolute bloody joy. My own irrational affection for old mugs and defunct gewgaws makes me a hellish person to live with. I'm constantly frustrated by my own avarice.

If you find any of the above reflected in yourself, you'll certainly find it mirrored in the complex but playful telling of the stories which surround our relationship with objects. This exhibition features a fresh and exciting collection of work by three artists based in Manchester and London, Hilary Jack, Lisa Penny and Dallas Seitz.

The Social Lives of Objects opened on Thursday 28th May and runs until the 19 July 2008. There will be a tour and discussion on the 18th June, 6 - 8pm. Contact the gallery to book. 

Opening Times: Wednesday to Sunday 1pm – 6 pm
Website : www.castlefield.co.uk 

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Art at The Cutting Room Experiment OR Why I Am A Fascist

Having been successfully bribed with beer, I am writing a blog about the Cutting Room Experiment. 

The Cutting Room Experiment will - to quote their own word - use "the power of the web together we will produce the most groundbreaking event in Manchester. In 12 different themes 12 different flash mobs will be created involving genres such as art and design, dance, science to classical music."

It'll be interesting to see if any artists or curators take up the opportunity to do something with a bit of artistic substance, rather than producing smug and recycled concepts.

One of the major issues as I see it is that a lot of people have given up trying to have distinct opinions on what is art ( let alone what is good art ), in fear of being labelled some kind of fascist. I've been waiting for some tosser to roll out the twee attitude that flash mobs are "Art" in reference to this project, when clearly that is a deluded and undiscerning position to take.

So what is currently mooted to take place at Cutting Room Square in terms of art ( & it's estranged sister 'craft' ) on the 20th of June?

Looking at what is on there right now ( as of 12pm 24/05/09 ) the two most popular options are predictably ones which make me, at first glance, want to spit; 'knitters unite' and 'big hands.'

knitters unite' is the most popular, and despite my prejudices, probably the least inappropriate one, since it is the "arts & craft" stream. I had thought the trend for hipster knitting had subsided, but apparently I was ( as usual ) wrong.

At Futuresonic the other week I found the way in which the building was dressed with little knitted bojangles rather sweet, so this could actually be the most visually engaging project mooted in the arts & craft stream.

big hands' however... 

"Fitting with cutting rooms heritage as a space to cut large pieces of material, a finger painting on a piece of canvas of epic proportions. A team of a few hundred people could surely create something monstrously good. Messy, fun and with a lasting impression. The work could be donated to the Art gallery or some similar trust."

Everyone's thoughtless scrawl is worthy of being called art now? It brings to mind that ouroboros of modern art: modern art looks like a child could have painted it = if it looks like a child painted it = modern art.  

Oh! that lucky art gallery! Even the misplaced capital A suggests a slightly shaky grasp on what art is.

A recent blog by Johnathan Jones ( who else? ) states that the
public cannot be trusted to commission art. Equally, as I fear the Arts & Craft stream of the Cutting Room Experiment will prove, they can be trusted even less to take a multi-authorial hand in it.

Why do I have a problem with this? Cause right now it seems that Manchester is incapable of plotting a course between uber-brow and sickeningly twee-tastic; both of which often are insufferably self assured and self reverential.

With a wider view, it often seems that a lot of public art at the moment sometimes doubt that the public can think about art abstractly and intelligently, apart from only in the most hackneyed and rudimentary manner.
If this has pissed people off, then prove me wrong. The deadline for idea submissions is 29 May 2009. I'd like to see something which was intelligent, and not so patronising in it's inclusiveness and intellectual crudeness. This could be an opportunity to do something wonderful, a clarion call, a chance to prove all the curatorial elite wrong. 

But will it be?


Wednesday, 20 May 2009


Just recieved a really sweet "save the date" email from the Cornerhouse about POI : Moving, Mapping, Memory, their next exhibition which runs 5 to 28 June 2009.

"POI explores the exchanging of points in time, or places in space, giving us the chance to review the world around us through innovative media art works. The installations investigate our shifting existences, both physical and digital, and the ways we perceive, shape and interweave the environments we inhabit. The narratives created ultimately comment on our surroundings, from a social, historical and technological perspective."

