Wednesday, 9 July 2008

reflections, pavements, loiterings

the last two or three weeks have been so filled with the surfeit of events, happenings and get togethers that i envy when i read of their regularity in the far off capital of londinium, that i haven’t had time to reflect on them, let alone write about them. i'd forgotten how transformational meeting like-minded strangers can be - hearing their ideas and seeing the city through their eyes has been a privilege.

at last i find myself with some space to absorb all this visual and intellectual stimulation and hope that my own inadequacies have been challenged by the exhilaration of the last few weeks.

it all started with TRIP, the psychogeography festival and conference on 19-21 june and Get Lost the manchester loiterers' activities around the city in june. my bluestocking friends paul, maureen and chris were contributors to TRIP with a pansy walk on the 21 june, and i joined them on this navigation of the city. paul's reflections of the experience can be read on his blog...

i can heartily recommend the loiterers blog for inspiring reflections on the city and its hidden secrets, plus details of their monthly derives and city wanderings, which are welcome to all:

...many thanks to morag rose and alan smith for their fantastic work, imaginative and inquisitive minds and infectious love of manchester! and for doing something...

the conference was an exhausting 3 days of wide ranging papers loosely connected to psychogeography and the city, inviting new ways of reading, connecting to and challenging its many narratives, histories and futures. there was a lovely archaeology paper by peter connelly from york archaeology trust, and my young friends darien and rob presented ideas behind their current project 'ruinous reflections, artistic drifts through post-industrial manchester' currently showing at upper space gallery, newton st, northern quarter. sadly i missed the preview on the 27 june but it seems the rest of manchester made a huge party of it and a great time was had by many of my young bluestocking associates.

the curators have taken a poetic darkly gothic notion of the city and its histories and brought it to fruition via the investigations of 5 very different artists, employed you might say as archaeologists revealing hidden layers as they dig below the surface. as they explain:

'Behind the visible built environment of the city lurk fictions and memories. Neglected narratives echo through the red-brick ruins, literary psychogeography where spectres of a forgotten past ghost-write their tales onto the decaying urban fabric. Taking stories from notable historical figures connected with Manchester, the five artists taking part in Ruinous Recollections will present a mental mapping of the city that constantly evolves over the course of the exhibiton. Artists: Barney Francis, Bec Garland, Nick Hamilton, Paul Harfleet, Victoria Lem.'

what makes this show intriguing in comparison to many others exploring similar issues is the deconstruction of the shadowy impact of the curator, that high priest or wizard of art, plus the chance to witness the evolution of the ideas and processes intrinsic to artistic practice. art and the private view always have something of the magic trick about them - unveiled and revealed only when perfect, framed, hung and displayed, all creases and problematics worked out. here the artifice is explored, made transparent, the journey involved in fact made more remarkable.

do visit this rare opportunity to see work in progress prior to the exhibition 'proper' next year, or at least delve into their blog which has details of the various works being created:

jane samuels abandoned building project made headlines at the green room for get lost, her plaintive photographs of decayed and forgotten buildings around manchester, modern ruins charged with all of the eerie beauty of the gothic fairy tales of our childhood, made more poignant by their peculiar ordinariness, unsettling in their familiarity:

over in salford at the university's chapman gallery was another beautiful ruinous recollection, a long time ago, the work of another brunswick artist andrea booker. frustratingly only showing for three days between 23 - 25 june!

i managed to race over there on the final day and am still in mourning that this artwork, both a physical and metaphorical exploration of the city's rapid regeneration and a labour of love, even obsession, a veritable urban rescue dig, can no longer be viewed. whilst other artists photograph, record and document the loss of whole sections of the city, languishing unloved before demolition and clearance for the brave new world of glass and steel, andrea has been rescuing and collecting their visceral physical remains. a long time ago explores the melancholy of the urban ruin through the display and manipulation of the giant lettering so recently an optimistic declaration of functionality and utility.

still reeling from all this ruinous recollecting, last thursday gave fresh impetus to musings that seem to have become infused into the whole landscape.

brunswick is an ever present absence on the oxford road corridor, the universities and their acolytes surrounding, obscuring yet permanently fixed towards the estate, absorbing and subconsciously reflecting its tangled careworn beauty. the fine art department and its graduate institute miriad sits at the crossroads of chorlton on medlock, their mutual history and development inseparable. it’s no accident that much of its creative output concerns the inner city and in recent years apartment in lockton court has nurtured the talents of many of its art graduates.

pitfall and potential: image, art and the 'public' was a symposium with dr. steven gartside and rut blees luxemburg discussing notions of visibility and disappearance of art in the urban landscape, a contemplation of the relationship between the city, its various communities and the art academy.

the symposium was a prelude to the launch of a new non - gallery space, pavement, based in the institution but conceptually facing beyond it – turning the rarefied somewhat elitist world of the academy inside out, making its outputs available to passers-by from the everyday world, literally on the pavement.

its press release states:

'Pavement is a new exhibition space housed in a former drapery store. The window space, which cannot be entered by the public, provides a highly visible stage for the display of international contemporary art. Any threshold existing between the institution and the outside world is absent; the work can be seen by the public, day and night. A distant glance engages the viewer and the work invites their scrutiny. Pavement will allow for the exploration of potential differences in the relationship of contemporary art to an unconventional institutional setting. The work on display will seek to utilise and exploit its position of visibility in order for its significance to be explored and to generate a wider response.'

'pavement' launched with caliban towers by blees luxemburg. originally installed as a billboard sized commission, its 'public' setting was underneath a railway bridge in shoreditch, london. it depicts a group of tower blocks at night, opening up questions about the relationship of image, architecture and location. as i’ve pondered elsewhere in this diary the tower block as social housing is in crisis – as pavement nicely put it, embodying 'a shift in meaning from a site of exclusion to one of exclusivity. the re-staging of caliban towers in manchester is particularly apt. in its new setting the work questions the ways in which we utilise urban space; perceptions of class and social status and the location and purpose of 'public' art'.

caliban towers is showing 7 days a week, 24 hours a day in the window of the righton building on grosvenor street. the perfect viewing is at night followed by a stroll further down the road past sandbar and the mcdougall centre to the junction of upper brook street.

fresh from the luminous gaze of the photographer’s vision, look again across the mancunian way to the tower blocks ahead and appreciate their forlorn beauty, their sturdy simplicity, as they face the city and an uncertain future...

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