Various locations, Manchester
Of the three pieces of work in this exhibition, Jai Redman’s installation This is Camp X-Ray had the greatest intrigue factor. Redman had built a replica of the Guantanamo Bay Camp X-Ray site on unused land in Hulme, an area of regeneration in the city centre; the camp was surrounded by new housing developments and billboard adverts for exclusive city living. Most people in the UK have seen images of the Cuban camp on television or in the press, but it is impossible to gain a real sense of the place as ‘real’ – as we are always distanced by both media and military. Although I couldn’t enter the Manchester version and had to gaze through wire fencing, I managed to glimpse one of the volunteer camp guards emerging from a military-style tent – Redman had recruited volunteers via the internet to perform the roles of guards and ‘unlawful combatants’. The construction of Camp X-Ray in the centre of Manchester meant that the city’s inhabitants, whether they resided inside or outside the camp, were bluntly reminded of the existence of something they may have often tried to forget.
More gentle work by Helen Knowles couldn’t compete with Redman’s installation for notoriety or scale, but was interesting nevertheless. For Growth Investment, Knowles cast instruments from a disused botany lab in paper made from plant fibre, and placed them in the Royal Exchange, a symbol of Manchester’s trade history and now a busy theatre.
Maggie Lambert’s statement was less subtle, with photographic portraits of Asyli=um Seekers positioned as billboards in ‘Little Ireland’, a former slum area of the city.
UHC Collective, who curated the exhibition, state that it’s main aim is to “to produce political art”. One could argue that all art is political and that what UHC mean is ‘issue-based’ art. But however we define it, artwork that confronts audiences with the theme of cultural imperialism in the places where they live, travel and work is bound to be provocative, and to effectively blur the boundary between art and the act of protest.
Clare Gannaway is a curator and writer living in Manchester.