Tag Archive | Interaction

Wild and Playful Artistry

Raqib Shaw‘s latest exhibition has brought new life and colour to the Manchester Art Gallery – both inside and out. Having draped their railings with flowers, foliage, and the twisted branches of Willows, the museum invites you inside to find Kashmiri-born/London-based Raqib’s work scattered and displayed in various locations. Vivid, fantastical scenes combine real and fictional creatures within sparkling fairytale landscapes both Indian and European in influence; together these conjure up a mythology that feels familiar – like a childhood memory – and highly original – bold and shocking. Surveying his beautiful (and at times slightly macabre) menagerie you can almost hear the sound of wild animals. Of course it’s always nice to look at the more traditional pieces in the Gallery’s collection, but finding one of Shaw’s pieces next to say, George Stubbs, or Charles-August Mengin, makes for an enjoyably startling contrast.

Although given a vast amount of space in the Patron’s Gallery, I’d say that it’s more stimulating finding Shaw’s works amongst pieces from the Victorian era. Seeing them all at once threatens to generate a certain loss of impact that comes from being over-awed by his use of jewels, gold, and enamel. Similarly, Susie MacMurray‘s Widow – a stunning and meditative dress made using black leather and 100,000 adamantine silver pins – is equally helped by being positioned among pieces dealing with life and death in the 17th century. New observations and ideas arise at these intersections. MacMurray’s dress says something about mortality as flawlessly as any of the masters behind her.

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Something I also really like about the Gallery is the space that is devoted to activities for kids/big kids in the Clore Interactive Gallery. Technical problems aside (sadly many machines were out-of-order when I visited) it’s great to find a play space where you can let your imagination wander and your creative side express itself after soaking up all the “proper” artworks. Of course, participation is a big thing in museums and cultural institutions these days and it’s not always done well. Sometimes the best you can hope for is a pile of hastily gathered crayons and a few “give us your comments” cards; not exactly inspiring! For me, the Manchester Gallery has got it spot on. Somehow they manage to offer a range of activities that are as stimulating for adults as they are for children. In fact, I’m fairly sure it was exclusively adults who were “interacting” with the objects in the Clore room on Sunday! By letting visitors climb into a giant rotating “kaleidoscope”, invent their own “free form” still life compositions, or activate a 3-D spinning model of a painting (Marion Adnams’ Lost Infant), artworks are brought to life in a way that encourages collaboration.

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Raqib Shaw’s exotic monkeys – and the lovely staff who let people wander around taking as many photographs as they like! – demonstrate in quite different ways that going to a gallery is definitely not all about tradition, reverence, and intimidating curation. Creativity is, after all, all about a certain freedom.

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.