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

State of the Art: New York at Urbis

Tonight, Urbis unveiled State of the Art: New York, an exhibition featuring 16 “emerging”* contemporary artists or artists groups from New York City. The contributions are very high quality, conceptually tight and eminently desirable. With bright lights and flashing colors, the space pulsates with energy. There are videos to watch, installations to circumambulate, and opportunities for interactivity. The show inspired optimistic feelings within minutes…


Bruce High Quality Foundation, The Rite of Spring

I noticed two themes. First, there seemed to be an attraction to work demonstrating “New York-ness.” Among the site-specific works were The Bruce High Quality Foundation’s The Rite of Spring, a series of photos and a video re-enacting the “Beaux-Arts Ball in 1931, where the giants of Modernist architecture dressed as the landmarks they created.” Think cardboard costumes and tights, like on Broadway or Conan O’Brien. Lovable, but as N.M. might say, “I get it. You’re quirky.” Another only-in-New-York project is a proposal for a thermodynamic stove powered by steam vents in the streets, by Forays (Geraldine Juarez & Adam Bobette). Of course, they cooked a hot dog. Resourceful, yes; palatable, not so much. Plus, I’m not sure that heating up a hot dog counts as “cooking.” Two other projects employ New York cultural phenomena—neighborhood gossips and hip-hop bling—but more on those later.


Installation by Gandalf Gavan

Second, a lot of the work was explicitly post-modernist—directly referencing art and culture of the 20th century. This trend seems like it’s gone from interesting to nearly ubiquitous (and might soon verge on passé). Gandalf Gavan re-interprets Pollack’s drips in neon. He makes gestural concepts like “movement” and “energy” material, in squiggles of light and plaster splashes on the floor. It’s sort of garish and tacky, and flirts a little with corporate lobby light pieces and 1980s new wave decorating motifs. What differentiates Gavan’s work is its precariousness, matter-of-fact presentation of hardware and materials (such as the blue painter’s tape and bubble wrap), and, of course, references to aesthetic discourse.


Joe Winter’s Printershake/Earthquake, detail

Another work that seemed acutely aware of art history is Joe Winter’s Printershake/Earthquake project. It’s a new spin on action art and chance procedures in image making. He presented five prints (cyan, magenta, yellow, black, full color) and a b/w action photo of someone shaking a consumer-grade printer as it was printing. The display was straightforward, and the prints were surprising. There was also a performance by Matthew Lutz-Kinoy, whose musical, fashion and facial hair styles channeled Freddy Mercury. Why is it that when I see inscrutable performance art, I always feel like people want to re-create Soho in the 1980s?


Carolyn Salas and Adam Parker Smith, Holy Ghost

But the show wasn’t limited to these themes. When you first enter the space, your vantage is filled with a massive, spectacular fabric installation. Carolyn Salas & Adam Parker Smith’s Holy Ghost depicts a giant head of Jesus, in all its all guts and glory, in the midst of a tornado of lumber and human bones. It’s all made from fabric—even the firring strips and 2×4”s are covered in wood-grain-printed fabric—making the menacing supernatural weather event seem, conflictingly, cuddly.

LoVid's Network

LoVid, Network

Behind Holy Ghost, a digital projection of colorful static draws in viewers with its flashes and sizzles. It’s the contribution by LoVid (Tali Hinkis & Kyle Lapidus). NetWork is an interactive installation combining weaving and digital technology. By handling some fingerless-glove-like wire apparatus attached to a bird’s nest of electrical leads, participants can influence the colors and patterns of the projections. Visitors can also help weave a screen of electrical wires, to fill the space inhabited by the projection. NetWork makes high-tech low. It’s colorful and friendly, and sweetly reminds me of experimentation in the 1970s, and places like the Exploratorium. On the other hand, I found the interface to be haphazard. The instructions were singed into wood cut-outs that seemed visually, materially and conceptually incongruous. From a design standpoint, a call to action should be as clear as possible. Still, LoVid’s take on the intersection of old and new technologies is smart and pleasing.

eTeam's Second Life Dumpster

eTeam's Second Life Dumpster

A lot of people think contemporary art looks likes piles of junk, so for that reason alone, I like the pile of junk contributed by eTeam (Hajoe Moderegger & Franziska Lamprecht) in Second Life Dumpster. It’s the contents of a Dumpster in Second Life materialized with “First Life” counterparts. I had hoped the garbage from Second Life would look crappier—maybe covered in poorly rendered texture patterns, perhaps. I think there’s supposed to be a commentary about waste and obsolescence somewhere, but there’s also the irony that the objects were not disposed, but were re-purposed / recycled, at least for the duration of the exhibition. It’s sort of like tinkering with the past, and re-writing the future…

Tamy Ben-Tor does Engrish

Tamy Ben-Tor does Engrish

In her videos, Tamy Ben-Tor presents monologues as different archetypal characters (artist, art critic, etc.). My experience with them was one of uncomfortable self-consciousness, especially when she took the role of an artist with a thick Japanese accent and ridiculous glasses. The racial politics are so complicated—it’s a progressive thing, I suppose, that her range of exaggerated characters includes non-whites.

