manchester and lancaster: two new exhibitions

I’ve just returned from some time spent up north, where (amongst many other doings) I had the opportunity to take in a couple of new exhibitions:

Outlet is a new transitory project conceived by exocet, who previously brought us Porch (a temporary gallery space in the porch of a Chorlton house) and startrunning (a series of cross-artform events bringing together visual artists with experimental musicians). This is an independent artist-led space in an empty retail space in the Northern Quarter that will be playing host to “a series of varied exhibitions and spontaneous events.”

I went along to the preview of group show MISCELLANY, which included a wide variety of works by artists including Robert Bailey, Naomi Kashiwagi, Richard Kendrick and David Martin. Pieces ranged from Andrew Bracey’s lighthearted site-specific installation to Richard Shield’s exuberant line drawings. Together with other recent shows like Trade City, exhibitions such as MISCELLANY are indicative of the continued health and growth of Manchester’s artist-led scene.

Meanwhile, up in Lancaster on Friday, I was intrigued to visit the recently re-opened Storey Institute, in its new incarnation as a centre for creative industries. Resident organisations include Lancaster Litfest and of course, The Storey Gallery. The gallery's current exhibition is Strange Days and Some Flowers, a group show of “strange and uneasy work” that, like MISCELLANY, refuses to conform to the curatorial conventions of thematic shows accompanied by traditional gallery interpretation: instead, a playful selection of works are exhibited within a graphic jumble of scaffolding and crates.

This is a show with a very clear sense of humour, from Dan Baldwin’s jaunty rainbow-coloured paintings, memorably described as “Enid Blyton meets the apocalypse” to John Stark’s quirky bee-keepers and an enjoyably bizarre video installation by Mika Rottenberg. The sense of convention-busting childlike exuberance is continued through the availability of an audio tour given, not by the curator, but instead by two children sharing their thoughts on the works.

Personally, I was particularly pleased to see the Victoria and Albert statue is still in place, and especially that the long-established tradition of customising them for each show is continuing. On this occasion the somewhat serious pair had been garlanded with psychadelic flowers and joined by an assortment of multi-coloured companions in perfect accord with the atmosphere of the show.

[Images of Strange Days and Some Flowers via flickr, by beanphoto and Suzy Jones, copyright to the photographers and The Storey Gallery]