A Cordial Installation

Some of Manchester School of Art’s final year students are showing how creative they can be when it comes to raising money for their forthcoming Degree Shows. Taking over the Holden Gallery, they have turned part of its space into a modern and stylised approximation of an Edwardian tea room – a “pop-up installation” which offers an impressive range of homemade cakes, sandwiches, coffees, and various flavours of tea served on a tray, at your table, and in delicate gold-rimmed china. Looking at the menu you might find yourself thinking that while a Victoria sponge is one thing, spicy Moroccan soup is hardly in keeping with 1901; but that’s partly the point. Mixing up influences, interacting with customers and clearly having a great time, the staff (sorry, students) are providing a far more relaxed and less mannered atmosphere than you would find in an old English tea room!

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Further signs of the “other-worldly” and hybrid nature of the installation include waitresses in classic white aprons and hats who operate a modern till to take your payment; a floor model record player which doesn’t actually play the old-fashioned music drifting through the gallery; one or two flat-screen TVs peppering the walls; and a can of “skooshy” cream that’s used to top some of the cakes. This is what makes the space so much fun. It’s great to see students playfully subverting the “university spin-off” notion by practising something commercial in a way that’s primarily designed to gain their artwork a public airing. The only point of ambivalence for me is the old-fashioned aviary which sits in the centre of the tea room. I’m not a fan of caged birds, and while I can’t deny that the pair of black and yellow budgies are eye-catching and of course beautiful, it’s always a little sad watching their thwarted attempts to fly. Original framed prints and pictures crowd the fresh white walls and provide something less problematic to enjoy, cheerfully reminding you what it is that your money is going towards.

Back in the more traditional gallery space and the current touring exhibition, Outrageous Fortune, offers another modern interpretation of something traditional – this time a unique take on the classic “Ancien Tarot de Marseille”, which dates all the way back to 1760.


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4 responses to “A Cordial Installation”

  1. Dr k says :

    Cool review.Agree re the caged birds.Pity the tearoom won’t be there to stay.See u there next week?x

  2. holdentearoom says :

    The tea room is clearly an contemporary interpretation on the 1930’s tea room (not 1901). The intervention is a playful yet political response to the space, as it existed (pre tea room). The menu does not reflect the era and that was never the intention. The level of service by (lets get this correct) the performers playing the role of the waiters/ waitresses. Is a mere suggestion to the lack of service the university provides across the board? The fundraisers is more than making money, it is about addressing issues that the art school faces under the new changes.

    We have to remember this is an installation and not a facsimile of a tea room straight from the era. I think your review of the tea room is misinterpreted and completely disregarding the changing dynamics the tea room has presented. No longer an empty space but a space that has elevated sociability, people actually want to eat good food and the atmosphere.

    I think it’s important to remember that the tea room has been curated by bright and intelligent Artists and Curators studying on Interactive Arts. It is not the commercial venue in the way it appears but an intense study into the art and business and the viability of this in the economic climate.

    And Gilbert and George love their new home, although it is only till Friday!

    • musingfrommanchester says :

      You might want to tell MMU who are advertising it as an “Edwardian cafe” (I believe he was 1901-1910). See attached link. To me, yes, it did feel more “Poirot” as I mentioned to my friends – but I am not an expert in period details so sorry to get that wrong. I hoped people would realise my comments on the menu were very much tongue-in-cheek!

      The University press releases and news items quite heavily mention the commercial aspect of the endeavour, a point which I have actually tried to combine with a real appreciation of the artistic nature of the installation. Did you read the paragraphs below the photos?? I loved my short trip to the tearoom and have certainly tried to convey the modern interpretation, the play with forms; I mention that explicitly.

      But I do take your point that there is some subtle political commentary going on. Perhaps this clashes with how the University are portraying the tearoom? That’s a tension which I tried (but it seems failed) to hint at. The debate about Commercial forces within Universites and funding pressures on the Arts are very relevant right now. I am pleased you raise these points as I was actually a little unsure whether to be so political in this entry!

      Thanks a lot for your comment!

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