A gallery can be many different things. In the introduction to his book Inside the White Cube (1986), Brian O’Doherty describes the modern gallery as a space where: “The outside world must not come in.” For The Turnpike in Leigh – this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Selected by the Alexandra Reinhardt Memorial Award (ARMA) to host this year’s commission, The Turnpike invited local looked-after children, referred by Wigan’s targeted services, to engage with artist Lindsey Mendick – recipient of the award. Mendick worked alongside the young artists throughout the project, transforming the art venue’s gallery space into The Turnpike Pottery.
By working in collaboration with Mendick and visiting contemporary artists the young people have been offered an opportunity to explore their feelings in a wildly creative way. The result, is an exhibition that is so full of energy and detail that it is almost impossible to take in every aspect in one visit. Ceramic fortune cookies sit nearby a giant unicorn head; a table splattered with the paint marks of the summer month’s hosts a feast of screaming pork pies and a bowl of Cheerio’s with decapitated thumbs.
As Mendick pointed out at the launch, the exhibition carries traces of everyone involved. Finger prints, stories and emotion are all captured in the pottery that has been carefully curated by Mendick in the gallery space. It’s hard to tell where one artist starts and the other ends, so rather than an exhibition of individual pieces The Turnpike Pottery is an artwork in itself. And the paintings of Alexandra Reinhardt seamlessly fit alongside the artworks that wouldn’t have been made if it weren’t for the generosity of her family. Whilst it is standard for ARMA to loan a selection of Reinhardt’s artworks to the host gallery for during the public display of the commission, this is the first time her paintings have been integrated into an the commissioned artwork.
Leaving hardly a dry eye at the preview, a film documenting the project offers just a snapshot into the summer months at The Turnpike. As so often is the case with collaborative art practice or socially engaged projects, The Turnpike Pottery has been a transformative process for all involved.
Rather than labelling the young artists as simply ‘looked-after children’, The Turnpike and Mendick gave the group ownership of the exhibition, naming them as artists in their own right; a decision which further establishes them as co-creators. There are many barriers facing children-in-care and institutions like The Turnpike can play an important part in helping them to develop skills, grow in confidence and participate in society. For many, a gallery can seem like a space that is not for them, but The Turnpike is positioning its gallery as a space at the heart of the community – for everyone.
Lindsey Mendick: The Turnpike Pottery runs until 13 October 2018 at The Turnpike, Leigh
Ali Gunn is a writer and multidisciplinary artist based in Manchester.