telling tales

On Saturday, I was really hoping to go and check out the V&A's Village Fete Jubilee. Taking a contemporary approach to the traditional village fete, the event featured everything from an alternative take on the dog show to rock 'n' roll tiddlywinks: the perfect destination for a Saturday afternoon. But when I arrived at the V&A and saw the unbelievably ginormous queue for tickets, not even knowing that Tatty Devine would be there hosting their very own lucky dip fish bowl could persuade me to join in.

Instead I went to check out the V&A's latest exhibition: Telling Tales: Fantasy and Fear in Contemporary Design. The show, which is organised in three sections, The Forest Glade, The Enchanted Castle and Heaven and Hell, brings together a selection of furniture, lighting and ceramics "in the spirit of storytelling" - contemporary objects exploring fairy-tale, fantasy and fear. Enjoyably surreal, especially when a small child is bouncing up and down next to you and saying "ooh Mummy, look at the mole, isn't it sweet?"

Moulded Mole, Niels van Eijkand Miriam van der Lubbe, 2004

'The Fig Leaf' wardrobe, Tord Boontje for Meta, 2008

The Fall of the Damned Chandelier by Luc Merx

Telling Tales will be showing at the V&A until 18 October.

[Images via the V&A and Virtual Shoe Museum]

outdoor art: wheatfield and the dalston mill

I've recently been to check out The Dalston Mill and Wheatfield – A Confrontation: two new offsite commissions as part of the Barbican Art Gallery’s current exhibition, Radical Nature – Art and Architecture for a Changing Planet 1969-2009.

The Dalston Mill is the brainchild of experimental architectural collective EXYZT, who have transformed a disused railway line and area of wasteland just off Dalston lane into a ‘rural retreat’ in the heart of the city, intended for the use of the local community.

The fully-functioning but temporary 16 metre mill on the site is accompanied by a 20 metre long wheat field, intended as a restaging of environmental artist Agnes Denes’ pioneering 1982 work Wheatfield – a Confrontation (see above). For the original piece, Denes planted and harvested two acres of wheat in Battery Park landfill in New York, situated between the Statue of Liberty and the World Trade Centre. The restaging of this work may be less radical (and is certainly a lot smaller) than the original work, but it’s still thought-provoking to experience this small corner of rural nature in the midst of a hectic urban environment. What’s more, the work raises some interesting issues about land use and ownership, autonomy, community, economy and sustainability at local level: the idea is that the mill will be processing grains from the field when the wheat is ready to be harvested. The resulting flour will then be baked into bread - transforming urban wasteland into a functional community space.

When we arrived at the site, on a reasonably sunny Saturday afternoon, the Mill was already buzzing with activity. People in deckchairs by the wheatfield enjoyed cold beers from the bar; small children pranced on a stage strung with fairy-lights; a cluster of people were gathered for a demonstration of the pedal-powered mill; and we were immediately invited to join in a free bread-making workshop with artisan baker Dan Lepard.

The purpose of the workshop was in fact to bake not loaves of bread, but a unique bread-based currency: The Dalston Slice, a bread coin that is being baked and sold only at the Dalston Mill. The coin can be redeemed for goods or services with local traders and producers who have agreed to be part of this alternative currency experiment, ranging from the Arcola Theatre to the Trendsetters Hair Salon to London Fields Cycles. After spending an enjoyable time making the bread ‘coins’ we were each rewarded with some currency: we chose to take our handmade coins along to the Dalston Superstore to exchange them for a slice of cake apiece.

It's lovely to see this patch of unloved wasteland reinvigorated as a lively community space: throughout the Radical Nature exhibition, it will also be the setting for a whole programme of workshops, talks, performances and events ranging from cake decorating workshops to an in conversation event with the architects to African dancing to lectures on urban psychoanalysis. And as well as a thought-provoking use of disused land, it’s also quite simply a very pleasant place to while away a summer afternoon: a secret rural hideaway, tucked out of sight of the busy streets. Whether this site can truly act as a functional, independent shared space for the local community to use and enjoy, or whether it will rather work as simply another community arts venture, largely of interest to existing arts audiences rather than making a significant impact on the local communities it seeks to engage, is debatable: however, there’s no doubt it’s a step in the right direction.

