The exhibition, which celebrates the way in which craft is bringing back colour and individuality to the world around us, starts outside the gallery, with Manchester guerilla knitting duo ArtYarn’s tree encasing knitting, which gives trunks the appearance of bumblebees. Inside, artworks climb off the walls, take over the floors and hang from the ceilings of the gallery.
It’s an inverted world, where throwaway consumer culture doesn’t exist. Students from Manchester Metropolitan University put everyday materials to new, innovative uses, from necklaces made from tights to a candelabrum fashioned from mirrors and sink strainers.
Unwanted furniture and glass bottles find new lives, as do aluminium drinks cans turned into flowers. Drinking straw sculptures burst from the walls and hang from the ceiling resembling straw rooves and afros. Recycled skirts become a rag rug, reflecting the fact that 12 million tonnes of textiles are disposed of unethically in the UK every year. The message of the exhibition is waste not, want not.
Seedpod-like knitted balls and spirals hang from the ceiling. Knitted organisms, such as Anita Bruce’s delicate white, orange and purple crochet virus, seem alive and bulblike, about to burst into life.
A knitted landscape subverts expectations of what you’d expect to find in a gallery. Even the architecture is transformed: a plain pillar is clothed in what looks like a huge dog jumper, buttoned at the front, decorated with mosaic like patterns in lurid neon wool.
Craft goes far beyond the beautiful and useful, however. There’s a strong political vein - what artist Rockpool Candy describes as ‘fibre activism’ - running through the work on show, from a film of a tank knitted as a protest against the Iraq war to the reappropriation of cross stitch to convey such slogans as Thug Life. Eva Broadhurst and Lucy Semper’s animated film Making the Most protests about Leigh’s lack of basic amenities like a train station, theatre or cinema.
Faythe Levine’s film Handmade Nation, which we’re invited to watch through red, fluffy headphones, sums up DIY as a “lifestyle choice”, interviewing women who are keeping alive craft traditions and starting up their own businesses. DIY, they explain, offers the chance to “create your own economy”. Aptly for a film based in Olympia in the United States, home of the feminist punk movement Riot Grrl, the women are empowered by DIY as it proves “everything is possible”.
What many of the artists featured in the DIY exhibition have in common is a resistance to globalisation. DIY is a prime example of “people versus the machine”, offering the opportunity to “create your own culture” and “regain control of your life as opposed to having a corporation feed you culture”.
The exhibition isn’t just a celebration of craft, but of the whole DIY aesthetic, notably fanzines. Journalism is in a state of great change, not least in how we get our news and information. With the rise of citizen journalism and blogs, anyone can have a go. UK DIY reminds us, though, that there’s still something magical about the printed page and fanzines that blogs and websites will never replicate.
Right down to the paper on which they’re printed, fanzines are a labour of love, an artistic child onto which is projected all the hopes, interests and ambitions of their creator. Fanzines are often intricately worked - the very opposite of the immediacy of our fast culture, in which news is out of date as soon as it’s published. They range from the professional and book like to traditional typed or handwritten sheets grainy from the photocopier, and take in topics as diverse as the brilliantly titled Zine from the Imagination of a Ladysnail to Leeds zine Scratch that Itch, which recommends eating out of bins as a protest against our throwaway culture.
Some, such as those made by Manchester based New Think Books, are mini works of art. Elizabeth Dunning, from Preston, encloses her zine Any Old How in an embroidered 7” record sleeve, whereas others fold out or pop up. Although some of the zines have online versions, there’s something about the look, smell and touch of the paper, whether shiny or matt, textured or smooth, opaque or tracing paper, that a computer screen is never going to capture. Whether diaries allowing insights into the maker’s life or travel zines, all are born from the passion of whoever made them. The wonderful Don't Forget to Dance music zine typifies the obsessive approach to popular culture that motivates zines, pointing out that in fact it's often fairly niche 'unpopular culture'. Sugar Paper Zine, which details things to make and do, contains a cut out, dress up doll and recipes.
Yes, DIY might be nostalgic, but in a fun and irreverent way. Rachel Wild takes inspiration from 1980s computer games, making space invader brooches out of hama beads. Wildcat Designs also partake in so called techno crafting, knitting 8bit patterns in merino wool. Knit Happens prove that craft and rock n roll don’t have to be mutually exclusive, knitting Johnny Rotten gloves
The exhibition allows anyone to have a go, from tables dedicated to making jewellery and looms from plastic packaging to an invitation to embroider your name on cushions. Pom Pom International provide the instructions and materials to make a pom pom, which can then be hung on a pom pom tree. The pom poms will eventually be put towards the world’s biggest pom pom for peace.
Turnpike Gallery, Civic Square, Leigh, Gtr. Manchester WN7 1EB
Until 25th April
Buses run from Manchester Shudehill Interchange and Piccadilly Gardens to Leigh every half hour or so, and take about an hour.