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 : 

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.