The Dalston Mill and the Wheatfield are unfortunately only up for three weeks in total and will close on August 6th: definitely worth checking out while you can! Read some other responses to the works here and here.

[Photos via we make money not art: agnes denes' original wheatfield and the dalston mill re-creation]

best of manchester (+ pies)

The winners of this year’s Best of Manchester Awards were announced last night at a special award ceremony at Urbis. As has become usual of late, I was watching via twitter, but I was still very pleased to hear that the excellent Owl Project had been announced as winner of the Art category. The collective made up of artists Simon Blackmore, Anthony Hall and Steve Symons cite their influences as woodwork, hobby-style electronics and open source software: their semi-sculptural musical instruments have been exhibited across Europe as well as at events such as the Sonic Arts Network EXPO, Lovebytes and Futuresonic.

However, there’s no doubt that it must been a very difficult decision for the judges (a panel of industry experts that included Peter Saville, Wayne Hemingway, Jeremy Deller, Tim Marlow and Miranda Sawyer) to make since the others on the shortlist – artist Rachel Goodyear and collective Contents May Vary – were also very deserving of this accolade.

Congratulations also go to Holly Russell, winner of the Fashion category, and Max Moran and Jayne Compton who were joint winners of the Music award. You can see work by the winners, as well as the others on the shortlist, in a special Best of Manchester exhibition at Urbis, opening today and running until 20 September.

The BOMAs got me thinking about all the other ‘best of Manchester’ things that I’ve been missing since heading Down South: people, places, and even, yes, things to eat. Just this week my extremely kind and considerate father sent me a text message to tell me he was tucking into a butter pie with peas and gravy, just as I was sitting at my desk toying with a rather uninspiring couscous salad. Now, I’m pretty sure that butter pie is something that just doesn’t exist here in London - there’s also a very disturbing shortage of gravy and peas. Butter pie would definitely appear on my personal ‘best of Manchester’ shortlist! (I know several people have already made the excellent suggestion of adding a writer category to the Best of Manchester Awards next year, but what about a food category too...!)

What would you include on your personal ‘best of Manchester’ list?

[Images via urbis and future of sound]

Walking in My Mind

I recently went to check out the Hayward Gallery’s newest exhibition, Walking in My Mind. Described as “an adventure into the artist’s imagination” this installation-based show brings together work by ten contemporary artists to investigate ideas of creativity, consciousness, perception, thought, emotion and psychological space. It’s certainly an exhibition full of surprises: walking through the galleries feels like tiptoeing through a surreal wonderland of imaginative spaces.

The exhibition kicks off with Yoshitomo Nara’s delightful installation My Drawing Room - a down-at-heel wendy house complete with a sign announcing ‘Place Like Home’. Peeping through the tiny, dolls-house windows, we can observe all the minutiae of a perfectly-realised personal space: a muddle of scattered drawings, comic books, childhood treasures, and kitsch kawaii figurines. Inspired by the artist’s student room, and infused with a nostalgia for the past, it is both an intriguing insight into Nara’s influences and creative processes, and a compelling vision of the artist’s mind as a private, detached, personal space which we can glimpse from the outside but never actually enter. In the same gallery, Studio Wall Drawings, an ongoing series of works on paper by Keith Tyson, occupies similarly personal territory, creating “a space somewhere between a map, a poem, a diary and a painting’” Presented in a single vast expanse, these colourful and extrovert drawings are like a series of mini-narratives, allowing us to glimpse the artist’s lively thought process at work.

