It doesn’t feel like an art exhibition; it feels more like an alternative theme park with art as the concept. Once you’ve entered through the indiscreetly-extended gift shop (listed as part of the exhibition in the guide), you’re faced with a multitude of goings-on, bright visual phenomena and the sound of punk rock emanating from the pop-up venue Club Big. The titular John Hyatt, Professor in Contemporary Art at Liverpool John Moores University and lead singer in punk band The Three Johns, has created a myriad of experiences, with artworks ranging from video to found objects and from ethnography to performance (all 2017).
The placement of Club Big at the back of the gallery space, with its red rope entrance impregnating the white cube, deems everything else a pre-requisite, almost as though the whole exhibition leading up to it is one big foyer to the club itself.
Within this prepending open space it is almost impossible to contemplate some of the works independently without the wider environment of the exhibition demanding part of your attention. This is partly because of the music blasting out of the club and partly because of the ethnographic undertones underpinning much of the work that gives a sense that each piece is part of one larger story – perhaps all elements, or contributions towards a portrait of the artist.
There are seemingly many facets to John Hyatt: in the video installation Brainbox we see Hyatt as professor; Three Wishes demonstrates the aesthetic awareness of a landscape painter; The Collection and Reading Room unveils Hyatt the collector; Club Big exposes his punk sensibility and passion for the alter ego; whilst the mirror-ball-horse-sculpture The Great Deception suggests he may also have an alter ego as a magician.
This notion of Hyatt as a polymath can also be located within one independent work: The Collection and Reading Room. Here, Hyatt as tea can be drank whilst contemplating Hyatt as collector. Within the space, the tea exists as a separate work from a comic collection with one not necessarily informing the other in a conceptual sense, apart from helping to paint a wider picture of the artist. Hyatt is not only a collector of comic books, but a collector of rocks, which are also exhibited, although in a very different way. Whereas the comics are available to be leafed through and even loaned out, the rocks are kept sacred within a glass display case that would not look out of place in a natural history museum.
Because of the variation of works on display and the potential ways of interacting with them, a strong and memorable multi-sensory experience is on offer within this unique exhibition, one that invites visitor contribution and interaction. You can taste Hyatt as limited edition tea, leaf through his comic book collection, hear his music, read his lyrics, and on a Friday night you can come down to his fully functioning night club and experience an eclectic range of performances. John Hyatt seems to be a man of multiple personalities, many of which are on display here.
John Hyatt: Rock Art, HOME, Manchester, 4 Feb – 29 March 2017.
Neil Greenhalgh is an artist and writer based in Manchester.
Image: John Hyatt: Rock Art installation shot, courtesy of HOME.