Thursday, 11 October 2007

Contemporary art open to all

A major exhibition of contemporary art is opening at Barrow’s Art Gene gallery in Abbey Road.

Every two years Art Gene invites professional artists from the north east and the north west to enter Art Gene Open Exhibition for a prize worth £6,500.

This includes a £2,000 artist’s fee and a two-month, research and development residency at Art Gene working from one of the centre’s large studio spaces.

Barrow’s John Hall and Steve Massam from Kirkby Stephen are among the entrants whose work is on show. Others are Eric Bainbridge, Darren Banks, Sally Barker, Cath Campbell, Joe Clark, David Conroy, Charlotte Dawson, Leo Fitzmaurice, Matthew Holding, Joe Hillier, Rachel Lancaster, Camilla Lyon, Paul Merrick, Miles Thurlow, William Titley, UHC Collective, and Wolfgang Weileder.

The exhibition is curated by Paul Moss and Miles Thurlow, cofounders and directors of Workplace Gallery in Newcastle.

The exhibition investigates the recent tendency towards the use of architecture, urbanism and built environment as a subject for art.

As Barrow undergoes one of the biggest regeneration projects in the UK, the exhibition is a timely showcase of work about civic bureaucracy, architectural models, precarious sculptural interventions, and cut and paste video clips video clips of domestic horror film interiors.

The gallery is open Wednesdays to Saturdays between 12:30pm and 4:30pm and until 6pm on Thursdays.

Admission is free.

The winner of the prize will be announced tomorrow night and the exhibition will run until November 30.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Chip power cooks up a festival treat

Cooking oil powers eco-friendly event


A CHIP fat-powered sound system and pedaling machine were among unusual eco-friendly devices on show at a pioneering carbon-free festival.

More than 600 visitors got a locally-grown carrot and an energy-saving light bulb at the Party Without Pollution in Wythenshawe Park - thought to be the first event of its kind.

It also featured a solar-powered cinema and art made from recycled rubbish. People saved energy at home and work to offset the carbon emissions required to stage the event.

Phil Korbel from Manchester charity Radio Regen, which partnered the project, said: "The event couldn't have been more different from Wembley and Live Earth.

"The generator was powered by chip fat and there were no limos or private jets. But it was great to see local people enjoying themselves and helping the environment. We're hoping to organise a similar event next year."

The event at Kirkup Gardens, Simonsway, was organised by radio station Wythenshawe FM, as part of a project called Wythenshawe Forever. It aims to encourage residents to save energy and protect the environment.

The focal point was a Soft `power station' made from five shipping containers, which contained a bike-powered photocopier and other energy-saving devices.

Residents experimented with household energy surveys, food growing and carbon-free publishing in the run up to the festival.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

getting agitated with art

the urban holding company is intent on waking up the world, one art attack at the time. Here bob asks a founding director of the creative co-op what they’re all about.

Jonathan Atkinson isn’t interested in making friends, but he does want to influence people.

Over the course of his chat with bob the 31 year old Middlesbrough-born Mancunian berates BP and Manchester Airport for their “green-wash” agendas (“tiny concessions in comparison to their huge environmental impacts”), the University for its links to BNFL and British Aerospace, while reserving his strongest criticism for the “neo-liberal cabal” that hold the reigns of power over our city.

They, he believes, are deliberately misleading us.

“There’s a party going on in the centre of town,” he observes, through glasses that are seemingly tinted with fertiliser rather than flowers, “but go a little bit outside the city centre, and it’s a different story.”

He explains; “The city council and various partnerships that run around it present Manchester as this booming city, as a city reborn. But actually if you look at the rwality of the situation Manchester has the highest death rate in the country, the highest levels of pollution in the country, it has extremely poor educational standards and the same goes for the transport network.”

“The facts tell you that it has a population that are really suffering, yet the PR just says how great it is. We’re trying to expose the truth behind that and encouraging people to decide for themselves what they genuinely think.”

If Atkinson is a dissident voice amongst the hoards of advocates for modern day Manchester, then it must be nice to know that he’s not alone.

The reason that he knows this for sure is that he works alongside six other co-conspirators at UHC, the arts co-operative he set up with three friends in 2002, and some 25 collaborators, all of whom wish to “effect social change through the creation of artwork and design.”

The neo-liberal junta are but one of their many targets, but one they’ve managed to score direct hits against with projects such as their OpenCity Repository (see and last year’s mischievously provocative ‘Thin Veneer of Democracy’.

Here’s Jonathan to explain the latter: “A lot of our work is about creating debate and uncovering hidden information, so the Thin Veneer encapsulates what we’re all about.”

“It’s a 16ft long board table made from hand-made English oak. It depicts the relationships and networks at work within Manchester. The great and the good, in terms of companies and individuals, that form the cabal at the heart of the city; the people behind the market-led regeneration.”

“It doesn’t say anything damning in itself,” he continues, “it doesn’t say ‘this is a list of bastards in Manchester’. Its just a list, but some people seem to find that inherently threatening and it’s proved quite controversial.”

