Sunday, 24 January 2010

Urbis has Left the Building @ Urbis

The final Urbis exhibition, Urbis has Left the Building, manifests the same symptoms as many shows I have seen at Urbis. There is no argument, no nuance, no exciting interplay between objects or images. Just one side of the story is told, and hammered home with every item and every curatorial technique to hand.

Reading Jonathan Jones' blog on criticising institutions, I feel reassured that I'm right to notice that Urbis has never provided the intellectual jungle gym I am looking for. Even the exhibitions which should have been delightfully jam packed with objects and images, just used them to heavy-handedly support one rhetorical point of view. Urbis may have presented little seen aspects of popular culture, but when they were told with such stifling hagiography how could we expect the vibrant, complex and conflicted nature of popular culture to emerge?

So what? This exhibition is the story of Urbis told in the Urbis style. It's boisterous and blustering, a perfect essay in corporate PR. Relying on exhibition posters to tell it's own story, it does serve to remind me of everything I have experience in that glassy wedge.

The first exhibition I went to at Urbis was the advertising one in 2008. It was unquestionably terrible, a bit of professional propaganda which rightly had no place in a publicly funded building. Looking at the poster for the D&AD Advertising & Design exhibition I felt like pointing a finger at it and shrieking "SHAME! SHAME!" in a manner combining both Donald Sutherland at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and an early American puritanical witch hunter.

If you love Urbis, Urbis has Left the Building is a one dimensional retrospective you might enjoy. But if you are looking for an honest, thoughtful and thought provoking exhibition, go somewhere else. Urbis may have tried to do something incredibly difficult, but that is no justification for the dangerous simplifications it habitually employed.

Am I sad to see it go? A little... the failure of Urbis may discourage future attempts to present popular culture, it's perceived successes perhaps encourage simplistic, dictatorial curatorial practises and, as I've previously commented, sets a dangerous precedent for how we deal with cultural institutions when they don't meet predefined standards of success.  


Test said...

Some of the events at Urbis I found were interesting to my fresh-out-of-artschool-and-ready-for-the-exciting-city mind.

From Manchester Univeristy Professors Amilia Jones and Duglass Crimp gave stimulating well attended presentations about art in cities.

BBC star historian Tristrum Hunt's talk on Cottonopolis was relayed to Urbis's Second Life simulacra where a small but fascinating group of people constructed a commentary ably facilitated by avatar Cite Campfire - who I then met in the Ubis Cafe - an interesting experience. A Peter Saville talk was also transmitted into Second Life, and the facilitation extended to the crossing of the virtual boundary. A question formulated by in second life was posed to Saville. I remember the question. "Does making situationism part of Manchester's brand lead to an intellectual dead end?".

A Geography conference "Digital Geography in a Web 2.0 World" attracted the countries best minds in the area as well as attracting the curious. If the conference were held down Oxford Road, the non-academics would not have come.

The Tony Wilson Experience attracted the full array of Manchester talent - apart from Mick Hucknal. The concept behind this event was 'making the abstract concrete' though networking. 'The experienced' (Steve Cooghan, John Robb, Mike Sweaney etc) would meet and be able to help 'talent' - people wanting to gain employment from their creative passion. There were ideas that the event could be annual, but this was not to be. The video footage has not been released and attendees were required to sign a document saying that they would not use cameras, video, phones etc to record any goings on. A Facebook group was set up to facilitate on going dialogues. I thought that, with a little help from Creative Commons this was going to be the moment that Urbis was going to find its identity - a mix of geography, art, pop culture, Wilsonesque philosphy - together with first class institutions, successful creative individuals and a young, intelligent customer base in dialogue with those there to serve them - the City Council. It would become an icon representing Manchester as a post-industrial creative economy, run by an administration that 'got' coolness and knew how to listen.

A football museum, especially at the Urbis location will remove intangible PR value generated though the Urbis project over the years. Urbis was part of a conscious and sustained plan to re-imagine, re-frame re-contextualise etc. etc. the city.

Its a poor decision to take on the football museum. It has already lost funding from the Football Asociation - one reason why it had to find a new place to live. Other funding sources factored into the plan now seem to be not forthcoming.

The money - approx £8m plus £2m per year - could go a long way in an Urbis as meeting place. Too much spent on displays staff and set design and not enough on bringing people together?

paulypaul said...

No one uses the Triangle and that's large, glassy and soulless too. Urbish should just move everything across the grass. I'm sure the eateries there would appreciate the business.