Sounds pretty interesting, but a tad uber-brow, which is what exhibitions at the Cornerhouse seem to be tending towards at the moment. Anyway, with my current immersion in the digital perhaps I'll be able to get a better handle on this one, as opposed to the slightly overwhelming politicised/intellectual efforts involved in State Legacy

Friday, 15 May 2009

Futuresonic Art v1

One and a half days into Futuresonic, and before heading off to the second day of the Social Tech Summit at Contact, I thought I would write something quickly about some of the art I've seen.

The main arts hub is the The Environment 2.0 Art Exhibition at Cube Gallery on Portland Street. Although there is a basket load of interactive musical fun nonsense on the lower floor, the stuff that caught my attention and provoked my latent childlike fascination were in the top gallery.

Firstly, it is impossible to ignore Scenocosme's Akousmaflore. Located just inside the gallery, these musical plants are almost additive. Wiggle you hand next to them, or gently tug on the hanging strands, and the plants emitted electronic jangles and twitters in the most charming way. It is like being in some magical garden.

However, I did find them ever so slightly menacing. Has anyone red Day Of The Triffids recently? Didn't the Triffid's emit some seductive hoots and whistles to tempt humans into reach of their stingers?

Recently I've fallen back in love with Joseph Beuys, perhaps thanks to Cat and Girl. Also, I quite like trees. I mean, saplings. They are so cute. Like baby tress. Am I getting broody over flora?

It is for these reasons that I really liked Ackroyd and Harvey's Beuys' Acorns installation. Yes, I know it's just 300 saplings grown from acorns from trees planted by Beuys, but there is something beautiful and intriguing to see this number of plants in a gallery space. The miss-matched pots give it a lovely sense of careful/carelessness. 

When I picked up my delegate pack on Wednesday I cycled home, and sat in my kitchen with my housemate's going through my freebees. I've not been to many of these junkets, so I find these kind of packs pretty interesting. In the bag was a plain matchbox, and upon sliding it open I almost threw it across the room. For a split second I thought it contain a dead bug, or worse, a live on.

However, it was really a dinky little paper cockroach made out of old Futuresonic programmes. In the Cube there are thousands of them, swarming along a ledge on the staircase. Oddly, I can't find any info on who did this glorious buggy installation. 

The photographs are by my good friend @samscam, who has some great photographs of Futuresonic over on his Flickr account.

I better be off, throw myself at the Social Tech Summit. Blogging is my new excuse for staying in bed.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

A Clump of Plinths @ The Lowry

You know when it's time for the Turner Prize when the TV stations roll out Vox Pop footage of 'joe public' gormlessly carping about the inequities of modern art.

It's easy for the half informed, middle brow, middle class to sigh and roll their eyes at the wilful ignorance of the man on the street.

Unfortunately, sometimes you just have to agree with them.

I thought Sarah Staton's 'A Clump of Plinths' - which is the second of a series of commission to fill the Promenade Gallery at the Lowry - was going to be pretty interesting. I liked the name, it was playful, thoughtful and very of the moment. 

Instead I was confronted with something which was completely underwhealming and almost amusing in it's ineffecaciousness.

The artistic concepts which run through this work are pretty unsophisticated: the use of domestic materials, texture, colour, pattern and space. It's a litany of what get's shoved down your throat at sixth form college.

At best it looks like clumsy 50s garden sculpture, at worse something put together by Linda Barker during a particularly disastrous episode of Changing Rooms.

I know the blocky uniformity of some of the pieces are meant to cast our attention onto the space around the objects. However, just as good art must stand up to scrutiny, when art is trying to make us consider gallery space, the gallery space needs to be equally well considered. Staton's sculptures place within the Promenade Gallery is just not up to this examination.

The washed out colours of the exhibition and the equally washed out Salford light does not create an evocative or visually interesting experience.

It just feels a little too much like a trip to Wickes.

Transformations 2: ‘A Clump of Plinths’ by Sarah Staton, Sat 2 May 2009 - Sun 13 Sep 2009

Friday, 8 May 2009

Lowrys @ The Lowry

I have a dirty little secret.

I have never visited The Lowry before today. With a day off work and a recently made list of the must visit art institutions in Manchester, I decided today was the day. I got on my bicycle, braving wind and rain, and cycled to Salford.