In Bonchinches / The Gossips, vignette videos by Michael Paul Britto, a series of New York women of color talk to, shout at, and mumble about off-screen passersby from a window. The framing (sorry about the pun) device is familiar and comedic, sort of Sesame Street, 227 and countless plays all at once. The actors nail the New Yorker characters spot-on, with fearsome nails, unrepentant bossiness and unveiled verbal aggression. Their loquaciousness is an art form. But I wonder about the reception of this work, and who its audience is. For New Yorkers, they may respond simply with recognition: “Yo, that’s my Tia!” But I wonder if Mancs can understand the accents and slang, and how they interpret the no-holds-barred mannerisms. Do they know that New Yorkers’ bad reputations belie some of the friendliest, nicest people in the world? That there’s more to these women than tough exteriors?

Leon Reid IV's True Yank

Leon Reid IV's True Yank

In the intervention True Yank, Leon Reid IV “blings” a statue of Lincoln in Manchester. The little-known history of the statue (having to do with the loss of tens of thousands of mill workers’ jobs due to an embargo on Southern cotton during the American Civil War) is really interesting. In comparison, the art project seems like little more than a prank, an irreverent gesture. In a video statement, the artist cited three motivations behind the work: to bring attention to the sculpture, to spark curiosity about Lincoln, and to “have a laugh.” I had expected more critical thinking—maybe around issues of appropriation, like the appropriation of hip-hop (read: black) style by white chavs? Or “bling” and materialism? Or the human costs of gold mining? Nope, just a non-committal stance behind satire…

Also in the exhibition: Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung’s completely bonkers, bombastic kitsch animations; Shelter Serra’s reduced-scale Styrofoam Hummer (see Andrew Junge’s actual-sized Styrofoam Hummer!); Graham Anderson’s formal yet cheeky paintings; Jennie C. Jones’s cassette tape obsolescence art; and Michael Schall’s meticulous drawings and prints.

*Urbis is pretty loose with this. Some of the artists are in their 40s and have quite extensive, international exhibition histories.

Art & Development, Community, Travelogue

Great Northern Art

AKA, “My Art Highlights from Birmingham, Liverpool, Stoke-on-Trent, Manchester and Leeds.”

Grey clouds in Birmingham, UK

Grey clouds in Birmingham, UK

The Chinese Arts Centre offers a travel stipend for Breathe artists-in-residence to conduct research within the U.K. Earlier, I attended the Fly Eric symposium in Barrow, and the Global Modernities symposium in London. This past weekend, I, along with the good-humored traveler N.M., sought out contemporary art in Birmingham, Liverpool and Leeds. The skies were grey and misting, and clocks would not cooperate with us, but we pushed onwards and we were rewarded with some gems among these Northern industrial cities.

Birmingham & Stoke-on-Trent

I’ve heard that just as cars represent freedom to Americans, the rails are a symbol of escape for the British. I can see why: On the train to Birmingham, I found a quiet car, opened a good book, and felt that my modest expectations—passing scenery and a period of uninterrupted time to think—were all fulfilled. I was flooded with a sense of contentment.

Since I visited Annette Messenger’s exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London, I’ve been thinking about her premise that one cannot talk about happiness without clichés. It’s a maxim I find both truthful and discouraging, so unexpected contentment, in its minor way, is somewhat miraculous.