It could be argued that UHC’s stance is quite controversial in itself, railing against the process, namely that of regeneration and private investment, that is ostensibly designed to improve the city’s environment. But Atkinson won’t be swayed.

“The fundamental problems the city suffers from are exacerbated by the market-led development that’s happening at the core. Instead of tackling unemployment in the outlying wards we have jobs for university people that are coming form outside the area and buying flats in the centre of town. Most of the existing population are left with the jobs of security guards or working on the tills.”

“We’re concerned about some of the assumptions that are being made – that private capital is good, that public services can be filtered off and that the real social and environmental problems of the city can be ignored.”

Whether you agree with UHC’s far left of leftfield politics or nor, their determination and passion demands respect, and the same has to be said about their art.

Looking over the groups portfolio, 9 times out of 10 the work is hard hitting, impassioned and governed by something all too often missing from modern day artistic output: powerful ideas.

Take the pictured Spring Shrouds for example, a job UHC carried out in conjunction with the firebrand comedian Mark Thomas and some 45 volunteers. Sporting the natty legend ‘tree breathe – adverts suck’ the co-operative produced 100 of the sheaths and one bright Spring morning, May 4th in fact, slipped them over every JC Decaux six sheet poster site in the city centre.

The effect was stunning, the motivation simple – as Atkinson elucidates:

“It was a gift that we could give to Manchester’s commuters. To give them a temporary respite from the barrage of advertising that everybody who comes into the city suffers from.”

“It had a nice little idea at its heart and well received, but the company were quick to realise what was happening and take appropriate action. By the end of the day there was only a few left.”

Atkinson seems proud of the reaction that JCD were forced into, rather than upset at the transient impact of the campaign. But not all of UHC art and design is so short-lived. Two recent projects in particular have been developed to have lasting effects at both local and national level, with our interviewees’ first love – the environment – being the fulcrum of the activity.

“There’s an event called the Climate Camp that is going to take place in August at Heathrow and we’ve done their posters and design work for free.”

“We’ve centred on a bold statement,” he imparts with his now trademark, “it’s ‘you are not fucked.’ The idea being that you can have a positive influence and make a difference, which is better than leaving environment issues to the politicians and businesses. That’s been a real success so far.”

By the time bob hits the street UHC will be hoping that they’ve notched up another success with the second of their planet protecting initiatives, Wythenshawe Forever. This is a project they’ve produced with Wythenshawe FM and DEFRA to communicate climate change issues to ‘hard to reach’ communities. This will have been achieved with a ‘party without pollution’ on July 14th, where amongst other things, their container crate power station (pictured) will be creating clean, green energy for the revellers.

“It’s a way of reaching out to a communicating a problem that may be beyond the every day issues that they face. It’s collaborative, so we’re not being dictatorial and saying ‘right, climate change is happening. You need to be giving up this and doing that.’ We are working with people on an equal basis. That we can effect change form within rather than imposing a view from outside.” Another bold idea with conviction, passion and a positive agenda at its heart.

If UHC go on like this they’ll have to be careful. They might just end up making more friends than they think.

The find out more about UHC go visit To be scared by one of Jonathan’s facts about Manchester read this… “Being stood outside Piccadilly Station for a day is the equivalent of smoking 22 cigarettes in terms of the pollution you’re exposed to.” There’s more of this kind of stuff at

Friday, 22 June 2007


A unique climate change project was launched this month as a thirty foot steel structure in Kirkup Gardens in Wythenshawe opened its doors to the public. 'The PowerStation' has been made from five shipping containers and is the HQ for the 'Wythenshawe Forever!' (w4e!) project that is engaging local residents in producing a 'Party Without Pollution' on Saturday 14th July. People living and working in the area are being asked to save enough energy so that the area can host the UK's first ever public festival that will not contribute to climate change. Household energy surveys, local food growing, zero-carbon publishing and knitting warm clothes are just some of the activities on offer.

Painted white and green the PowerStation reads 'We need your energy' and has been designed by a team of artists, architects and local people. There was the opportunity to use the worlds only bike powered photocopier, see solar oven demonstrations and the opportunity to visit a food miles project on Woodhouse Park allotments on Maismore Road.

Run by community radio station Wythenshawe FM 97.2. Wythenshawe Forever! is working with people all over Wythenshawe to help save energy or to create new energy in clean, renewable ways. The project will be adding up how much saved power has accumulated and in July will use it to put on a festival called "The Party Without Pollution". The more energy ‘generated’, the better the party.

The Party Without Pollution will take place on Saturday July 14th 2007 12pm-6pm at Kirkup Gardens, on Simonsway, opposite Parklands School. Everyone is invited and entry is free of charge. There will be fun activities and performances, showing how we saved and created enemy to power the The Power Station is the base for Wythenshawe Forever! and the venue for the Party Without Pollution. Leading up to the Party in July there will be a variety of activities going on at the Power Station. find out more about the project and how you can get involved ring Eleanor on 436 4165.

