The following was written for Art Licks Magazine: Peripheries published October 2018.
On the 11th January 2012 curator Laura Mansfield organised performances by Giles Bailey in Room 592 of the Britannia Hotel, Manchester. Produced as part of ‘Seven Sites’ it was one of 7 new performances or installations across varying locations in Manchester and Salford; on January 13th 2016 Caustic Coastal presented an exhibition of Manchester School of Art students down the corridor in Room 554. It’s all happened before and it’ll all happen again.
The art scenes will always feel like the bastard child of the music scenes in the North West. Northern Soul to Acid House. Half attached. Without emotion or ecstasy. Yet eventually there’ll be a generation here who’ll have no clue about the cliques and cliches of past bastions of high culture. Languid for singular histories. What do I want to talk about when I talk about art scenes?
There are levels here. Uneven like those skewed London skyscrapers that bulge out with height. Some are totems of action. Middle-ground allowed culture. Happening; let to happen. Moderate, tepid, agreeable, non-polemic, boring, devoid. The top tiers suck up the flood plain of cultural producers. Large scale festivals and biennials hold people who’d otherwise produce independently to work under specific means, for gargantuan *public* outcomes, “engaging” in waves, with debatable artistic products. And the institutions are, well, you know. All the right words in all the right places. Where’s the fringes? Where’s the stuff that you might not read about in the op-eds & travel blogs that act as self serving pats on the back for all involved? Roll call!
❦ Shy Bairns is a DIY publishing collective filling the gaps in the artist-led, spotlighting people through riso-printed publications, making stuff happen with educational workshops and exhibitions and just generally providing a new tone of energetic colloquial cultural aggravation. ❦ CBS is an exhibition, studio and framing space near the docks in Liverpool with a vital energy in a city with heavy institutional staples and an artist-led scene long dominated by one studio group. Their exhibitions maintain a simple one or two person show formula, enabling new collaborators, recent grads and others to experiment with an energetic group of practitioners. ❦ ROOT-ed is a self publishing initiative based in Liverpool set up ‘to promote, support and inspire creative people of colour within the NW of England.’ On their third iteration of their zine (digi and print fyi), it houses some stellar content giving voice to emerging practitioners of the region in various art forms whilst profiling those with some cultural clout to inspire. ❦ The Turnpike in Leigh, a bus jaunt out of Manchester, is a provincial institution re-blossoming. Through the leadership of a former curator at the Whitworth, the brutalist hulk is setting a new pace for exhibition making in the region. It might be having a honeymoon period, and drawing on curators’ close contacts for the first few shows feels tentative. But there’s hope and community engagement that seems at its heart. It’s current clay workshopping for young people with artist Lindsey Mendick and a swathe of artist-ceramicists over a ten week period looks to be providing some much needed hands on action that’ll lead to a exhibition for all involved. ❦ When space becomes problem, some occupy the places of others where multiple things can bubble up. Shady Dealings and No Matter are two such literary/performative reg events that have appeared this year in Todmorden and the Northern Quarter respectively. They’re opening space for artists and writers to vocalise the stuff which might otherwise just get left on the pages. ❦ Notable mentions go to Making Histories Visible, Working Class Movement Library & Islington Mill Art Academy, three distinct entities each in their own way concerned with giving voice, space and the dissemination of complex ideas to all.
I could go on. But I want to swing back through some murky waters before I dock. There are many gaps here, and lots space for possibility. All scenes are myths of their own making, no more so than in the Northern provinces. Artist-led is often moulded by single isolated art schools within towns and cities, and their machine-like thrust dumping ever increasing numbers of students into the world. Tutors holding posts. People re-platformed time and again. Stuff chugging in lethargic cycles. Yet if you peel away from the machines there’s people making it work for complex, multiple publics. If you forget the cliches the chasms emerge. Lots happens here that drifts away. Lots on the energies and sweat of those with limited means and the constant tide change of access to space & cash. It’s worth spending some time. We are one cog attempting to jam the machine. Set up in 2014, our ongoing axis has been to drive a cultural counterweight here, with a heavy focus on bringing in artists from outside the region to deploy site specific shows with the provision of extensive time, space, and energy away from pressurised cultural epicentres. We are Caustic Coastal.