Wednesday, 13 February 2008

cyclists dismount – here be dragons!

in a city where property is king and it seems that every square inch of manchester has become a ‘vibrant quarter’ or ‘bohemian district’, i have constant trouble describing where i live – its just behind the met, i say, or its just past the station, by the bt building! sometimes i try ‘ know, behind the bbc and paradise factory..’ or ‘keep going past sandbar, cross the main road and behind the big car showroom…’, but its always a struggle to pinpoint quite where i mean, and it seems that unless you live here, chorlton on medlock or brunswick doesn’t really exist.

from the outside, brunswick is something of a liminal, transitional space – an M1 postcode, but hardly the M1 lifestyle as promoted by the city marketeers. chances are you’ve never heard of it. it’s everything the glossy city centre dreamscape is not. in many respects it’s a forgotten bit of manchester, literally a corridor on the way to or between other more solid locations, traversed by commuters taking a short cut from piccadilly station to oxford road or to the collegiate triangle (umist, uni, and met) that surrounds it, an obscure island behind the city. somewhat off the beaten track it’s been largely ignored and left to its own devises; a hazy nether world, its pre-generated rubble grassed over and covered in brambles like some secret garden or sleeping beauty’s ruined kingdom…

this here be dragons feeling is heightened by its proximity to a gamut of key vehicle arteries - oxford road and upper brook street to the west, and london road to the east - where endless traffic carries travellers to other more salubrious parts of town. add to this the brooding, burly presence of manchester’s ring road cutting a swathe through the neighborhood, and effectively separating it from the outside world, and you have all the hallmarks of auge’s ‘non-place’. guided by campus landscaping and signage, flood lights and high railings, students and staff are conspicuously funnelled away from the estate behind the flyover, and only the foolhardy or pioneering pass the ‘cyclist dismount’ sign beside the muddy underpass, and onwards into the uncharted terrain beyond. a nearby map steering people across college grounds depicts the estate unnamed and curiously blank, like the unexplored territories of medieval cartographers…the world ends here; there be dragons!

within its confines however, life has its own unique rhythm. the mancunian way, shorthand to many of the ills of the modernist social housing experiment, is a incessant presence in brunswick life, a brutalist 60’s concrete flyover fundamental to the flow of the city, its urban ebb and tide. built on the ruins of old chorlton on medlock, it destroyed the neighbourhood that was, and created the present incarnation – a hinterland and quiet backwater that’s home to a largely settled community, in the main the first residents of the brand new 70’s estate of maisonettes and its towering trio of silkin, lockton, and lamport courts, shelter also to a more transient population with sometimes more than its fair share of pimps, hookers and dealers alongside a cluster of assorted creatives, attracted some years ago by the cheap rents and short waiting lists. classic ‘hard to let’ territory, it became home to writers, musicians, artists and designers moved on by the regenerations of nearby hulme and moss side and the rise of the over priced private sector. soon lo-fli magazines, micro recording studios, a rash of bands and gaggle of artists from the nearby art school were fermenting and incubating in the towers tiny flats.

into this heady mix of diy creativity came Apartment, a gallery that’s simultaneously not a gallery, an actual lived-in space, recreating or performing the idea of a gallery, a physical and metaphorical manifestation of the separate and intertwined artistic practices of its two founders, a place to reflect and comment wryly on the dominant discourses of the current art scene; a most clever accident that has supported a generation of artists and fostered a still expanding international network of creative practice.

its latest show is Horst by berlin based painter Nikola Irmer, which was being hung prior to my little trip to rome, the eternal city. since my return the preview has been and gone, and visitors are popping in and out for viewings and cups of tea. i confess to having become quite used to Horst’s massive presence in the living room, and even forget about him in the bathroom, but he is only here ‘til the end of february so i suggest you rush to see him before he packs up and makes his way back to berlin.

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