Saturday, 27 February 2016

The Whitworth Gallery, Manchester: opening up landscapes; from factories and film to far away places

Art has the power to unlock new experiences; and that is certainly celebrated in a number of installations in the Whitworth Art Gallery right now. Some of the most recent include work by  Ben Rivers and Nico Vascellari, opening up film as a way of engaging with landscape artistically… and to the extreme. Then there’s a collection of textiles designed by Tibor Reich – highlighting that even factories and industry can create impressive art. Be prepared to get inside wooden film sets and to wander through enchanted forests thick with mysterious music…

 Given that the Manchester Film Festival is due to start in March, the art at the Whitworth Gallery could be seen as especially relevant, right now. The visuals of video combine with ambitious exhibitions – as this is work which really gets the audience involved directly, through a range of film content.

 Take artist and filmmaker Ben Rivers’ latest project, ‘The Two Eyes Are Not Brothers’, which went on display at the Whitworth on the 25th February.  Within this, part of the gallery has literally been ‘taken over’ by unique viewing spaces Rivers has created for audiences to watch a series of short films.  From the outside they are sight to behold, ramshackle wooden pods built from old film set material, gathered to forge a new way we appreciate place and space. Whilst they may seem alienating on the outside, a wander within provides the intimacy of a film series; putting together a raw short story of a man travelling through the Moroccan desert. Sit in one pod and watch a man almost dancing in the sand, go and sit in another and see scenes suggesting conflict. It is an unnerving experience which puts us face-to-face with another culture.  Rivers’ art could be seen as that of playing with the line between fiction and reality, film and footage - and it turns part of the main Whitworth Gallery from viewing space into enchanted place.

Also opening on the 25th February was Nico Vascellari’s exhibition in the appropriately titled ‘landscape gallery’. The setting seems ideally dramatic – as to enter it you first walk past the full-length windows looking out onto Manchester’s own  Whitworth Park and gardens, before immersing yourself in a whole different side of nature altogether: Bus de la Lum. Here the artist has recreated the 'hole of light', the term often-used to describe an area of woodland on the Cansiglio Plateau, near the Northern Italian Prealps. Yet  this interactive exhibition seems to showcase the 'Jekyll and Hyde' of scenery: there is another side to this forest scene. Why?  Vascellari has also turned gallery into a gateway, or, more specifically, Darvaza (aka ‘Door to Hell'); a notorious cratered area in the Turkmenistan Desert. He links the two settings through the recorded soundscape - as these are both places crossed by culture and crossed by war; something the viewer grows to realise through walking round and feeling immersed.

 Allowing audiences to go from one culture to be immersed in another takes real skill – something Vascellari manages through linking standing installations of  patterned panels, glowing light and room to walk round and observe. The added layer of a soundtrack created collaboratively with Gh├ędalia Tazart├Ęsln, a Turkish-born musician, contributes to the flair of the work.

Both the February features show how Manchester and the Whitworth are at the forefront of the modern artistic experience – changing not  just the content of art, but the character of gallery spaces themselves. In this light, the Whitworth’s many years of refurbishment appears well-considered; as this is artwork which celebrates the ability to change place, not just a different artistic phase or ‘face’. Another example of the gallery embracing changing places, is the ‘place’ of textiles in this city over time. Manchester is a city famed for its connections to textiles from the industrial revolution, yet it is Tibor Reich’s recent exhibition in the Whitworth which shows how Manchester is home to modernity in this material too. Reich was responsible for introducing interest and intensity to post-war textiles; with some beautiful colours and patterns covering the upstairs gallery.  Although Reich was born in Hungary and worked largely in London,  that his centenary exhibition is being held in Manchester shows that this is a place recognised for being at the cutting-edge of creativity. There are paintings, ceramics, photography and sketches too – so do get down to the Whitworth when you can! 

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