Text by Michael Escolme
Small Change was conceived as a response to the book of the same name by architect Nabeel Hamdi. The concept being that small-scale actions have the power to bring about positive change within urban communities. Stoke-on-Trent is a city in dire need of positive change. For too many years the city has suffered at the hands of incompetent planners and short sighted development strategies, its history being gradually concreted over in the name of chain store and call centre progress.
As one walks through the city centre now, past the derelict spaces and uninspiring architecture, it’s easy to forget that for over 200 years these very streets were the epicentre of a thriving arts and craft industry. The influence of the potteries spanned the globe and made household names of its many brands and artists.
AirSpace Gallery was founded in 2006 with its own small change manifesto; to re-enliven the arts scene in the city and to provide a creative space for local artists. The gallery is to be found in an imposing Victorian building that once stood derelict after its previous residents, a gas lighting company, found its business snuffed out by new-fangled electricity.
The exhibition starts before you even enter the gallery. The large box bay window is used cunningly to display work both inwards and outwards. In this instance it shows one of several pieces by Lauren O’Grady which use everyday materials to convey visions of idealised urban structures, things that straddle the space between what once was and what still might be.
A compelling video installation by Brussels based art collective Plus-tôt Te laat documents a community’s struggle to reclaim its common space against the onset of the corporate bulldozer. Posters used in the struggle hang adjacent and pay silent homage to the protest art of the Atelier Populaire.
The gallery space is divided by a large willow windbreak which houses a selection of products and artefacts from the DIY common temporary café. This was a project which successfully brought collective and community making to a public park in Cheetham Hill. It suggests the potential for cohesion in a disparate urban community when guerrilla gardening, foraging, sustainability and entrepreneurship come together.
The feeling of bonhomie is sadly short lived as we are then drawn to a five metre long timeline conceived by political activist and artist Jane Lawson. It records the history and the failings of the global financial system, most disturbingly of all it remains unfinished. The Dalai Lama has told us that we won’t solve any problem by praying nor by being sad but only by seeking answers. Jane Lawson provides us with solutions or at least options in the form, of large eye-catching mind maps which enlighten the viewer with escape routes which society can use to flee the impending cultural and economic meltdown.
Nineteen works combine together in total to form this exhibition; they complement and support each other in an intriguing and thought provoking manner. We leave AirSpace with a clear message on how art can both affect and reflect change.
Image: Lauren O’Grady – Other Possible Locations, Crossroads (2012) Plywood, plaster, various model making materials, 55x120x110cm.
Michael Escolme is a writer based in Cheshire