I have never paid that much attention to L. S. Lowry, just allowed him to skirt the edges of my artistic consciousness in the way that ubiquitous but visually unappealing artists can. I have idly wondered why he received so much attention when much more exciting artists of the period, though being well know, are not universally vaunted in the same way.

However, after my trip to the Lowry today, I was left with thoughts about the matrix of understanding that his work ( and all art ) sits in - the very substance of one artists place in the construction of art history. Lowry is probably a useful one to look at when attempting to reveal the invisible, but ever present, practises of editing and creating which take place when an artist is discussed, presented and placed within a simple art/historical context.

Much has been written about how the Lowry has the biggest collection of L. S. Lowry's paintings. Recently, when i was reading 'Stealing the Mona Lisa' I read about L. S. Lowry's secret paintings - hidden till discovery after his death - which are dripping with sexual violence. I half hoped to see some of these today, as a nod to a comprehensive representation of his production.

However, unsurprisingly they were not on display among the numerous other paintings.

I read too much Pratchett as a kid, and the concept of people only seeing what they wanted to see is therefore very familiar to me. It is also true that objectivity has little place in art. Knowing about these hidden works I saw hints of darkness in his paintings, but just as these may be ignored by the viewer seeking nostalgia, they may equally be a product of my feverish brain. 

I know the thing I want would be no more an accurate representation of Lowry as a artist, but it would perhaps be fun to shake people out of their comfortable complacency.

I know these paintings were not paintings that Lowry wanted to make public, and in turn are probably suppressed by the estate. Suppression may be a too thorny word, but by not displaying them within what presents itself as a comprehensive collection of his work it is clear that editorial decisions have been made. Especially since these galleries are organised along biographical/chronological lines, the artist as biographical figure, not as commercial artists, is ever present, making the leaving out of the non-public works even more problematic.

With the millions of pounds and tonnes of rhetoric which are invested in the Lowry, it would be impossible to present aspects of Lowry's artistic production/psycho-sexual machinations which would contradict the status quo, the traditional, twee regional simple idea of the artist, on to which people can project what they want.

Lowry as a man holds little interest to me, whatever he did to work out his sexual frustrations interests me in only the laziest and tawdiest sense, but the way in which public cultural attitudes and editorial decisions are played out around his artistic production are more clearly discerned than usually.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Desiring Necessities @ John Hansard Gallery, Southampton

Unless you follow me on Twitter you either don’t know or don’t care that my home town is the rather unfortunate city of Southampton. When I was younger I had a complete and utter lack of affection for this place, and left, working my way as far away from the town of my birth by attending increasingly northern academic institutions.

I seldom go home, despite nostalgia somewhat returning in my old age. However, it does indicate something if I still refer to my parent’s house as home.

Owen’s recent column in BD on the flawed infrastructure planning of this retail dominated port town actually evoked a strange sense of longing for this city in all it’s prim and grimy facets. So, yesterday – after a surprisingly obstacle free train journey down from Manchester – I went for a cycle around to see my old haunts.

Undoubtedly where you’re from shapes you, and I realise now that I perhaps did not give Southampton due credit for shaping some of my artistic sensibilities. The Southampton City Art Gallery, as well as being a beautiful building, houses a large collection of Graham Sutherland paintings. Sutherland will always be a touchstone for me when it comes to thinking/feeling about art. Perhaps this civic art gallery has shaped what I think/feel about art institutions.

Anyway, I digress.

My mama cajoled me into attending Desiring Necessities at the John Hansard Gallery. This small gallery is located in the heart of the excessively landscaped Highfield Campus of the Southampton University.

I was wary at first, since Desiring Necessities looked like it was going to be one of those overly curated beasts which clumsily miss-handles popular culture in the gauchest of manners…

… and wonderfully, I was pleasantly surprised.

The art writer Michael Bracewell - who writes in the free catalogue ( downloadable from here ) - hit the nail on the head why this exhibition appeals so deeply. In his opening words he summed it up as being, “Personally important but perhaps not academically respectable.

Dealing with veins of iconography running through popular culture, the curator Ilaria Gianni manages to tread a very fine path. This exhibition almost completely avoids the pitfalls that often cripple exhibitions dealing with similar themes. Delicately constructed, the works lie together nicely, neither jarring each other or drawing their interconnectedness with too broad strokes.

