Art & Development, Community

the art community in manchester: all right!

I’ve had the good fortune of sharing my work and investigations with loads of local artists and curators in and around Manchester. For example, yesterday, artist and curator Paul Harfleet was nice enough to open Apartment for one last visit before it closes permanently. The Plaited Fog artist’s collective generously had me up to Preston for a chat and a curry. (Warm thanks to artist and curator Elaine Speight and Rebecca Chesney.)

People usually want to know what I think of Manchester. Invariably, I start by talking about what I’ve learned about Mancunian temperments. I try to contextualize my thoughts as observations. Still, it’s quite surreal — and perhaps a bit presumptuous — to tell people what I think of their attitudes.

While I notice the tendency to down-play enthusiasm, in all fairness I’d like to add that I’ve experienced tremendous hospitality, curiosity, and engagement here. One of the obvious best things about Manchester is its investment in culture; a less obvious (for tourists of only the briefest stays) best thing about Manchester is the local artists’ and curators’ investment in art, culture and community. The art community members I’ve met have been very generous with their time, energy, resources and knowledge, for which I’m very grateful.

Here’s a completely subjective, incomplete list of some of the amazing arts partners in Manchester:

Manchester Art Gallery
City art gallery/museum; like all civic museums in England, admission is free. And people go. Brilliant.

Chinese Arts Centre

Chinese Arts Centre

Chinese Arts Centre
Not-for-profit gallery, residency, tea shop

Art/design/arch centre with exhibitions about the urban environment

Not-for-profit gallery/indie film house

Castlefield Gallery
Not-for-profit artist led gallery, run by the indubitable Kwong Lee. Castlefield also does, a terrific email newsletter about art events in and around Manchester.

International 3 Gallery
(Semi-)not-for-profit artist-led gallery. Feels like The Mission District.

Whitworth Art Gallery
University gallery; large exhibition space, great contemporary programming. Home of the terrific, but under-publicized, Tuesday Talks, organized by Mr Pavel Bucher.

Art/arch/design gallery

Detail from Johannes Zits' installation at 20+3 Projects

Detail from Johannes Zits' installation at 20+3 Projects

Post-opening imperial pints at Jam Street Cafe

Post-opening imperial pints at Jam Street Cafe

20+3 Projects
An artist-run gallery based in a Heidi Schaefer‘s house.

Islington Mill
Artist-led art studio compound with an experimental art school and library, and occasional exhibitions and short residencies. Also functions as a music venue. (Tomorrow, Thursday 4/16, AIR Tara Beall, will talk about her work at 6pm.)

Rogue Studios
Art studio compound with occasional exhibitions

jeremy deller procession 2009
Love love love this banner, esp given the socialist history of Manchester.

Manchester International Festival
OK, Kanye, Kraftwerk, Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, De La Soul and the Happy Mondays might get the big headlines, but Marina Abramovic at the Whitworth, a video installation scored by Damon Albarn, and Jeremy Deller’s procession sound amazing…

Art & Development, Travelogue

Hip Hip Hooray for Barrow: Fly Eric

I had become pessimistic. Maybe it’s the economy, the dreary Mancunian skies, or the feeling that I was spinning my wheels as an artist. But reading books by Fareed Zakaria and Barack Obama made me want to be an optimist again.

Changing outlooks takes effort. Good luck also helps.

When I heard about an art symposium in a seaside town two hours away by rail, I hardly considered making the trek. I’d been in Manchester for almost a month, and had already settled into a routine. Perhaps, set adrift from familiar places, people and responsibilities, I’d latched onto the studio for security. I told myself, It’s too far. What if the symposium was a waste of time? What if I missed the last return train? (When I think of “seaside town” and “art” I think of Morro Bay, glass dolphins and watercolor landscapes.)

I realized I had traded in my sense of adventure for a little security. So I gave the symposium a shot. And things couldn’t have turned out better.

Morecambe Bay, I think. The photo doesn't do it justice. I looks dreary, but it's actually a spectacular landscape. It may be grey, but it's a hundred shades of grey.

Morecambe Bay (I think).