Things take a stranger turn as we head upstairs into the upper galleries, alongside works from Charles Avery’s fascinating project The Islanders: the systematic and detailed investigation of an imaginary island invented by the artist himself. Here, maps are accompanied by drawings and “specimens” of the island’s bizarre flora and fauna presented in a series of vitrines, whilst outside on one of the terraces is the Eternity Chamber - a sinister funfair kiosk with a mirrored interior which we glimpse through tightly padlocked doors. But all this looks positively ordinary compared with Thomas Hirschorn’s Cavemanman - a fascinating sculptural environment consisting of a network of tunnels, all constructed from cardboard and yards of brown parcel tape. Clambering through these hidden spaces, encountering cave-like chambers papered with found images and philosophical writings is a truly otherworldly experience: bundles of silver ‘dynamite’ are wired-up to tinfoil-covered shop window dummies, creating a strange and deeply disorientating vision of inner space oddly reminiscent of the set of a long-forgotten episode of Doctor Who. And next up is another weird and discomfiting representation of cerebral space - Jason Rhoades sprawling installation The Creation Myth. Here, the brain is figured as a control centre surrounded by a chaos of computer screens, televisions and sound systems, linked by a complex network of circuit boards and intertwining cables, and interspersed with all manner of unexpected elements from plastic buckets to pornographic images to a toy train to a massage chair.

So far, so Freudian. But Yayoi Kusama’s playfully trippy polka-dot installation provides a welcome change of pace: her red and white landscape is a dizzy, joyful Alice-in-Wonderland space, spilling out onto an outdoor terrace where on undulating toadstool-spotted structures are scattered across a surface of brilliant green artificial grass. The same childlike fairy-tale feel is reflected in Chiharu Shiota’s After the Dream, albeit with a nightmare twist: in this space, an intricate spiderweb of black thread surrounds a circle of five long white dresses which appear to hold hands as they float above ground like a malevolent cat’s cradle.

Finally, Pipilotti Rist provides the perfect conclusion to the exhibition - a strange, dark, dreamlike space where starry lights float by accompanied by a succession of projections of giant, disembodied body parts which drift aimlessly by. As these images appear and disappear, a spectral voice coos a sequence of phrases like “you are a butterflower,” “you are a molecule,” and (our particular favourite) “you are a woman-mouse” in an enjoyable parody of recorded relaxation sequences. Like the rest of the installations in this offbeat exhibition, experiencing Rist’s imaginative space is both uncanny and bewildering, yet here the unearthly atmosphere is nicely balanced by the artist’s characteristic sense of humour.

For me, Walking in My Mind is a compelling exploration of the artist’s imagination, and an exhibition I’d definitely recommend to anyone. Interestingly though, the show has won mixed reviews: Laura Cumming for The Observer dismissed it as little more than the “summer blockbuster” of the contemporary art world, characterising it as “a lacklustre funfair”. However, there has been plenty of praise for the exhibition from the blogosphere: webcowgirl calls it “deliciously trippy and completely worth the cost of admission” whilst Susie Bubble also gave the exhibition a thumbs up. I’d agree with them both: Walking in My Mind is a brilliantly bizarre encounter - the utterly strange experience of walking out of the exhibition into the gallery shop, feeling giddy and peculiar, is worth it alone. Truly mind-altering, in every sense.

[photo via ffffound]

not in manchester

I'm feeling a bit sorry for myself because I'm not in Manchester this week... During my hour-long commute back from work on the very hot, sticky and generally bad-tempered tube, I unexpectedly found myself feeling strangely nostalgic for the delights of the 142 bus up Oxford Road. At lunchtime, I sighed over my overpriced prawn and crayfish baguette, dreaming of chips and gravy from the chip shop on Liverpool Road. And right now, I'm wishing that I could go along to the launch of the lovely new Corridor 8 launch, taking place at Urbis tonight...