A still from Susanne Burner’s video 50,000,000 CAN’T BE WRONG

Thoughtfully approaching usually gnarly subjects; nostalgia is examined without straying into schmaltz, cultural anxieties without hysteria and deals with popular culture in an intelligent and delicate manner which still manages to be powerful and oddly respectful.

Bracewell – who has rocketed in my estimation, despite rather clumsily name dropping Morrisey – touches on other aspect which makes this exhibition so evocative and compelling, that these artists manage to deal with popular culture without trying to trump it. It’s a fact - Bracewell quoting someone and I miss-quoting him - that artisans working in popular culture are often more sophisticated than the artistic types that mimic them. This is something which was never better illustrated than the often clumsy State of the Art : New York at Urbis.

Why do I like this exhibition so much? Evocative of the hidden rivers of meaning/language/text that runs through culture, it approaches subjects without having to tie them down too forcefully. There is something experiential and not dictatorial about it that I really appreciate.

The definite highlight of the exhibition is Susanne Burner’s video 50,000,000 CAN’T BE WRONG, depicting scenes of modern hysteria, audiences and crowds to a sound track of ghostly music. This hypnotic video could perhaps completely reverse my oft-stated attitude to video art. It sets the tone of the entire exhibition, melancholic and suggestive of something more, without having to state or explain itself.

Hopefully when I return to Manchester I can find the time and energy to write some more about what’s happening, but for the time being my excursion down south has been well worth it.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

State of the Art : New York @ Urbis

I am behind the times in nearly all senses of the phrase, finally getting myself down to Urbis to go see State of the Art : New York today.

If I had to imagine a parody of a collection of quintessentially New York-ian art - based upon, having never been there, poorly remembered adverts from Art Forum and far too much CSI : NY - it would look almost exactly like this exhibition. Almost entirely State of the Art: New York consists of a ugly mish-mash of hip-hop imagery and trite clumsy pomo heavy rhetoric.

You can just imagine the types of people who made this stuff, people for who cool was a career choice. The US equivalent of those people who end up living in Hebden Bridge with unused AGAs and fixed gear bicycles, probably an undiagnosed STI or two and writing smug self-referencing nonsense for the weekend supplements.

If this was an episode of CSI: NY I know exactly what would happen. The beautiful cool artist is actually plagiarising the work of his/her lover with the collusion of the shady gallery owner, who is probably trafficking crystal meth in pop culture referencing art works. The lover kills the artist in an appropriately artistic manner, the greedy gallery owner looks to make a killing as the value of the artists work sky rockets, but is revealed to be a drug smuggler and the lover gets to live out his/her days in solitude indulging their artistic urge in the comfort of the the prison cell. The squinty eyed guy says something twee and everyone else pisses about with tech looking pretty to the tune of whatever the cool hunters are saying will be the "big thing". The Who plays.

Anyway, unfortunately, it's not an episode of CSI : NY. It's another smug and achingly cool exhibition at Urbis.

I should have been an art critic in the fifties. When modernism was actually modern. Just imagine the things I would have said to Greenberg....

Monday, 20 April 2009

State Legacy @ The Cornerhouse

Why does every exhibition at the Cornerhouse have to be read like an essay?

I mean seriously, I find myself leaning towards graduate group shows and single commercial offerings to escape the endless, mind-chilling didacticism the Cornerhouse seem hell bent on producing. Sometimes my award winning brain-eye combo just wants to look at things.

A while ago a friend said to me ‘when was the last time you saw something really great at the Cornerhouse?’ and I had to think. I did contradict her, since the last thing I had seen was Masaki Fukihata’s ghostly playful solo show ‘The Conquest of Imperfection.’ 

However, ‘The Intertwining Line’ came along and I had to shamefully eat my defensive words.

Not to say that I don’t like some of the elements of State Legacy, but it feels as though they are elements, not distinct art works. The title gives it away I suppose, ‘Reseach in the Visualisation of Political History.’ It’s not for the looking, that title says, it’s for the brainy ones with doctoral degrees.