Today’s symposium, called “Changing Perceptions of What Artists Can Do,” was great. It featured four dynamic artists/architects — they were all great speakers, with interesting practices. In particular, Verity-Jane Keefe, an artist working with muf architecture, seemed to be at the cutting edge of how art practices can shape urban design dialogues. David Cotterrell was also a great speaker. He further proved my theory that university professors are the best art lecturers, because they construct and effectively convey the narrative of their own development. I was really moved when he talked freely about “making art I could no longer afford to make” and maintaining a commitment to his art-making, even if there isn’t a readily identifiable core practice. It re-affirmed my own struggles; the inquiry required to make conceptually-oriented art is constant, and the rewards elusive.

Speakers at "Changing Perceptions of What Artists Can Do," a symposium sponsored by Fly Eric

Speakers at Changing Perceptions of What Artists Can Do, a symposium sponsored by Fly Eric

The symposium was sponsored by Fly Eric, a collaborative of three artist-run spaces in the Northwest: Art Gene (Barrow-in-Furness), Storey Gallery (Lancaster) and Castlefield Gallery (Manchester). It was hosted by Art Gene, a dynamic contemporary art gallery and residency program in a little seaside town known as “the longest cul-de-sac in the world.” I had first heard of Art Gene through Intersection for the Arts‘ Kevin Chen, who put me in touch with Conrad Atkinson and Margaret Harrison, Art Gene champions. Barrow is lucky that Maddi Nicholson and Stuart Bastik, Art Gene’s dynamos/artists/co-founders, have chosen this windswept slice of Northern coast as their home base.

I had forgotten the paradox that the more rural a place is, the easier it is to meet like-minded people. This proved true today many times — I got re-acquainted with an artist I had met in 2007 in Penrith, a bijou cake of a Cumbrian village. I met two working artists/art commissioners, who invited me to their art group in Preston, and numerous other savvy artists, thinkers and art commissioners from across the Northwest. Nearly half the attendees met at the pub for pints and chips or shepherd’s pie. Quaint, innit? I felt profoundly lucky to be there.

I had only a few minutes before my Trans-Pennine train whisked me away, but I caught a few minutes of the reception for Welcome to Paradise, Art Gene’s new exhibition. Stuart Bastik’s graphite diamond totally floated my boat. It’s an awesome project, one that I wish I could have done, but Bastik executed it perfectly.

Art by Stuart Bastik in "Welcome to Paradise" exhibition at Art Gene. "The Weight of History is Crushing Me in my Bed" (foreground), with "Constellation" I and II (background).

Art by Stuart Bastik in the Welcome to Paradise exhibition at Art Gene. The Weight of History is Crushing Me in my Bed (foreground), with Constellation I and II (background).

I also really loved the Ultimate Holding Company‘s illuminated push-pin, locating a “there” there.

"The Giant Map Pin" (left) and "Paradise" (pushpins on wall) by The Ultimate Holding Company (with Art Gene)

The Giant Map Pin (left) and Paradise (pushpins on wall) by The Ultimate Holding Company (with Art Gene)

I look forward to returning to this place that expanding my notions of what’s possible — for art in a remote area, for community where you least expect it, for my sense of adventure, for my outlook.

Art & Development, Research

Graphic design for art institutions

One of the things I am really enjoying is the top-notch graphic design employed by so many art organizations in the UK—it’s not an afterthought, even among governmental organizations!


The Tate logo

The Bluecoat’s printed ephemera

A Bluecoat catalog (left) and calendar (right).

A Bluecoat catalog (left) and calendar (right).

This handsome poster exterior from the Castlefield Gallery (an artist’s run org; believe it!)

Poster/brochure face from Castlefield Gallery

Poster/brochure face from Castlefield Gallery

The amazing exhibition design at the Museum of Science and Industry.

Lightbox in science wing of MOSI.

Lightbox in science wing of MOSI.

More illumnated didactic texts.

More illuminated didactic texts.

This isn’t graphic design, but it’s still brilliant exhibit design.

Video holograms projected into dioramas tell historic scientists' stories from the first person. Brilliant!

Video holograms projected into dioramas tell historic scientists' stories from the first person. Brilliant!

A high-tech counterpoint to Manila's Ayala Museum.