Islington Mill played host to Manchester’s leading post-exhibition organisation, Scaffold Gallery, for their latest public project Never Gonna Give You Up; bringing together eleven artists who have ‘fall(en) out of love with making’ encouraging them to ‘fall back in love again’. It presented a turbulent relationship with creativity that is familiar to many of us.
Before the opening of the exhibition a critique was held in the space with the artists, aiming to establish links between the works on show. The outcome of the discussion was made tangible by drawing lines on the floor of the space connecting different works throughout the room. This provided the artists with a critical dialogue and demonstrates Scaffold Gallery’s holistic approach to exhibition making.
Connections to the routine and support networks of education run throughout this project. Carly Bainbridge’s ‘Three Years, still thinking’ (2018) references the time frame of undergraduate study, the unfinished text expressing an uncertainty with the purpose and result of that time. Tom Lambe’s ‘Memorial’ (2018) uses text in a similar fashion but does not share any of the same uncertainty, resolutely and bluntly proclaiming the death of the artist’s career on a headstone. Managing not to drown under the detached sarcasm present in many similar works, it makes a powerful statement. Emily Harbot acknowledges a latent need to create, and the often-fruitless nature of doing so. ‘Untitled. (twenty four hours in minutes on paper)’ (2018) is both productive and unproductive simultaneously. Perhaps the very embodiment of wasting time, it values the act of making over trying to discern why one is making at all.
Newfound uncertainty is plain to see in ‘Artist Hibernation’ (2018) by Jordy Smith. In the past Smith’s work has seemed confident and sardonic. Snappy statements passed judgment on the arts and its community, however, this new work presents the artist as unsure and full of doubt. Perhaps coming to terms with the sobering fact that one cleverly crafted statement outside the bubble of art school rarely shouts out loud and is almost instantly forgotten. Does Smith ask how we are supposed to find our own voice and make it heard?
Pop up exhibitions featuring artists who know each other and their audience – who are arguably all from one social group – present problems. They limit any exposure and critical feedback that the artists receive because everyone already knows who they are. This contributes to the stereotypical image of an inward facing clique of an art community. As well as stunting artistic and critical development it prevents the artists within from viewing themselves in a wider national and international context and leads to further isolation of communities.
However, it is crucial that young artists have access to safe testing grounds for new ideas. In moderation, and as long as such projects continue to critically challenge themselves and their peers, it can be a valuable opportunity for artists to rekindle an enthusiasm for making and to take risks. This is vital to the health of any creative community and it seems that Scaffold Gallery have not let us down, deserted us, made us cry, said goodbye or hurt us.
Never Gonna Give You Up, Scaffold Gallery at Islington Mill, Salford.
Thursday 22 March 2018.
James Mathews-Hiskett is an artist and writer based in Manchester.