It’s a clever essay, with some lovely works of art in it.  Sui Jianguo’s Raising Speed on the Railway, generously occupying the whole of the top gallery, is certainly hypnotic. There is something absorbing and tinged with that futile Dickensian humour about a train rushing around and around a testing track. 

The very act of watching a train - unless you are an anoraked locomotion aficionado - especially when its projected onto a wall under the egis of art and cultural investigation feels almost tragicomic.

It's all a bit like watching motor racing on a hangover. Perhaps, for me at least, that sums up the whole of State Legacy. There are nusiances to this which you’ll never get and are essential to the enjoyment of the event. 

This exhibition, this essay, suffers from occupying uncomfortable space between art and cultural politics. It's too worthy, too educational and it's position is too clearly stated and too forcefully held. 

Give me something nice to look at ...

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Th'Arctic and State Legacy

What does April hold?

As usual the Cornerhouse is a source of interesting but perhaps overly cerebral sounding art.

Luckily for them Th'Arctic appeals to my illogical obsession with the polar regions. Th'Arctic is a live art project by artist Rebecca McKnight. In April, Rebecca will attempt to become one of the first British people to ski up to 300 miles pulling a pulk (sledge) from Resolute to Gris Fiord, the most northerly Inuit community in Canada. It kicks off today and runs until the 24 April.

I tried to form an opinion on the Cornerhouse's upcoming State Legacy exhibition, but it felt like far too much actual work. I'll let you know what I think when I've gone and had a decent gander about.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Rock 'n' Roll @ Library Theatre

The other week I went to see Rock 'n' Roll at Library Theatre, for absolutely nothing thanks to A Night Less Ordinary. Admire my youthful skin and uncanny ability to hunt down free stuff. 

This feels like a play which is waiting for a television adaption. The quick cuts ( scene changes ), masked by the projection of album covers on screens and snippets of dad-rock ( montages, innit! ) are practically begging for it. Though it was a valiant attempt to provide something a little more punchy, presenting bite sized bit of action, the result was sadly a little unwieldy and ponderous. 

Essentially Rock 'n' Roll is a pleasant play, firmly middle-brow but wearing high-brows coat. However, it really is a play for Dads. Dads of Manchester, what did you think?

What's probably less suitable for Dads was my trip to see some great Avant Garde cinema at the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds, thanks to Olsen. People may have noted my hatred of video art, but somehow, when staged in an amazing old cinema my usual vitriol was defused. True, there was a certain amount of wank and silly self indulgence, but we all know that's par for the course with any thing wearing the mantel of art. 

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Fridays trip to Manchester Art Gallery: Parthenocarp, Da Vinci and random design stuff

Last Friday, after failing to find someone to accompany me through twitter, I went to see the Da Vincis in Manchester Art Gallery

Some of my favourite art displays are within institutions which take their pattern from older institutions and collections. I don't look back on the time I lived in Oxford with much fondness, apart from a few glorious summer days spent in Headington Hill Park and some nice evenings in The Star. However, I do miss having the Ashmolean, the two Science Museums, as well as naturally the Pitt Rivers, handy. 

This is perhaps why I like Manchester Art Gallery, there is a certain quirky eclecticism which I find is often missing from more contemporary civic art institutions. ( *cough* Urbis * cough*

The sequence of rooms in which the Da Vincis were placed reminded me of pleasantly lethargic afternoons spent in Ashmolean. 

First, is the room with Paul Morrison's Parthenocarp installation. There is something wonderfully generous about the staging of this painting, the expanse of floor you drift around as the image looms above and to the left and right of you. You are engulfed. It is unsettling, not in an unpleasant sense, but because it levers you out of you comfort zone, tipping you slightly off kilter and into a new position that takes a moment to get used to. Space is always at such a premium, it's glorious to have a bit of room to have an intellectual stretch in. 

Parthenocarp is like a theatre back drop, and despite being a beautiful amalgamation of images, is oddly lacking depth and reflects attention onto the the inhabitants of the gallery. 

There is a rather lovely collection of photographs of Parthenocarp going up on Manchester Art Gallery's Flickr page. 

After a short queue, they let you into the Da Vinci room. I really don't have that much to say about these. They are beautiful drawings, and there is always something tremendous about being near something so old and of such repute. I like the skulls. I liked the darken, hushed room. A bit like being at the death bed of a Victorian matriarch. 

