Art & Development, Travelogue

breathe begins

ready-made fluorescent-ink printed paper, die-cut in flashes

I’ve just started the Breathe Residency at Chinese Art Centre in Manchester, UK, and it’s quite an honor.

I arrived in the UK yesterday morning, and the residency program manager, David Hancock, has generously lent his past two days to get me situated in the studio and introduce me to Manchester’s resources and galleries. I visited Manchester briefly in 2007, but it is like day and night compared to having a local point the way.

Chinese Art Centre’s staff have been very welcoming, forthcoming and professional. The signage is up, the spaces are clean, and a manual with pretty much everything I need to know is in hand. They’ve allowed me lots of space: a 20 x 15′ gallery with high ceilings and an attached utility room/tool closet, a private bathroom and marginally shared kitchen, a sleeping loft, and access to the CAC’s library, which is stocked with books and catalogs. The staff has been really sweet, and very considerate of my privacy. Though I’m technically inhabiting a live/work studio in an art center, it feels more like having an apartment adjacent to the art center. This, along with David’s generous assistance, has truly underscored the privilege of being an artist in residence here.

I’m excited about what’s nearby:
–two art supply shops
–very cool bars (don’t think pubs, think lounges)
–the gigantic Arndale mall, which is replete with anything I could possibly need, from the dollar store (“Poundland”) to fast-food pasties (Gregg) to fresh shark (!) steak at a seafood market.
–just on the other side of the mall is Tesco, the supermarket, which will be a key to living inexpensively in England. The lower end of the price range is bafflingly cheap: £1.18 ($1.66), loaf of flax/soy bread. £0.86 ($1.21), quart of milk. £3 ($4.22), 4-pack of 330ml ciders. I’m curious about why the cost of food is so high in the U.S., even with all of our subsidies.
–a wonderful little shop named Clark Brothers, which stocks old signs and fake decorations. There’s a display of flower garlands that looks like a Wofford/Mail Order Brides dream set. But the other side of the room is lined with shelves full of fluorescent two-tone store signs. The signs are printed, but the text is just idiosyncratic enough to signal hand-lettering. It’s like a wall of ready-made Ruschas or something. I can’t get enough of it.

While I’m looking forward to diminishing my sense of disorientation, I’m also savoring the prickliness of the linguistic textures I’m hearing. It’s peculiar to be speaking the same language as everyone here, but not at all in the same way. When people speak, I have to listen hard, and I have to ask people to repeat themselves much more often than I’d like. Even when I do make out the words, I also find myself hung up on slang — pondering the etymologies of skally and chav, or just mulling over the wondrous glottal stop in grotty. Then there’s the getting used to the nearly ubiquitous “All right?”, a greeting that sounds to me like a question, but is typically answered with another “All right?” And I’m getting accustomed to the slightly emphatic, sing-song “‘Bye!,” which is neutral here, but reminiscent of a sarcastic American Valley Girl’s “‘Bye!”

The next three months are like a blank slate, but I’m confident that there is lots of time to develop and experiment. I got here; now I think the art process will take care of itself. And there are a few constellations that are already forming for the near future:
–a trip to Liverpool. I missed it on my last visit, but it’s close to Manchester and bursting with culture, like the Tate Liverpool and Anton Gormley’s installation at Crosby Beach.
–tomorrow’s lecture by Dinu Li at the Manchester Art Gallery
–a lecture by Antony Hall at Cornerhouse. Hall contributed a provocative installation featuring a soundproof booth for communicating electronically with a live fish in Interspecies, Cornerhouse’s current exhibition.
–artists’ salon-type events, which David mentioned he’d organize soon.
–Manuel Saiz’s “Private Party. Keep Out” exhibition at Castlefield Gallery.
–the opening of “Subversive Spaces: Surrealism And Contemporary Art” at The Whitworth Art Gallery, The University of Manchester. It’s a great space and it looks like it’s going to be a great show. I’m so excited.


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