Corridor 8 is a brand new annual title, which aims to be “the new cultural voice of the north” and will be showcasing the very best in the region’s contemporary visual arts, writing, architecture, photography and more. The theme for issue 1 is SuperCity – the idea of an urban ‘corridor’ linking cities and towns across the north from Liverpool to Hull, and reaching overseas to Ireland in the West and Denmark in the East. There will be contributions around the theme from such luminaries such as Will Alsop and Peter Saville, as well as features about artists working across the SuperCity region including Bob Levene, Rachel Goodyear and the Freee Collective. Personally, I’m especially excited about a unique “literary documentary” about the area commissioned from the writer and psychogeographer Iain Sinclair for this first issue - here’s a little taster:

‘Wandering Deansgate was like finding yourself in the middle of some dark fantasy for which you had no instructions. Cliffs of unreason. Deansgate as a river of human traffic, the Irwell its liquid margin.’

Iain Sinclair will be giving a talk at the launch event tonight, but if like me, you can’t make it, you can still share Sinclair’s walk through Manchester - “a meandering poetic journey designed to shed new light on a city once ancient and contemporary” - by listening to a special podcast Listening for the Corncrake on the Urbis website.The podcast has been designed so that you can listen as you go, so you can even perform your own psychogeographic wanderings through the city! Next time I'm in Manchester I'll definitely be having a go: in the meantime, I'll be following tonight's event via the liveblog on twitter, and of course, I'm looking forward to reading the magazine itself very soon! (For more on Iain Sinclair at the Corridor 8 launch check out Richard's post about the event here)

Staying with the literary theme, I'm also missing out on the Manchester Book Market this weekend. This excellent event, organised by Literature NorthWest, will take place in St Ann's Square from Friday to Sunday as part of the Manchester International Festival. The market will bring together the very best of the UK's leading independent publishers, as well as back-to-back performances from some of the North West's most exciting spoken word talent. Readers will include Joe Stretch, Elizabeth Baines, Eleanor Rees, Annie Clarkson and Segun Lee French amongst many more.

Other weekend highlights will include Manchester International Festival's Festival Feast (yum!), a special tour of Procession: An Exhibition on Sunday, and of course De La Soul at The Ritz. Meanwhile I'll be off for another day of packing myself sardine-style into the tube, and risking my sanity trying to get across Waterloo station at rush hour. Not fair!

Anyway, for now I'm off to console myself with Vietnamese food, and planning some exciting art adventures here in London for the weekend. Manchester peoples, let me know how you enjoy this weekend's hi-jinks...

Creative Tourist + More on Procession

Creative Tourist, launched today by the Manchester Museums Consortium is a brand new online magazine about art and culture in Manchester.

Issue 1 features Jeremy Deller, Ansuman Biswas (aka the Manchester Hermit), Marina Abramovic in conversation with Maria Balshaw, Director of the Whitworth Art Gallery, Andrew Shanahan’s guide to videogames and Dea Birkett on children in galleries, as well as much more.

And as if all this wasn’t enough, Kate Feld (of Manchizzle fame) will be working alongside editor Susie Stubbs to bring in content from Manchester’s lively blogging community, commissioning guest posts from bloggers who write about art and culture… and guess who you’ll find in the very first issue?

That’s right, it’s me! Check out my post about Jeremy Deller’s Procession here. I was delighted to be the very first blogger commissioned to contribute to Creative Tourist, and I was even more delighted to be asked to write about such a fantastic event. If you read the piece, I’d love to know what you think - and whether or not I’ve managed to capture the unique atmosphere of this very special Manchester experience!

PS You can also keep up with Creative Tourist via the magic of twitter. Looking forward to reading more soon!

[Photo courtesy of the very talented Duncan Hay]

Play Me, I’m Yours

As I’ve been getting to know the City over the past couple of weeks, I've caught sight of something quite unexpected: a number of rather battered second-hand pianos, stenciled with brightly-coloured patterns, scattered serendipitously in the city’s public spaces, popping up everywhere from Liverpool Street Station to St Paul’s. Clearly a hit with everyone from commuters to school children, on my wanderings, I’ve observed all manner of open-air recitals, impromptu sing-a-longs, the odd rendition of chopsticks, and even a little extra piano practice.

