2020 Tender Feelings @ Soft Spot, Manchester
Emoji summary: 👽🕰🎇
i’ve been a critic for 4 whole yrs and running a gallery for almost 2, and at this point i’ve built up a tolerance or a problem or /something/ adjacent when it comes to visiting exhibitions and actually having an aesthetic experience with the art. my conscience is too loud i guess; it’s like a noticeable pulse in a body part far away from where there should be one, nowhere near my heart. I can’t write about the bright-light-art inside these institutions. I don’t physically want to be there for any of it, dragging myself round PVs, permanent collections and awkward events when it’s all just actually shit. How can you get off in that environment? i can’t with the anti-social social promise, or the jarring organisation around the art itself that leaves the artists poorest of em all when they’re the ones bringing something to the table. i hate the identical press releases, NPO budgets but still exploiting volunteers, the process of lockers, gift shops and gallery cafes; and that’s before the curators who live to be last named in a 3 star review on the guardian ahhhh i need to move on! we all do.
I’m sure you are bored of hearing me describe the same issues. these write ups feel like blockages. there has to be art past it, and wouldn’t that be more fun to encounter & write after? something out in the peripheries, existing in caves n under waterfalls out here in the wild wild west of the art world. Where are the UFOs and tumbleweeds? where do I have to go to write about that other kind of making, the one that exists outside of incorporation? i think i miss it. I miss a different scale, a lighter touch; and if u think about it (or don’t) i could leave some ethics and money talk alone if the art i’m standing in front of isn’t propped up by an organisation to begin with. as writer and reader and listener, we might get to adventure, find moments, long ideas, encounters, some sincerity and risk. I want exhibitions where it’s like: finding a shiny thing in a zip pocket of a backpack you haven’t used for years / lying down outside under calm weather / or something closer to the way my baby cousin maggie walks around the living room of my Nan’s picking up crumbs n dust from the floor sooo so precisely; she comes over with her arm in the air to show you the bits on her fingers, only for you to brush her hands clean so she can go back and find some more dirt-treasures to bring to you again and again. i love it. I want art in a room that makes me think about relationships, romantic n platonic; experiences and dreams too; and not in a didactic way, where u kno the curators would be smug if they knew you were ‘connecting.’ i want it all to be secret or incidental; for the art to feel like it has landed here without ego, before organisation and before ‘we are a registered charity.’
but it’s hard to dig for that when no one has funding, physical space or headspace to make art, bring that art together & you know, do an exhibition. i think I maybe found something that is a compromise, or at least a small opening between these two extremes. I had a trip to manchester 2 weeks ago and visited Soft Spot, a temporary artist-led space that sits in a dark basement underneath Mirabel gallery and studios. my friend messaged me on instagram about it like a hot tip, like if you know, you know. A group has it for the year as part of their graduate residency, and to my genuine relieved delight, have already had 4 exhibitions with more planned down the line. the 6 artists organising in there are Alfie Sellers, Bryony Dawson, Edward Gwyn Jones, Jay Mulholland, Rosie Jones-Burslem and Saoirse Lewis.
when I visited, the exhibition was ‘2020; Tender Feelings & Sci-Fi Situations in the Future Dome’ and ah, something clicked. spaces like this make room for atmosphere in a way the bigger spaces can’t get going bc their hands are full and they’ve tied themselves in a knot. here, underground, different things can start to happen. ‘Tender Feelings’ was like a time capsule stretched out across the basement. a video of big ben and the firework countdown at the moment of the millennium was projected big onto a wall; in the adjoining room, there were casts of ceiling roses warped n fixed to metal bars; obscure memes, and a childish drawing of an imagined Dome City on Mars, outlined fast on acetate. there were stars on a screen; a Ghibli-kinda soundtrack playing out in the space every so often. N I sat on the floor with my boyfriend to watch the fireworks, and he told me he had his first ever kiss that New Years Eve with a girl who told him she was a witch. This show was better curated than everything else i saw that day across HOME, Manchester Art Gallery, CFCCA and Castlefield. it didn’t promise anything, didn’t claim anything; the handout was just about the artworks and not about their alignment which i think is honest. the visitor can fill in the gaps n think about what the fuck they are doing looking at select artworks in a basement under earth crust in manchester. of all the things to be doing, this is where we ended up. Artists in this show were Kate Frances Lingard, Third World Quality, Francesca Dobbe, Pale Blue Dot Collective, Let Me Get Uhhhhhhhhh, Jedithe ScifiFreak, Stan Welch and Andrew Fordham. The names kinda say it all. there was a virtual part of the show that u could get to through Steam but my laptops too shit for that but it’s fine, i got what I wanted irl.
we need more shows like this, they are good soul exercise. i only vaguely had ‘do they just have this space or do they also have a budget for themselves and for exhibitions’ quiet in my head, which might be me deciding to be ignorant for once for my own wellbeing & for the sake of this review &&& because there is this legacy in graduate residency / people who’ve just left uni and are DIYing curatorial activities that i like following along with, for better or worse. i came to here directly after seeing the show at Castlefield and each put the other into perspective: imo Soft Spot were showing art because they care about art - they are close to it, interested in what happens when you bring together different people and ingredients. Castlefield on the other hand were showing the edges of art (all potatoes and no meat) because they are further away from it; they care about multi-partner working, about the fact they gave 4 artists access to a studio space and look, here’s a picture of that studio space. For now, i will continue to gremlin my way towards basement galleries and secret caves. if you know anywhere else you think i would be interested in, pls let me know, and hopefully this year we can think about them together.