As non-profit organisation PROFORMA’s exhibition and live art venue, Longsight Art Space is dedicated to championing creativity within the Greater Manchester region. You’ll like this exhibition because you’re in it!: an East Manchester Open saw the gallery invite members of the community to take part in a ten-week-long series of free, practitioner-led workshops, alongside an open call for submissions from people living and working within the area. The result is a showcase celebrating the work of sixty-two artists living and working in the local neighbourhoods of Ancoats, Ardwick, Beswick, Bradford, Clayton, Gorton, Levenshulme, Longsight, Miles Platting, Newton Heath and Openshaw.
A wide range of media is represented in the gallery space. Handmade book-works, as well as sculptures in paper and mixed media, are seated on plinths or placed on shelving. There’s a child’s booster seat, painted in a chalky green, four Cabriole-style footstool legs fixed to it in such a way as to give it the stride of a husky, low-slung bulldog.
The colourful, temporary walls are home to painting, illustration, textiles, collage, photography, printmaking, animation and video, whilst patterned fabrics woven in earthy shades of terracotta drape from the ceiling. Pigments and prints cover the walls and bright windows of the gallery, a creative thrum inviting visitors into the community space. I visited on the exhibition’s opening weekend, and the sights, smells, and sounds of the community greeted me as I walked through the doors of the space.
All attendees to the opening were welcome to participate in Faye Power’s ‘WALKING-STITCHING-WITH-PLACE’ (2023). This workshop and performance, led by the artist, encouraged participants to leave their own mark on the creation of a textile work inspired by their memories of a walk around the gallery’s Northmoor Road location and the nearby Crowcroft Park. As part of the workshop, attendees were invited to leave behind threads of photosensitive fabric that would be collected after they had been exposed by the diffused sunlight of the day.
Mapping our collective experience when we returned to Longsight Art Space for the first time, we stitched our recollection of the path we took onto a large, shared canvas, reminiscent of burlap and stretched taut over wooden spacers. Threads crossed over one another as everyone hurried to commit their memory to the canvas.
After spending around an hour working on our shared canvas, discussing the beauty of the multicoloured thread and twine which Power provided and nibbling on fragrant vegetable pakora provided by the local Red Chilli Grill, we went to gather the exposed strips of fabric. We unravelled them from fallen branches, fence posts, and the soggy ground that participants had placed them on as we retraced our steps. We paused to admire the patterns created by the sun, exposing the light-sensitive salts by the glow of a cloudy Manchester afternoon: oil-slick hues of blue, orange and marker-pen yellow greeted us, creased like a pair of old jeans.
Power’s work is rooted in process and the practice of psychogeography. Concerned with the urban and suburban spaces that we might otherwise pass through on our way from place-to-place, her practice maps the intersection between the physical terrain and the internal effect it has on us as we consciously and subconsciously navigate its eddies.
Whilst walking with Power as part of the workshop, we discussed the question of whether strolling in this manner is akin to dreaming. The ghostly silhouettes of the objects on the unnamed, unattributed cyanotype contact prints, hung on a wall by the entrance to the gallery space, come back to my mind at this moment. Much like the fragile outlines of feathers, budding flowers, leaves and chains depicted in these paper-based works, my eye and body are guided by the faintest traces of the world whilst I’m walking.
What comes to the fore when we walk with Power are the subjective, poetic and political aspects of otherwise transitory spaces, freed to reveal themselves now they’ve been divested of their purposes as thoroughfares. Streets and roads are often appreciated less as spaces where everyday life takes place, instead seen only as routes we follow to quickly get us home or ferry us to our places of work. But both urban and suburban spaces play central roles in the movements of people that are vital to commerce, and that can be felt especially in Greater Manchester’s intertwined relationship with the birth and development of industrial capitalism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Whilst the buildings may be put to different uses in the present, the underlying logic of these spaces are still ripe for psychogeographic study.
Indeed, Power notes on our walk that collectives such as the Walking Artists Network and the Manchester-based Loiterers Resistance Movement continue to meet regularly to drift through the built environment, encouraging reflection on the city and how its eddies and currents are able to consciously and subconsciously shape our communities.
Power’s workshop is only one of a series of socially-engaged projects which the formerly itinerant PROFORMA undertook as part of You’ll like this exhibition because you’re in it! The organisation has fostered a space of openness, collaboration and connection within the artistic landscape of Manchester, empowering creatives and community participants to lead a number of activities and projects which are focused on long-term collective effort, helping to articulate how galleries can enrich the local social fabric.