These ‘street pianos’ are part of Play Me, I’m Yours a simple but brilliantly entertaining participatory work by artist Luke Jerram, which has been touring internationally since 2008, and has already visited Sydney, Sao Paolo and erm... Bury St Edmunds. Here in London, the artist has worked in partnership with Sing London and the City of London Festival, to install 30 second-hand pianos across the city on streets, in parks, public spaces, train stations and markets, for members of the public to play and enjoy. The aim of the project is to provide the stimulus to bring communities together, and to shake up the same old day-to-day routines of those who live and work in the city: for Jerram, Play Me, I’m Yours is “a catalyst for strangers who regularly occupy the same space to talk and connect with each other.” What’s more, the work provides an opportunity to engage with and activate the spaces of the city in a new way, helping city-dwellers to “claim ownership of their urban landscape.” Of course, as I've observed over the last couple of weeks, it's also quite simply a lot of fun.

Sadly, today is the final day you can check out the project in London, but you can read more about the project, watch films of the pianos in action, and find out about future destinations on the website here.

[Photo via Luke Jerram's website]

there's no place like home

Perhaps because I don't have a place to live of my own right now, at the moment I'm slightly obsessed by other people's homes. The Selby is currently one of my favourite reads: this intriguing and addictive site by Todd Selby features photographs, videos and even paintings of "interesting people" and their creative spaces from London to Los Angeles and everything in between.

I'd also love to get hold of a copy of this lovely new book from publishers Laurence King: Creative Space: Urban Homes of Artists and Innovators. For 18 months, Francesca Gavin, writer and Visual Arts Editor for Dazed and Confused magazine and photographer Andy Sewell travelled the world, documenting the unique living and working spaces of artists and creatives of all kinds. The result is this covetable book, featuring artists ranging from Julie Verhoeven and Maharishi founder Hardy Blechmann in London, to graffiti artist Fafi in Paris, to Yasumusa Yonehara and Aya Takano in Tokyo. There really is no place like home...

[Images from Creative Space via daydream lily and Dazed Digital]

Manchester International Festival and more...

I've just returned from a fantastic weekend of art and adventures in Manchester. First up was a visit to Manchester Art Gallery to check out Zaha Hadid’s installation for Manchester International Festival created in response to the solo works of Johann Sebastian Bach. Walking through this unique and highly intimate chamber music space is like being in the clean white interior of a giant nautilus shell: I just wish I'd had the chance to hear the acoustics. I would have loved to catch one of the free lunchtime concerts being performed by students from RNCM and Chetham’s Music School, which will be held daily for the duration of the festival, to experience the installation in full.

Next stop was Manchester’s Peace Gardens to take a look at Gustav Metzger’s Flailing Trees, another Manchester International Festival commission. This new piece of public art comprises 21 inverted willow trees, which the artist intends to represent “ a subversion of the natural order that brings nature and the environment into sharp focus.”

Then on to Deansgate, for the highlight of the day: Jeremy Deller’s fabulous Procession: a spectacular celebration of Manchester, its history, its culture, its communities and its people. I'll be writing more about this one soon, but for now, all I can say is - what a perfect way to end my very happy three and a half years in Manchester.

Finally I finished the day with a visit to Will Alsop’s CHIPS building, where Contemporary Art Manchester were holding the opening of their inaugral project, Trade City. Held in association with the International Festival, this exhibition brings together work selected by a number of the member organisations of CAM, a new not-for-profit visual arts consortium of independent galleries, artist-run projects and curatorial agencies. Loosely centred around notions of trade, exchange, and alternative economies, the work on display included pieces by artists including Antifreeze, Rob Bailey, Andrea Booker, Andrew Bracey and Cherry Tenneson amongst many more.

I only wish I had the opportunity to stay around and see more of the International Festival highlights. I’d love to be going along to the opening of Procession: An Exhibition at Cornerhouse on Wednesday, not to mention checking out Marina Abramović at the Whitworth, Carlos Acosta with the BBC Philharmonic and It Felt Like A Kiss. But for me, it's goodbye for now to Manchester, and time to do some exploring in London Town...

[Photo © Tim Sinclair via Manchester International Festival]