Sunday, July 22, 2018

Art in July

July used to be the month that the art world went into slumber - or at least on its holidays. I've not been over to the Liverpool Biennial which opened a week ago, but I have been catching a bit of art, both local and otherwise.

At Castlefield Gallery, the current show is a selection of recent graduates from the MMU School of Art. Recent graduates are always at an interesting cusp: out of the need to create art that will also get them their degree, they also may find themselves removed from some of the opportunities that being part of an art school provides. This latest show, (on until 12th August) gives an early career opportunity to showcase work. The three chosen artists are all female, and all mainland Europeans, a coincidence around the selection, but which gave an added coherence to their work when put together. Given the opportunity not just to show pre-existing work, but develop concepts and ideas, the three artists share concerns around the personal, the political and the sense of longing for home - whether in the remembered smells of a relative's kitchen, the resonance of found objects repurposed, or a previously forgotten bit of history in Maite Pinto's discovery of the story of children evacuated from Spain to the UK during the Spanish Civil War. The Basque artist's work resonated particularly with me, as I'm currently writing about how we remember things, and the Franco regime's rewriting of history, to find no place for those on the war's losing side, was part of my own research. Well worth a visit.

It's too late now for the Sonia Boyce retrospective at Manchester Art Gallery - I've visited twice, once on the opening and last week, but the show closed today. Although a "retrospective" the show felt anything but historical, partly, I think, because Boyce is a curatorial artist - curating a room full of black female cultural items over a period of years - or setting up juxtapositions in some of the other works. That she had previously photographed Mancunians at the old Cornerhouse in the late 1990s wearing an afro wig was a nice piece to revisit, as faces, familiar and unfamiliar, were in the pictures two decades on. The best piece but also the most problematic was 2015's Exquisite Cacophony, a closely observed film of a live performance between two very different artists.  It's an exciting, exhilarating piece but the art seemed very much in the two performers - what role had the artist here other than as documentarian? As a collaborative work I liked it alot, marred only by the staging in the art gallery, where the sound from the the various film pieces made it difficult at times to concentrate on the one piece. The new work - a series of interventions in the gallery followed this theme of setting up confrontations and worked very well, as a series of short films created a split screen montage that was funny, chaotic, and intrigueing, and put into context the contentious removal of "Hylas and the Nymphs", a controversy that erupted earlier in the year as part of the creation of the new piece.  So, a good, brave show that possibly deserved a more sympathetic install.

For artists working in their studios, the role of studio as gallery is always an interesting one. With Rogue Studios closing and being replaced by a new site in Gorton, and a takeover of a building in Salford - Paradise Works, the latter at least has been developed with an eye on how to present as well as to make work. Richard Shields was commissioned to be an artist in residence at the Curfew tower, in Cushendall in Northern Ireland. His current show brings this work back to his studio space. Featuring artefacts and a mural, as well as a documentary film, it - like Boyce - shows art as process, as well as end result - and that's increasingly fascinating as artists explore both their identity in culture and in their work. "The Future is Bright the Past is Colourful"  plays with the idea of a "colour" being appropriated for political reasons. Shields has created a character that is made of various archetypes which both satirises and recognises the symbolism inherent in cultural identity. The show will be open next weekend or by appointment till early August.

Meanwhile, I found myself in Nottingham during changeover of their current exhibitions at the Nottingham Contemporary and so went along to the launch. I was very impressed by Mexican artist Pia Camil, whose solo show, is incredibly playful, but also uniquely her own. In "Split Screen" - covering two of the gallery spaces, you go behind the curtain and find yourself in a surreal world of the artist's imagination, where material is repurposed extravagantly, and, like with Richard Shields, a series of characters are presented - a bit like following Alice into Wonderland.  A fine retrospective of Swiss design and architectural practice Trix and Robert Haussmann runs alongside the Camil exhibition and again blurs the boundaries between art and design.

Earlier in the month, and last, but definitely not least, I went to the ever wonderful Bury Art Gallery for a new show, "Shonky: the Aesthetics of Awkwardness", a touring show from the Hayward, which is a cornucopia of the delightful, the bizarre, and the downright hilarious. Like a cabinet of curiosities played out across two galleries, it is an assault on the senses, as well as a beautifully chaotic mish-mash of old and new artists working with some kind of kitsch aesthetic. On until mid-September, it is highly recommended.

Finally, this weekend to come sees one of our more design-led publishers, experimental press Dostoyevsky Wannabe, stage an independent book market at PLANT, near Shude Hill in town. Come along on Saturday afternoon for launch of new books on Manchester and by Richard Barrett and Steve Hanson amongst other small interesting publishers.

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