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Why we need guerrilla craft

Craft has political roots that run deep. Now, in an age of climate change, craft – or the act of making rather than unquestioningly buying into the consumer treadmill – is taking on a particular political significance.

it was the human-scale of craft that inspired the Art and Crafts movement towards the end of the 19th Century. The social reforms set out by people like John Ruskin and William Morris saw a return to handcraft as the means for restoring individuality and quality into the work process, destroyed by the industrial revolution.

Craft hasn’t only inspired reformers, it has also inspired revolutionaries. India’s independence movement did not have a weapon as its symbol, but craft – the charkha (spinning wheel).

And in the UK, we don’t need to look too far into the past to begin to unearth the importance of craft. The ‘make-do and mend’ ethos in response to the shortages of the second world war played a major role in reducing consumption.

Recycling old clothes, unpicking the wool from pullovers to darn socks became second nature in many homes. Ask almost anyone, and a memory of craft of some description will play a significant role in family folklore.

From my mother sitting by the fire with my grandmother on cold winter evenings learning to make rag rugs, to my friend Judith’s memory of the excitement she felt choosing fabric with her sister for their annual party dresses. Memories of craft are generally warm and happy ones.

But craft has recently regained its ‘cool’. There are craft-inspired club night around London. Radical reformers in the world of knitting and lace-making have already overthrown the status quo, providing a model that other crafts can follow. Knitting clubs meet in cities from San Francisco to Stockholm.

There is even a group of activists that stage knit-ins in the London underground.

Artist and ‘radical knitter’ Shane Waltener clearly expresses the political edge implicit in contemporary craft: “On the one hand, I am celebrating this tradition that I really believe in. On the other, its about self-sufficiency. By knitting you are resisting capitalism and consumerism. You are not responding to the fashion industry; you are making your own decisions.”

The practice of craft has many of the characteristics that the science of well-being tells us has the greatest influence on our happiness. Craft tends to be communal, it involves learning and sharing new skills – or flourishing.

And, according to Karl Marx, craft – alongside music and art (arguably both crafts in themselves) – are the only forms of labour that allow people to truly be themselves. In an ideal world, says Karl Marx, “Our product would be so many mirrors in which we saw reflected our essential nature.”

Today, as companies look to technical fixes as ways to sell us more stuff in the name of combating climate change, perhaps part of the real answer lies in returning to our crafty roots and rediscovering our ability not just ‘make do and mend’, but make for the pleasure of making.

Craft is also displaying an activist edge. In Manchester, the graphic collective UHC celebrated their fifth birthday by indulging in a little light guerrilla craft.

Incensed by the invasion of Manchester’s public space by adverts, UHC took crafty action. Constructing carefully woven white shrouds, UHC shielded Manchester’s public space from un-needed, unwanted advertising hoardings.

On each shroud, the roots of a tall oak tree bear the legend ‘trees breathe, adverts suck’. As we try to find our way in a warming world, if the future is crafty we may well find that we can live good live without costing the earth, and even have a little fun along the way.

Ruth Potts

Monday, 14 May 2007



A ghostly parade of hooded advert hoardings met Manchester commuters on their way to work last week, in place of the usual promotions for Fila, Nokia and Loyd Grossman's sauces.

Every single one of the city centre's 88 free-standing ads communicated instead the anti-consumerist slogan "trees breathe ads suck", stencilled on to made¬to-measure calico covers.

A team of volunteers installed the ads early on Friday morning. They offered to pimp their city with the environmental message after hearing about the idea by word of mouth.

Manchester-based arts collective UHC was commissioned to produce the temporary artworks by McDemos, the "protest solutions company" set up by comedian Mark Thomas and artists Tracey Moberly and Tony Pletts.

Thomas described the event as a "poetic gesture for the city of Manchester".

UHC has authored numerous street-based art interventions including a replica of Guantanamo Bay in Hulme in 2003.

UHC said in a statement: "We feel this presents those travelling to work with a gift of peace and beauty in place of the incessant noise of advertising."

IT consultant Matt Atkins, 31, from Hulme, was one of the volunteers who had been up since 7am de-commissioning the ads. Fear of climate change had motivated him to take action.

"There's too much rubbish in the world already and the problem with consumerism is that it's all about 'more' and not 'better'," said Atkins.

JC Decaux, the advertising company that owns the hoardings, has built hundreds of free-standing adverts across Manchester. They are situated strategically on busy roads in the heart of the city and are championed by the firm as the best way to expose audiences to outdoor media.

A spokesperson from JC Decaux said they had sent teams out to take the covers down later that day.

Confused commuters stopped to stare at the newly decorated hoardings, some taking photos with mobile phones.

Passerby Mike Potts, 24, from Levenshulme, was positive about the art stunt.

"I really like them," he said. "It's refreshing to see trees instead of ads."