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One And All
Castlefield Gallery, Manchester
3 April 17 May
Reviewed by: Paul Cordwell »
In a reflection of Castlefield Gallery's determination to expand its audience, curator Alison Kershaw organised January's citywide 'I Don't Know About Community Networks But I Know What I Like' project. By placing eight artists in seven community centres around the city, the project acted as both a promotion of Community Network for Manchester, a network of voluntary and community groups from across Manchester and, in a fine art twist, as a rumination on the artists' ability to critically reflect the structural dynamics and power relations of which they were, if only temporarily, a part. The resulting sculptural assemblages, videos and paintings are now grouped together in the gallery's basement and upper-level office space.
Tables laid out on the upper platform act as presentation plinths for the three versions of Andrew Wilson's The Correction Game: a playfully innocuous parody of the board game Monopoly, name-checking individuals involved with the three areas of the Community Network. The implication of a depressingly repetitive cycle of management meetings is given a slightly psychotic saccharine edge by the cheery primary colours of the component cards and boards.
Joe Richardson's CN4M and its Environs Community Empowerment, Networks, the Lining Paper of the Regeneration Industry has a title nearly as long as its vertical hang of red wallpaper. A further horizontal stretch of lining paper, resting on roughly painted pasting tables, is covered with linear hand-drawn graphic mappings of networking organisations an unnecessarily ornate supplement to the simple reveal of paper and hardboard layers.
In Jil Moore's Slapstick, a Triptych: Curly, Larry, Mo, three peculiarly archaic glass vessels carry photographic traces of figures in blurred cityscapes: healthily idiosyncratic and unreadably odd. Unfortunately, they are displayed on an ill-considered rectangle of mirrored tiles.
More elaborately mannered is William Titley's Monument, a grouping of four retro-style domestic dustbins raised to different heights on stacked wooden industrial pallets. Regular vertical strips cut from their sides reveal low swaying umbrellas of water, maintained by hidden pumps, colourfully illuminated and with a thin vaporous fog, snaking through the side slats. The bins have been transformed from functional waste collection points into compact displays of garden ornamentation. A simple, attractive iconic object has been invaded by kitsch probably not the most positive reflection of the Sustainable Communities remit.
Jo Lewington's 15-minute DVD projection Father On the Right, Mother On the Left monitors the eye-line of a textile worker emphasising unengaging repetition; the stuffing, sewing, labelling, and bagging up of pillows. The extremely focused, unfaltering framing of the mechanical dexterity of hands adds the suspicion that the eyes casual wanderings are, at least subconsciously, policed by the worker. The artist's distorting presence seems accidentally fore-grounded.
Alternatively, in Hafsah Naib's TV, the absent artist becomes an out of shot interviewer; a circle of seats each facing a TV carrying a DVD playback, (Talking Heads-style), of the set's last owner expanding on their relationship to the medium itself. The interviewees often reveal a distrust of the medium plus an embarrassed nostalgia for the soporific wash of a TV screen.
Claiming an equally intimate interplay with unnamed individuals are the ubiquitous Grennan and Sperandio's Specific Gravity oil paintings, apparently 'rendered' in China from digital images of locations in the city considered significant by Community Network staff. Sophisticatedly amateur, I rather hope that in reality, as a parody of earlier conceptual artists 'outsourcing', Grennan and Sperandio actually painted these airless, no-places themselves.
Although the artists selected seem almost organically appropriate, ironically, some appear slyly hamstrung by the exhibition's brief, only tentatively critiquing the potential effectiveness of 'the artist' in the community.
Surprisingly for artists, always potentially feral creatures, few seem tempted to bite the hand that fed them. Whereas architects and urban developers enjoy singing the praises of a panini and cappuccino-fuelled economic renaissance, artists seem almost genetically predisposed to point out the Big Issue sellers and half-eaten kebabs.
One would have expected at least one of the exhibitors to focus on the language used within their self-imposed rounds of administrative meetings as fertile raw material. One And All's website lists January's community venues, which are "sustained by the procurement of learning and employment contracts", but retain "core ideals" and "sustainable credentials", whilst proudly housing "a number of statutory agencies".
The ambiguous and nuanced language favoured by artists is entirely inappropriate for the agencies concerned with urban regeneration. Unfortunately, the terminology of the bureaucrat tends towards self-parody, even dispensing with descriptive accuracy. Community centres and art galleries are undeniably necessary as a community's critical platforms. Should the nonsensical and dispassionate banalities of a loft-developer's promotional brochure, or the enforced management speak of a gallery's funding application begin to set the tone for their aspirations we may be in real trouble. One and all.
A manchester based artist involved with art in manchester for the last 15 years.
Castlefield Gallery »
2 Hewitt Street, Knott Mill, MANCHESTER M15 4GB
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