Their work has included the planting of heritage fruit trees in Crowcroft Park alongside other community endeavours, such actions forming part of the schedule of exhibitions, communal meals and musical gatherings that characterised their 2022 season. As well as this, they continue to engage closely with the diverse community of East Manchester, providing a platform for practitioner Bilal Zafar Ranjha, who is collecting the narratives of community leaders in their mother tongue of Urdu, and support artists working with local women’s charities and environmental groups such as BeLongsight.
As we wander back to Longsight Art Space, conversation strays onto the ways in which we’re intimately connected to the warp and weft of the world. Perhaps we feel an affinity towards textiles, and due to this they act as a means of community cohesion. As Power reminds us, fabrics and textiles play a central part in our everyday experience, from the clothes we wear to protect us from the environment to the things we furnish our homes with.
Creativity is intertwined with the environment in which we work and play in much the same way, and its enriching centrality in our lives is also all too often overlooked amid the flurry of activity that characterises contemporary life. Like many of the artist-led galleries that dot the Manchester landscape, Longsight Art Space provides a hub around which the community can explore a kind of creativity that’s rooted in the places that they live, work and play, inspired by the diverse and vibrant heritage of their unique situation in suburban East Manchester.
Everything in the group exhibition speaks of home and its immediate surroundings: sculpted kitchen implements, paintings of, or inspired by, food, origami-esque desk-lamps, digital illustrations of the street scenes I’ve just wandered by rendered with architectural precision, portraits of loved ones, animated illustrations of cats.
Two hand-painted book-works, ‘Yaruba Lessons’ and ‘All inclusive air travel/Notes on arrest’by artist Faridat Mahamud, sit on a plinth in one corner of the gallery, depict the faces and objects of everyday life in the city. Certain pages are held together with bulldog clips, preventing attendees from leafing through, but the suggestion of heavily-applied paint creeps over the edges of the hidden paintings we cannot see. Given the differing styles in the brightly daubed portraits, still lives and abstracted street scenes that are on show, they appear to have been worked on by many hands. Some of these portraits betray a level of professional craftsmanship, whilst others appear at first glance to be less informed by stylistic or art-historical trends. On the textured covers of these works are stickers of chambered nautilus shells, reinforcing not only the concepts of domesticity on show throughout the other works in the exhibition, but leading me to think of the ways in which creative practice can inspire communities to grow.
The works in You’ll like this exhibition because you’re in it! remind me of the intimate connections that have been forged as I inhabit and move through the places closest to my heart and interact with the individuals that people them. As Zara Alansari’s animated work states, ‘when my heart beats / I am reminded / we stop where we start’.
Hidden by a wall in one of the back corners of the space, Sam Collinge’s looping video work ‘PRESENT//FUTURE’ plays on a screen, exploring the relationship between our everyday lives and the waste we produce. As the artist notes through recorded interviews and a clipped, tersely written commentary, the average citizen in the United Kingdom will generate thirty-five-and-a-half kilograms of plastic waste each year. He goes on to explain how he began to take an interest in collecting this refuse, and started litter picking in his East Manchester neighbourhood and gathering the waste generated by his retail job.
Interspersed with the artists’ description of the work is a recorded documentation of the performance, digital camera footage showing the artist trudging heavily through a provincial town centre, burdened by the weight of the plastic packaging that has been tied together and draped over him. The final product of his collecting and fashioning is almost reminiscent of a ghillie suit.
The public looks on, bemused as he walks by. Some stop him to ask questions, others turn and point their phones to capture a memory of a performance which seeks to mirror ‘the absurdity of the world’, in the artists’ own words. His assistants follow closely behind, collecting the detritus that falls from his makeshift cape.
From capturing the sights and sounds of the home, to reflecting on spaces that we otherwise hastily commute through, to bearing the physical brunt of the plastic waste that we produce in the course of the average year, You’ll like this exhibition because you’re in it! shows how we can trace a thread through the eclectic, comedic, joyful and thought-provoking creativity that takes place on our doorstep, illustrating how sharing these unique works and experiences with each other can help to strengthen the ties that bind us closer together.
You’ll like this exhibition because you’re in it!: an East Manchester Open, Longsight Art Space, 05 August 2023 – 24 September 2023.
Michael D’Este is a photographer and writer based in Manchester.
This review is supported by PROFORMA.