Sunday, 14 June 2009

Rogue Studios Open Weekend

One of my favourite things about Manchester is that, despite having lived here for three years or so, I still hardly know anything about it and am always discovering hidden surprises. One of them is that there is an artist's studios right on my doorstep, in the large knitwear building on Chapeltown Street that's covered in signs like 'Dream Knitwear' (pictured here with a boat called Iris).

This weekend, they threw their doors open to the public and I got to see inside this amazing building, climbing the stairs - layers of red, green, yellow and white paint flaking off the walls - up to a sunlight-flooded warren of studio spaces.

From the two floors of the building they occupy, the view is like a greatest hits of the Manchester skyline, with new layers and skeletons of buildings being gradually clad everywhere you look.

In one direction is Ancoats and and the intriguingly shaped rooftops of Urban Splash's New Islington devleopment, with the hills in the distance.

Directly in front are Piccadilly Train station, the canals of Piccadilly Basin complete with houseboats and even the top couple of floors of the Sackville Street Building and the Old Fire Station at its highest point if you look hard enough, plus the odd shaped roofs of Manchester University's North Campus. At the other extreme is the Arndale and CIS tower.

I spent a while just gazing down over the quirks of the building itself - interior rooftops and courtyards - such as a sign advertising 'A Pleating Co'.

I discovered both Margaret Cahill and Jan Chlebik, whose exhibition of out of focus Manchester enlarged in black and white and placed next to shots of New York I really enjoyed at Artland Gallery earlier last year, have studios here, but these are some of the highlights of artists I came across for the first time at the weekend.

Helen Plaumer's canvases look like line drawings, until you peer closer and realise they are carefully stitched embroideries.Helen is a former set designer at Cosgrove Hall in Chorlton. She has a background in graphic design and has also worked making prototypes for Sindy dolls.Her stitches immortalise moments of every day life like buskers, people queuing to enter a museum, a lady eating spaghetti and shoppers with trolleys. In many of the black and white embroideries, a tiny patch is illuminated in paint - a Gola sports bag on the arm of a nun, the stripes of a bikini bottom in a row of swimmers observed from the back.Helen said, who works by taking photos which become drawings which are then translated into stitches said: "I capture people going about their everyday business. Sometimes I spot something. I don't go out of my way to look for the extraordinary. I paint the point of focus, for example the nun with a Gola bag I saw walking down the high street in Altrincham."I do them a stitch at a time. The image becomes an integral part of the fabric - you can't rub it out."

I was also intrigued by The Obvious Manifesto by Mark Chavez-Dawson, in which actors playing estate agents took a tour group round the brilliant Subversive Spaces exhibition at the Whitworth Art Gallery earlier this year, trying to sell them exhibits such as the Schneider House.

Dave Griffiths, an artist who works with reclaimed film, said: "There's a really good community of artists here. It's good to have a space you can escape to away from home."

His exhibits were based around film reshown in new settings, the most unusual of which was a 16mm reel inside a toy gun from the 1970s - click the trigger and point it at the wall and a different image is projected.

He also used a 35mm projector to show found footage of a man walking a Dalmatian from a 1970s film reel he found in a "rusted old film container" in an abandoned cinema in Clitheroe. The film was projected into the corner of his studio. Dave said: "I'm interested in the tension of the film going from one wall to another.

"I'm fascinated by the degradation of old film - the texture of the scratches. The dirt, dust and scratching is part of the language and history of film - how it's traveled. I'm interested in what's at the edges, overlooked."

One such piece magnified cue dots - tiny dots in the corner of a cinema screen when the film reel changes - under a microfiche reader. Dave said: "They're beautiful but most people don't notice them. Now you will the next time you go to the cinema! I'm like an astronomer of film travelling through the stars and constellations of cue dots."

There was a lot of more conventional photography and painting, of which I found Sue Fox's subversive photography - a series of photographs of genitals with titles like Cunt with Teeth, and Rebbecca Sitar's still, striking paintings of objects like a shell, eraser and stick magnified to fill more of a canvas, and therefore conferred with much more attention than would normally have been given to them, the most interesting.

I would have liked to have had the chance to speak to Maeve Rendel about her photos of rows of magnifying glasses. I also liked Michelle Pouncey's prints of unusual objects like hair clips and Laura Frame's illustrations and books, including a retelling of Aesop's Fables.

I enjoyed some of the 3D work, including Tenneson and Dale's playful Rulers Manifesto, a collection of rulers in different colours according to the political representation of different groups in the House of Lords, and Nicola Dale's collection of flames rising from the open covers of books in a comment on the burning of books throughout time and how it relates to the closure of libraries, rise of the internet and ebooks.

Hilary Jack's Girl In A Party Dress Hanging by A Thread was strangely reminiscent of a woodland scene in a fairytale, suspending a disco ball, twigs and a figurine from a ceiling above a circular mirror that reminded me of an enchanted well. The rest of the room was strewn with glitter and broken objects.

One of my favourite pieces, though, was one which related directly to Manchester, with even its materials drawn from the fabric of the city. Old letters from the signs of Manchester buildings were rearranged - FRAIL was drawn from University of Salford and lit up orange letters rimmed in black boldy proclaimed Manchester Oddfellows was FOR SALE.

Rogue is also hosting an exhibition called All Change, a joint Manchester - Liverpool project, until June 28:

Rogue Project Space
66-72 Chapeltown Street
M1 2WH

Viewing by appointment
Contact Hilary Jack 07957398451
Karen Gaskill 07980924422

The Royal Standard
Unit 3
Vauxhall Business Centre
131 Vauxhall Road
L3 6BN

Sunday June 21-Saturday July 4, open Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11am-5pm.

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