Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Introducing the Exhibition Centre for the Life and Use of Books, Salford, opening Thursday May 8

Books are an integral part of our communications and culture, from education and learning to enjoyment and leisure, but the content within them isn't always finished with as soon as the last page has been turned. A new library and publishing project in Salford goes beyond the idea of books as a closed matter, where the author has the definitive last word on the subject, by placing publications at the heart of an ongoing conversation and dialogue around words, images and ideas.

Based at Islington Mill, Salford, in May and June, before it moves on to other venues around Manchester and Salford for the duration of a six-month pilot programme, The Exhibition Centre for the Life and Use of Books is part reading-room, part-library and part publishing house, revolving around two-month cycles of collaborative residencies by artists, designers, writers and curators. Visitors will be invited in two days a week – each Thursday and Friday starting from Thursday May 8 – to browse a permanent reference library dealing with “books about books and books about collections of books”, as well as temporary libraries curated by practitioners from different fields, with the space also bookable by reading and discussion groups. This opportunity to read and share ideas will be complemented by information about the books as well as talks and other events which will provide a way to approach the ideas under consideration, as well as an exhibition or new piece of writing commissioned at the end of each residency. “It's a way of building up materials but it's also a feedback loop, rather than just regurgitating content,” explains artist Daniel Fogarty, a co-founder and director of the project. “Publishing takes in everything from the Sun newspaper to academic articles, so it's the perfect tool.”

Kicking off the programme is a library and series of talks selected by Manchester-based writer and promoter Marcus Barnett, which celebrate “all sorts of things relevant to what a 'DIY culture' could mean”. Selections include books published by Zer0 and Unkant, which Marcus describes as “shoestring operations run by really thrilling people who care”, with three books being launched during Marcus's residency: Robert Dellar's Splitting in Two: Mad Pride and Punk Rock Oblivion and Esther Leslie's Derelicts: Thought Worms from the Wreckage (Saturday May 10) and Agata Pyzik's Poor But Sexy (Wednesday May 14). Marcus explains that each author covers “with palpable excitedness post-punk, communism, cultural clashes and exchanges”, and that “all want another, better world from the mire of the old based on creation and excitement”. For Marcus, part of the appeal of the The Exhibition Centre for the Life and Use of Books was helping to address a perceived atomisation among different areas of DIY culture. “We're all in agreement that the type of people who create art, put on shows, play in the DIY music scene, write 'zines or read communist books are rarely in the same rooms and rarely deal with or socialise with each other, when generally speaking all of their creative output stems from similar desires of collective excitement and wanting things to be better,” he explains. Another event taking place is the second annual SPRING conference (Saturday May 17, £10/5), which brings together people from around the country to discuss the current status of leftist politics and provide another experience of the Left than “self-righteous idiot guys being smarmy at each other all day in empty rooms”. Among the speakers are Mark Fisher, Julian Stallabrass and Yassamine Mather, who Marcus describes as “really interesting people with colourful lives and perspectives”.

This bringing together of writers and artists, both from the local area and further afield, to forge connections between often disparate groups of practitioners and creators, is a key aim of the The Exhibition Centre for the Life and Use of Books. “Artists and activists usually talk about things in completely different ways, so we hope they can have a more productive conversation,” explains curator, writer and co-director Lauren Velvick. “We're going to be facilitating dialogue and not just waiting for it to happen.” Designer and curator Robert Carter, the third director, added that is hoped that a crossover in interests can be found: “We want to attract an audience based on the content of the books and events, not on loyalty,” he explains. “The first curated library, chosen by Marcus, is about ways of functioning and thinking about things and making things work, so it's going to attract critical writers and people who are politically active – but we are going to be inviting the same people to come to an exhibition of Daniel's work later in the project.”

The Exhibition for the Life and Use of Books initially grew out of a feeling that the Manchester art scene was too 'predictable and safe', lacked an impulse for critical conversation (perhaps inevitably given that exhibitions are often attended, curated and written about by people drawn from a relatively small group of friends, colleagues and peers) and did not provide a place for these kinds of ideas to express themselves. “There is a lot of art in Manchester that is either very grassroots, or museum and gallery-based,” explains Daniel, “but there is nothing in the middle and nothing that is supportive of activity on that level – the Manchester art scene doesn't do a good job at reaching out to other people, groups and institutions. There is a lot of that kind of activity in London but it sometimes doesn't feel like it is an option for people up here. The Lionel Dobie project set a good precedent, but you got the same people there who went to all the shows. We're bringing a critical dialogue to Manchester that's not immediate in some exhibitions.” Lauren added: “We're not afraid to be more politically committed and go beyond art and theory. We're bringing in people from outside who can be more critical and who aren't completely ensconced in the Manchester art scene where you have to support each other.”

The first six months of the project are very much about “a series of experiments to uncover unknowns” so the founders can encounter new people and ideas and “find out what kind of platform we want to make for artists and writers”, before a framework is found for the future of the project. Although one inspiration is London's X Marks the Bokship, which Rob says “created a type of accessible, common space where the material published occupied the grey area between exhibition, magazine, live event and thing you put on your shelf”, the organisers admit they don't know what's going to happen and say it's a case of trying out a number of different things and seeing what works. As Rob explains, “you can't just adopt a model from London and bring it to a different city. Its an excuse to do something different outside all the noise of London.” Lauren adds: “We will set set up a few boundaries and things that are definitely going to happen and the rest is just left to chance and who turns up. Quite a few people have already said they're looking forward to it and have been looking out for something like this.”

There will be an opportunity to get involved in the library at a Hackathon at Islington Mill (Saturday June 7). Also in June, Daniel will have an exhibition at nearby Artwork Salford (Thursday June 19-Thursday June 26), coinciding with a publication looking at design language. Later in the summer the second temporary library will be drawn from the collection of Manchester-based publisher Michael Butterworth and his science-fiction imprint Savoy Books, bringing together visual art and writing to discuss questions around creativity. Alongside this will be a residency by artist and designer Ann-Marie Milward, who uses weaving to translate sound and text into visuals. The final curator will be chosen following an open call.

As the project progresses, it is anticipated that it will move from pure text to more visually-engaged work, with Rob explaining that “people are becoming more sensitive to graphicacy – the visual equivalent of literacy” as people increasingly read online, and that the project is hoping to understand how shifts such as this affect learning. The Exhibition Centre for the Life and Use of Books aims to strike a balance between publishing digital and physical material, with Rob observing that even in the digital age publishing is more important than ever. “I know a lot of people who access material online but print it before reading it, he explains. “Everyone has got their own private publishing and editing process and journal, even if it's just bookmarking pages and links. Everyone organises their own collection of books in a way. We are creating a physical space, not just an online archive, and physically our presence will inform that process.”

The Exhibition Centre for the Life and Use of Books can be visited by appointment in the first floor common room at Islington Mill, James Street, Salford on Thursday May 8 and Friday May 9, and will be opening on the following Fridays and Saturdays throughout May and June. For more information about how to visit and get involved contact info@lifeanduseofbooks.org, visit www.lifeanduseofbooks.org or follow on Twitter @ECLUB_.

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