Simon and Tom Bloor's exhibition at Eastside Projects

Simon and Tom Bloor's exhibition at Eastside Projects

Contemporary art can require a sense of adventure—sometimes quite literally. On the quest for it, you will find yourself on the ‘wrong’ side of the tracks in strange cities, seeking out alternative art spaces with little to no signage, and having faith that the artwork will be cutting edge and worth the effort. Such was the case with Eastside Projects. Nestled between junkyards and auto shops, this artist-led gallery is a spacious, high-ceilinged warehouse showing top-notch contemporary projects. It’s keen on conceptualism and new media (it features a semi-permanent Lawrence Weiner text work and a large video screening room, and the office is housed in an absurdly impractical structure made by artists). The current exhibit, Simon and Tom Bloor’s “As Long As It Takes,” is visually attractive, conceptually rigorous, and cunningly specific to Birmingham. The twins present new sculptures, watercolors, drawings, a billboard and a limited edition print around the history of local modernist public sculptures. The shapes of the geometric models are strangely familiar—one recalls the structure in San Francisco’s Justin Herman Plaza. Like Aaron Curry, the Bloors use spray paint to defile Modernist purity. But a series of hand-painted watercolors, reproducing satirical newspaper cartoons complete with halftone dots, makes clear that the process of appropriation transforms the originals. Here’s what I mean: “high” modernist sculptures were parodied in a “low” editorial art from, which the Bloors re-made as “high” conceptual art. Brilliant! I really enjoyed the show, as well as Eastside Projects’ founder’s eclectic publications, including a series responding to R. Buckminster Fuller’s 40 Strategic Questions.

Armando Andrade Tudela. Untitled (Rattan 4), 2009, Rattan, metal, wood, Installation view, Ikon Gallery, 2009, Photo: Stuart Whipps
Armando Andrade Tudela. Untitled (Rattan 4), 2009, Rattan, metal, wood, Installation view, Ikon Gallery, 2009, Photo: Stuart Whipps.
Source: IKON Gallery.

In the sunny side of town, IKON Gallery is an ICA in a converted cathedral, and it had the rare distinction (for this part of the U.K., anyway) of showing projects by three international artists. I was most impressed with the work of Armando Andrade Tudela, a Peruvian video/sculpture/installation artist. I really liked his installation involving only a sheet of survival-blanket mylar pinned to the wall by an industrial sheet of glass. It created two overlaid reflections: the glass offered a barely perceptible, but undistorted, reflection; the mylar, a picture of a fractured self. It made me think of Dan Graham’s use of sheet glass as a metonym for corporate power. This wasn’t Tudela’s expressed intention, but I noticed that other works, including walls skinned with pegboard, and woven works that were equal parts baskets and paintings, played with moiré patterns and perceptions too.

Also at the IKON, Manthia Diawara presented “Maison Tropicale,” a documentary video airing the perspectives of the former owners of Modernist prototype homes, which were later purchased by Ângela Ferreira for an exhibition at the Venice Biennale and re-sold at much higher prices. I found the story captivating, though the art and post-colonial politics were a mess, underscoring that there are no easy solutions, but an excess of guilt to go around.


Richard T. Walker's   it’s hard to find you because i can’t quite see what you mean to me.  2009

Richard T. Walker's it’s hard to find you because i can’t quite see what you mean to me. 2009

Just before my residency, I was so busy I missed “Trying to Cope with Things that Aren’t Human (Part One)” at David Cunningham Projects in San Francisco. Luckily, the curator, Ian Brown, is based in this part of England, and brought the exhibition to Stoke-on-Trent’s airspace gallery. Richard T. Walker’s slide show of waving “hi” and “bye” to the sun is endearing. In the back room, two identical glass spheres are topped with polar caps that are revealed inside as icebergs.


Markus Hansen's Other People's Feelings, Courtesy of
Markus Hansen’s Other People’s Feelings. Source:

“Until it Hurts”, a four-person exhibition at Open Eye Gallery, is organized around the mutability of identity, a theme in photography that can seem exhausted or obvious. Thankfully, two particular works in the show are precise and effective. Josh Weinstein’s video, “Cross Examination” (2005), is a quirky, feel-good documentary of strangers on the streets of New York hazarding guesses about the artist based on his, how do you say, humble appearance. The responses are weird, wonderful, presumptive and sometimes rude, but the artist maintains a disarming smile throughout. The effect is that viewers learn very little about the artist (except, maybe, that he’s enormously self-composed, and his art is rather generous), and a lot about the assumptions of others. Markus Hansen‘s “Other People’s Feelings” (2000-5) sequences pairs self-portraits with headshots of others as a video. In each self-portrait, the artist mimics the other people. It’s enchanting to compare and contrast Hansen’s feat of emoting, acting and photographing.

David Osbaldeston's Your Answer is Mine, 2006. Source:
David Osbaldeston’s Your Answer is Mine, 2006. Source:

In 4×4 at the Bluecoat, David Osbaldeston presents a text-based billboard in mixed media, combining intaglio with digital reproduction, 19th century letterpress style with 21st century hand-done graphic design, and critical theory with vaguely subjective pie charts. The billboard’s lack of color, but richness of grey, is startling. Its paradoxes engage.

