Saturday, 21 July 2007


my musings whilst mooching around the museum got me in the mood for mining the city in the same way that the alchemy artists and the museum as institution have embarked upon the reflexive journey of learning to look differently at what is under our noses, what we see day to day, and in its familiarity loses its ability to inspire or tell its story.

where to start on this journey of archaeological imagination?

the city, any city is endlessly fascinating, a mirror to ourselves, our hopes, fears, misgivings and achievements all under one roof; if you like, a museum of modern living, a laboratory, a constant ongoing experiment. i know, i thought, i'll meander through town, taking in my usual haunts and reassuring pitstops until i reach urbis, the temple to the metropolis - perhaps the absolute opposite to the ideal of the museum. maybe there i'll get a handle on the city, change my innate prejudices and be inspired to re-examine the familiar and the strange with a more curious eye.

my friends say i'm obsessed with piccadilly station, perversely attracted to its post commonwealth games tart-up. i protest that this in fact has a deeply intellectual significance, an acknowledgement that all life is a journey, etc, etc - but whatever the truth most days i end up there, people watching and daydreaming at the overhead timetables. today is no different and it doesn’t fail me for serendipitous inspiration...

the good people who administer the tram depot keep a number of large advertising hoardings on the platform, showcasing occasional artworks, photographic exhibitions and interesting snippets of upcoming cultural events. they are usually worth a look. right now is a series of images entitled peeps, by artist and architect dan dubowitz, the artist in residence for gorton monastery, and curator of a longer term project called 'wastelands'. i have long been an admirer and was lucky enough to hear him discuss his work and ideas at one of urbis's recent ‘talkies’, so the coincidence is complete...peeps is where i’ll start!

peeps is the outcome of 3 years of 'immurations', the culmination of his residency in new islington, the ambitious redevelopment across most of Ancoats, the much vaunted birthplace of manchester and the industrial revolution. as the developers uncovered and exposed intriguing artefacts from this world heritage site, dubowitz wondered whether retaining some of these relics might be a tangible manifestation of its past plus a link to its future, a symbol of the rift in time and space that the constant renewal and upheaval of the city represents. in many ways peeps is the antithesis of the ‘public’ artwork, a living intervention rather than a memorial, a solution more intimate and personal than the traditional monument, one which recognizes the complex nature of the metropolis, a palimpsest where past and future collide and irrupt into each other at every turn.

literally immured - walled - into the fabric of its new skin, there is a danger that the project might appear to be an embalming, a consignment to the ashes, but peeps intends to situate history and heritage as a living, integral component of the present and future, where they can continue to play out their part. peeps will not be officially opened or revealed, rather be happened upon by the curious or sought out by the interested: affectionate, knowing glimpses of ancoats’ enduring character and personality.

i shall be seeking them out as soon as possible and definitely listening in on september 3 when bbc manchester will be broadcasting live from ancoats.

in the meantime, these recent projects of dubowitz should whet the appetite....

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