I honestly have to say the second high light of my visit, after my dip into Parthencarp, was spilling out into a design gallery I have never seen before. Though there was far too much interpretative silliness, big shiny things stating the eye-bleedingly obvious, it was just the type of engrossing collection of objects which you found in the Ashmolean. 

Apart from done better. Nice and shiny. The beautiful and the odd jostled together, and there were more than enough teapots to keep me happy. 

All Manchester needs now is some really bizarre anthropological collections. But it is a happy realisation that for most things, for old art, for new art, for design and for tonnes of stuffed animals, Manchester easily kicks Oxfords arse. 

Which I guess is me stating the bloody obvious. 

Manchester: 1 / Oxford: 0

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Love Lies Lost @ Royal Exchange

My current mood re: Valentines Day is essentially: blah, so what?

I'm not generally an anti-love harridan - as opposed to any other type of harridan - so why should I find the trails and travails of singledom any worst today? Lovey dovey couples and false corporately sponsored gesture of affection are bloody annoying any day of the year. 

Frankly, it's nice to have a year free from worrying about what to get who, when and how to do it, although another ceramic ghost would be nice. 

However, I do feel somewhat fortified against this bullshitty day by my recent trip to the Royal Exchange to see Love Lies Lost

What a gloriously rude and crazy play, despite the slightly wavering and mental accents. Luckily I don't think the Canadian accent is well known enough in this country to really bother most of the audience. 

Beautifully paced, the plot unfolded in a way which was both pleasing and unexpected. At moments hilarious, the emotional moments were not marred by pendulous sentimentalism. 

It's also fun trying to spot who will not return after the interval. 

So, Love Lies Lost: it's a fresh, ribald and intelligent play, drawing it's comedy from an unusually dark and thoughtful place. I'd definitely recommend it if swearing and fucking on tables doesn't bother you. 

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Subversive Spaces @ Whitworth Art Gallery

George Shaw, Scenes from the Passion: The Swing, 2002/3

On Friday night I breezed into the Whitworth, without invitation, my blaggers gait set to maximum. People diligently studied the pictures in the foyer, despite them being the same exhibition from the Putting on the Glitz opening.

People buzzed about happily - “Nicholas Serota is here!” There was a real fizzle and spark in the air about Subversive Spaces at the Whitworth Art Gallery. Fizzy wine was flowing, cup cakes with ‘EAT ME’ and ‘KILL ME’ were doing the rounds.

It took a few minutes, and a glass of fizz, before I realised I could enter the exhibition.

This might be ( to a certain extent) an art blog, but I’m personally I’m pretty discriminating about what I like. Some people might say punitively so.  Surrealism is not one of the things I like. It’s too cerebral, and the product of it - dare I say it - are mostly rather ugly and exclusive. This blog is becoming a list of my preconceptions and prejudices.

Anyway, Subversive Spaces. If you like surrealism and being all Freudian you’ll bloody love this exhibition.

Anna Gaskell, Untitled ( Hide) 47, 1999

To be honest, I was never going to be the choir about this exhibition. However, I do think there is something wonderful about how jam packed Subversive Spaces is, and among the rather tired objects there are some really remarkable objects.

For every two things I thought were tired, trite and pretentious, there was something which I found moving. As much as I hate Dali, I am always stunned by the photography of Brassaï. The paintings of children’s play equipment by George Shaw are really evocative.

Anyway, as I wandered out of the exhibition I realised that the opening speeches had started. There was Nicholas Serota giving a speech. Nicholas Serota! He’s even cooler than Lawrence Llwelyn-Bowen or Mark Lawson!

How did such a boring man get so far? I could tell you some details of his speech, but his droning monologue was of such a cadence it drifted right through my mind with out a single phrase taking permanent hold.

So anyway, fizzy wine, cakes and minor art celebrities. What an evening!

I’ve yet to see Kinderzimmer, the toast of the exhibition. The “major” new commission by Gregor Schneider. Will let you know.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Witness: Women War Artist @ Imperial War Museum North

Ruby Loftus Screwing a Breech-ring by Dame Laura Knight

Normally I bristle at overly curated shows, find the minute directions cloying and the didacticism claustrophobic. I am not praising the white box method, but I do seem to have set myself quite firmly against current habits of display.