N.M. and I also stopped at the Tate Liverpool (Melanie Smith’s painting/video/installation in the DLA Piper show is still fantastic, as are William Blake’s bookplates) and the International Slavery Museum, which takes a frank look at how English slave traders and industrialists participated in and profited from slavery in the American South like cotton and sugar. (A U.S. National Slavery Museum, long overdue, is being constructed in Fredricksberg, VA, by the way.)


“Small world.”

I am always surprised—though I shouldn’t be —when I come across references to the San Francisco Bay Area here in Manchester. For example, by chance, I read a book in Birmingham in which the narrator attends a lecture at CCA. And the traveling exhibition on Emory Douglas, Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party, is now at URBIS, just a few blocks from the Chinese Arts Centre. I met Emory in Oakland years ago. I never would have put “Emory Douglas” and “Manchester” together. Luckily, someone at URBIS did. The quality of the exhibition is phenomenal, and Mancs should take note.

The whole exhibition—art, graphics, displays, historical context, and multiple voices and personalities—makes for a vibrant, thorough, interactive experience. I was happy to see lots of visitors taking their time absorbing the show, which in turns inspires shock, rage, pride, admiration, outrage, grief, and gratitude.

At Cornerhouse, I watched 24 Hour Party People, a movie about the early nineties Madchester music scene. I loved every minute of it. It’s the story of Tony Wilson—impresario, BBC personality and music promoter. He is portrayed with searing wit, a touch of madness, egomania, and an unflappably stiff upper lip. When he breaks the “fourth wall” of the film, it doesn’t make you feel like he’s over-explaining the narrative, but somehow helps to speed it up; aware, as brilliance is, of the fleeting nature of good times.


Perhaps my art tolerance was starting to flag, but Leeds bore the brunt of a more intensely critical eye. Asta Gröting’s exhibition at Henry Moore Institute was pretty good, even if I felt mostly pushed away by the hermetic sculptures, which varied wildly from spooky kinetic hemispheres around office chairs, to brass “potatoes” in chiseled angles, to an oversized clod of earth with no discernible referent, to a silicon cast of intercourse, to a Mona Hatoum-like beaded cage. I couldn’t sew it all together; the works seemed completely discrete in form, content, concerns. The only thing I could make sense of is the fact that Gröting was a student of Joseph Beuys; this may be stereotypical, but I find some meaning in the fact of her German-ness, as I’ve felt similarly—locked out of deadly-serious Art with a sense of mirthless laughter—about Martin Kippenberger’s work too.

Keith Arnatt, from Self-Burial in 9 photographs, courtesy
Keith Arnatt, from Self-Burial in 9 photographs. Source:

Upstairs, the work of Keith Arnatt, an early adopter of American Minimalism, Conceptualism and Performance Art in Britain, is represented with a modest selection of black-and-white photographs, a text work, and a series of color sketches of geometric sculptures. I liked the photograph documenting a cubic hole in the earth lined with mirrors. Very simple stuff that any art student today might come up with, but at the time it was on the pulse of a movement, or two. I also liked “Self-Burial in 9 Stages,” a series of photographs documenting, well, the artist burying himself standing up, until only a patch of wavy hair is visible in the newly-turned earth. It really resonated with my recent thoughts about the dissolution of self in installations like Gregor Schneider’s Kinderzimmer (see Claire Bishop’s Installation Art, Tate, 2005), or the dissolution of the artist as in Josh Weinstein’s video at Open Eye Gallery, or the implicit denial in Chu Yun’s work (see Philip Tinari’s profile in the March Artforum, or this year’s Venice Biennale, whichever is handier). Incidentally, the trooper N.M. had a complimentary experience, engaging the drawings and passing more quickly over the photographs. Admittedly, given the chronological distance, the photos lack urgency, and while I’m usually not bothered by a gallery’s white-cube-ness, the presence of earthworks by way of only photos made the gallery seem especially sterile.

At the Leeds Art Gallery, I was intrigued by Shahin Afrassiabi’s installation, “Jalousie Gelocht, Als Blend Schultz” (2003), which is comprised of mundane objects like a television with nothing in particular onscreen, a roll of wallpaper, a table, a lamp, a funny blue geometric painting, etc. It was memorable because the TV emitted a brief, cheerful instrumental song. The pleasure was surprising, because I find that many installation artists create theatrical tableaux that rely too heavily on a “reading” of pathos to be meaningful.

I also enjoyed Angela Bulloch’s cubic sculpture, “Extra Time 8:5,” which was reminiscent of both Minimalism and sort of also a TV set. Furthering this mimesis is the fact that the single-pixel screen changed colors according to a BBC program.