What’s up? The sky. Ha. Ha. Ha. When did we become so inconceivably witty? The projection of sarcasm as a means of answering a simply stated question is nothing new to us. Yet, whether you choose to look up or down at this expression, in admiration or detrimental judgement, it is wrapped up in your status.

The Holden Gallery’s latest show, Up/Down, provides alternative perspectives and frames of references in a user friendly manner. Forever cursed to feel like a frosty foyer, upon entering the exhibition space one appropriately looks up, then down, from the alluring skylights to the posh marquetry floor, which contribute considerably to the gallery’s conspicuous charisma. The charm continues in the two commissioned short essays by Steven Gartside and Sam Gathercole. Both pleasant and nice to read, they have set their thoughts towards validating works through citing Roland Barthes, Michel de Certeau and Alexandre Rodchenko. We are therefore lead to reflect over flowery language, and a certain degree of academic prose. Reflecting over whether one comprehends or savours essences, to romanticising our imaginations makes one think whether this exhibition deserves to be approached in a more neutral manner?

Returning to the room, one wonders whether we are best leaving interpretation for after? Like the civilised After Eight mint, it seems cheeky to eat one before your meal, right? Palates more confused than cleansed, we progress into this economy of art. Hearing the distant sounds of erotic moans excrete out of a headphone set causes us to be drawn into experiencing the artist Yang Zhenzhong’s hilarious and stringent logic. This particular work entitled Na Xiong Na Er provides us with a compilation video of skyscrapers, in which the shot pans up and down. Skillfully succinct with the audio of sensualised sighs, it is easy to become confused over the initial immature reading of this work. Obviously imbued with phallic symbolism, without seeing the source of who is making these sounds, it is unclear whether they suggest severe pain or enjoyment. This tightrope of not knowing becomes similar to many people’s first experience of a bouncy castle. Fun, until you bounce from enjoyment into disorientation. Now deflated, similar to the bouncy castle, you find yourself close to feeling hollow, and arguably are full of hot air.

Disheartened and slightly depressed, students hustle through the space and continue to make us feel like we are standing in a lobby. Slightly skittish, thankfully tucked around the corner is Dryden Goodwin’s film Poised. Capturing the determination of a young group of female divers, Goodwin’s stunningly shot work gathers a real sense of the athlete’s repetitive and relentless training, a powerful expression that perfectly mirrors the grace and beauty of their own work. The film features narrow, awkward camera angles of the girls in isolation, interacting with each other, and under the rapt of their coaches. Imploring gazes, whilst clearly aware of our own, Goodwin’s camera combines extreme close-ups with aslant details to illuminate the intensity of focus.

We can normally see and experience that which is only in our power. Art’s arbitration lies with you, the viewer. The enjoyment comes at the conversation of exploring each others points of view, whether they come from your 4ft 12 or 6ft 7 standpoint. Glass half full. Glass half empty. There is a fondness towards the Holden’s curatorial approach that continues to find peculiar thematic ways of bringing established and well known emerging artists to the city of Manchester.

Ashleigh Owen is an artist based in Manchester.

Image courtesy of The Holden Gallery.

Up/Down, The Holden Gallery, Manchester.

18 January – 4 March 2016.

Published 24.02.2016 by James Schofield in Reviews

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