However, what is clear is that when things are done well it’s a whole different ball game, as is the case with Witness: Women War Artists exhibition at Imperial War Museum North.

The tightly, but not aggressively, controlled space and the selection of images combined symbiotically, meaning I was genuinely drawn into and moved by this exhibition. 

Worth it for the paintings related to the second world war alone, the sheer number of amazing paintings is actually quite stunning - highlights including the stunning The Dock, Nuremberg, 1946 by Laura Knight, A Shell Forge by Anna Airy and numerous prints and sketches of war time life. 

Linda Kitson though - blah... 

Witness: Women War Artists opens today and continues until 19 April 2009. 

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

February's Manchester Social Media Cafe

Tonight was another cracking Social Media Cafe at the Northern. Despite fleeing the scene early due to lurgy and missing the best bit of the boozing and schmoozing, I really enjoyed Adrian Slatcher’s presentation.

Titled “From yahoos to Yahoo - from Ulysses to UGC,” it was a rather enjoyable meander through experimental and innovative literature and the ways it points to our current informational age and future.

As a nineteenth century junky, his talk nicely bookended the period of my obsession, drawing together the fantastical, social commentary of Swift with the queer rantings of Burroughs.

As a pure bread geek, it was refreshing to mingle in the comic vision of Douglas Adams. Once the idea that the Hitchhikers Guide prefiguring Wikipedia was mooted, like all the best observations, seemed stunningly obvious. Sadly, I couldn't show off my geek cred and get a Neal Stephenson discussion in there.

It was nice to have a break from the corporate solutions and down ‘n’ dirty geekery which was on offer in the last Social Media Cafe. ( Not that there's anything wrong with either of those!)

To be frank my slightly fever tinged brain was wandering off on an excursion - wondering whether current browsing habits could be applied to the behaviours see in Poe’s ‘Man of the Crowd.’ I think the internet makes us all flăneurs.

Thanks to Adrian for a refreshing, gently academic and thought provoking presentation.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

The New Inn @ Common

I'm rather distracted by my new found speed, thanks to my new bicycle

The New Inn opens tomorrow - when I was in Common last week to interview Jim it was looking like it'll be shaping up to be something pretty damn awesome. Hopefully I'll get to swing by tomorrow, at at least sometime this weekend, to have a gander at the finished product. 

Monday, 26 January 2009

Interspecies @ Cornerhouse

If - like me - you haven't had a chance to see the opening  of Interspecies at Cornerhouse all is not lost. My good friend Samscam was there with his trusty SLR and got some rather awesome photographs - including the soon to be legendary lady with pig!

Check them out over on Sam's Flickr page

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Jam Packed & Marmalade Fuelled

You turn your back for one moment, indulged in one or two duvet days - and all of a sudden everything creeps up on you. It’s both incredible and depressing.

In my minds eyes the future is where everything and anything is achievable, every art and social event firmly pencilled in with the rest of my life commitments - the present where I am floundering, trying not to over sleep, over indulge in discount wine and over spend on bicycle fripperies.

What am I trying to get at?

Well, mostly that EVERYTHING is happening over the next few weeks, and to make matters worse they are bunching together on the days when I’m working over in Oldham.

Tonight is the first Moves Night at the Greenroom. My capitalisation, not theirs. This is an industry event where artists involved in the Moves09 festival can show “work in progress.”

Tomorrow, it is the opening of the new show - Seeing Beyond - at the Chinese Arts Centre, featuring photography with a medical themes.

It's indicative that I've been spending too much time thinking about the internet that I find it both amusing and frustrating that the Centre comes so far down the results when you type 'Chinese Arts Centre' into Google.

Next week? Kicks off with monkeys at Cornerhouse on the 24th. The end of the week is equally jam packed. New play - Absolutely Frank - opens at the Oldham Coliseum, Jim Medway presents his reimanginging of Common and the ever popular Critical Mass.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Not Part of NYE 17/01/2009

Saturday night’s Not Part of NYE at the Dancehouse Theatre, Oxford Road, was a disappointment. Although the organisers may been good naturedly providing a venue for Manchester’s unsigned music, theatre, comedy and film makers, they basically failed to provide for anyone who wasn’t a performer or related-to/friend-of/fucking a performer. I was there with friends to see the Hatstand Medicine Band after a cracking experience with the folk train - and for once in my cynical life approached an evenings entertainment with high hopes and good make-up.

Perturbed by the strange sweaty bar, and confused by why it was so packed, my companions and I brought ourselves drinks and entered the main auditorium. Seated comfortably we caught the tail end of a compère. Then the reason for the bar being so rammed was revealed - despite no other indication - we were informed there was no drinks to be had in the auditorium. Without complaint we left and went looking for the art.

First I should make it clear that my buddies and I are all veterans of many an art opening - I have got drunk in galleries almost as many times as I have visited galleries. It’s not big or clever - but it’s an unacknowledged fact that art exhibitions nearly always go better with a glass of wine on hand. The art works were pretty desultory, illustrative teenaged things which would be instantly, laughingly rejected from Amelia’s Magazine. I did spot some rather attractive looking canvases on the other side of the room, but before I could investigate I was asked to leave because of the offending glass of wine I was holding.

Without a mutter of dissent we agreed to shuffle off, but before we were even half way to the door the messenger was accusingly carping about “being shot” - I have no idea if I said anything to this apart from perhaps attempting a placating smile. The messenger then produce a pure bred cubic zirconia gem of a comment - “You understand we have to be careful with such beautiful art works...

My rights to being an art critic may be self proclaimed, only based upon a paltry four years in academia - but if I can be trusted to stumble about the Royal Academy with a glass of bubbly, with trust fund chinless-wonders galavanting about to the left and right, we can be trusted by the temporary exhibition in a rehearsal room at the Dancehouse.

At this point it became apparent that the only place you were allowed a beverage in an open container was the bar area, but not once did anyone mention this. I know it may be a condition imposed by the venue - but it should have been made clear when we brought the tickets, or at least some prominent signs, not by grumpy and misleading attendants.

We wandered into the second auditorium to see , what turned out to be rather sexist, short film, and made the rookie mistake of sitting near the front. Without warning a stand up comic appeared and promptly took cheap, lazy shots at everyone near the front. The next guy, St Joseph, was a real mixed bag. His anecdotes were overly drawn out and laboured, although the occasional bizarre ranty gem did appear. I have a theory that he needed the impetus of hecklers to riff off, at the end basically inviting heckles which did not appear - apart from my valiant defence of the cute girls who work in Rusholme Lidl which spurred him onto a rather eloquent soliloquy about a strange women who works in Morrisons in Didsbury... 

Wandered back to the main auditorium for Trudy and Judy, which similarly was at moments hilarious and others painfully laboured.

What else?

I know this must seem rather rabid and cruel, but I lack the generosity that the organisers of this event seems to expect from it's audience. I approached the evening with, for me, an unusually positive attitude and was rather disappointed. 

There should be a place we new acts can take place, but if you are going to charge so much and hype the event up in such a way there should be better organisation and, dare I say it, some scraps of customer service. Although the staff were only rude a few times, combined with a few pathetically low quality and pretentious acts,  it combined to something which was mostly an rather unpleasant evening. 

Luckily, despite feeling fatigued by the near constant drivel and shuffling from room to room without the comfort of booze, the last act really pulled out the stops. Despite uneven and uncomplimentary mixing, Dr. Butler’s Medicine Hatstand Band were great. They have brilliant stage presence and were, as they were with the Folk Train, a joy to behold and be-ear.

Additionally, to rescue what could have been a dire waste of eight quid the compère who welcomed them onto the stage and demanded encore was the most charismatic and amusing comic I witnessed that evenings, despite rather shambolically seeming to have a rather lose grasp on what exactly was happening. I didn’t catch his name, but he was a charming fella with a luxuriant head of ginger hair. What’s his name?

What am I trying to get at? Essentially I don’t like anything that tries to be too smugly cool and inclusive. The Impressionists may have been rejected from the Salon, but that does not mean that everything in the Salon des Refusés should share their notority.

Also, the Dancehouse may not be the best venue for this type of event. If there had been a more liquid supply of booze things would have slipped along more smoothly. I would have had much more fun, and been much more forgiving, if this event had taken place in a squat or similar type of venue.