“‘Cause I’m never gonna stop the rain by complaining’, Because I’m free, Nothin’s worryin’ me ” – Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head by Burt Bacharach and Hal David
(Here played by Ben Folds Five)
I love it when a plan comes together – goes array and then falls place into place. This is the story of our November trip with rambling train journeys, illness, returning heroes, fabulous bars and one of the greatest exhibitions I had been to. And contains one day that was so perfect, I had to pay the karma for days afterwards.
We had booked Ben Folds Five tickets as soon as they had come out. When it came to booking hotels, the original plan went out of the window of staying two nights in Manchester. Instead an intricate plan of arrive early Thursday for meander and gig in Manchester, then Friday take the train to Leeds staying overnight and then finally travel to York on the Saturday for the afternoon before retiring back home to newcastle. Phew. As the time approached the usual web search for other gigs, drinking establishments and art galleries ensued with ideas of how we should approach this complicated arrangements. The one thing that stood out was at the ever excellent Manchester Art Gallery where a paper cutting/Folding/engineering exhibition was taking place. As you can imagine I was somewhat excited by this…. As the time grew closer expectation grew but also a bit of apprehension as the rainy weather turned from bad to worse
We awoke early on the Thursday morning, to find the continued news of big East Coast rail delays due to flooding around Darlington and York. But we had another plan, a round trip so mad, we hoped to get to Manchester by 8pm gig time. Firstly crossing the country to Carlisle, then taking the West Coast line to Preston and finally getting a train to Manchester. Incredibly it worked really well, beautiful new scenery to look at, train changes worked well and we weren’t too late (about 1 hour later). We even got off at a smaller Manchester Station nearer the hotel. A quick turnaround and we made our way to Manchester Art Gallery and the First Cut exhibition.
Manchester Art Gallery, stands proud on Mosley Street. A large imposing 2 storey rectangular building dominated by eleven bay facade and a front portico of six columns. Designed by Sir Charles Barry it was completed in 1824. Initially inside, it follows a similar level of grand-are , an entrance hall dominated by a grand stone staircase leading to very traditional galleries and balcony areas. But entering further into the building you find yourself in a light spacious area of chrome and glass. This extension built in 2002 by Hopkins Architects provides a link between the gallery and the Manchester Athenaeum. Staircases and lifts lead clinically into more modern gallery spaces. The Art collections follows a similar vein taking the main collections influence from the traditional English, Dutch and French School of Paintings found in the imposing front galleries whilst its more modern and furniture pieces can be found in the extension. The exhibit spaces at the back also have provided opportunities for more radical exhibitions.
First Cut is just the latest of these. It was described on the gallery website as “31 international artists who cut, sculpt and manipulate paper, transform this humble material into fantastical works of art for our stunning new exhibition. Wonder at giant sculptures inspired by far away galaxies that spiral from the wall, explore a walk-through forest of paper trees and marvel at miniature worlds that explode from vintage staple boxes or emerge from the page of a book. Flocks of birds and butterflies cut from maps appear alongside artworks that feature dark fairytale imagery. Guns and grenades fashioned from paper currency and sinister silhouettes comment on social, political and economic issues.”… thats a lot to live up to, and you know what it did.
We first enter into a forest of giant branches with delicate paper leaves by Manabu Hangui setting a tone of quiet contemplation. Turning anticlockwise the first main wall is Andreas Kochs Paperwork 1213G, a complex giant multilayer graphite coloured swirl that dominates its space. Straight ahead is a decaying paper motorcycle from Chris Jones and to the left, in the centre of the room a flower patch has sprouted from seed catalogues by Anrea Mastrovito. Into the first corner another cutout takes over the wall, James Alridges ‘As above, so below’ is a far more delicate and darker work, with a dominate tree motif with birds and skulls within. In the corner Chris Kennys ‘Capella’ a clever Inforgraphic multilayered collage is displayed next to Justine Smiths political work incorporating money to collage maps, guns and hand grenades. On the floor a large branch lies forlorn with leaves from old textbooks, this is a tree of knowledge by Nicola Drake. From one viewpoint (in the background) a flock of birds ‘The Harbingers’ fly over, delicate cutouts from maps by Claire Brewster. The next corner is dominated by a couple of glass cases with creations made from book pages by Sue Blackwell. A book of flowers and a house depicting a scene from Wuthering Heights are amazing and slightly creepy. Meanwhile up above an acrobat swings through the air, a set of joined up books sculpted into shape by Long-Bin Chen.
The next long wall three pieces stand out, Laura Cooperman’s Spin takes a seemingly delicate cutout pieces, sticks on gears and makes them revolve at speed giving them movement (a video here), A large Rob Ryan piece, ‘The Map of My Entire Life’ takes over the space with delicate cutouts of chains, clouds and people. Next to it a similar piece by Beatrice Coron ‘Chaos city’ shows a far more oppressive and complex interaction of people with bolder lines and a more cramped existence. In the final corner stands, Andrew Singleton’s ‘Stellar Spire in the Eagle Nebula’. A stunning piece of spiralling swirling black paper based on nebula shapes and forms. The shadow it displays on the wall gives another dimension. In comparison with these very large pieces, a number of small scale exhibits were also shown, The unbelievable delicate tree diorama by Yuken Teruya made within a fast food paper bag. The pop-up like collages seemingly exploding from matchboxes by Sarah Bridgland. The Storybook concertina stage shows of Aliens and demons by Andrea Dezso and finally the sublime one sheet of paper sculptures of Peter Callesen (more of this below). There was many more pieces which pace and time stops me from continuing… We would have to have a second visit the next day to take in these wonders again ourselves but needless to say all these were stunning.
This great day continued with shopping excursion to Fopp and after a brief siesta, out to Port Street Beer House for some stunning beer. This pub has an amazing list of european and american ale, all fairly high strength (and price). I paced myself well as I didn’t want to be to bladdered during the mighty return of Ben Folds Five. We arrived at Manchester Apollo fairly early and took our place on the grand sloping floor and awaited in some trepidation for the band to come on. We were not disappointed new songs (Draw a crowd, Do it anyway) were excellent, old songs (Brick, Landed, Jackson Cannery) even better. The Final four songs… Army, Underground, Kate and One Angry Dwarf finished off an almost perfect day.
It was to good to be true, I had started sniffing that night but awoke the next day with the start of a bad cold. Leeds trip was postponed by a few hours due to me getting up later and needing another visit to the exhibition above. A later arrival in Leeds meant a slower approach which did include the Henry Moore gallery and my first visit to the excellent ‘Friends of Ham’ pub. The next day, it was flu and the day trip to York was abandoned for a quick getaway home. Rain by now had subsided and trains resumed to normal on the east coast main line except for one surreal moment. As we left Darlington we travelled through the aforementioned flooded area, the rails suddenly seemed to be running on top of a lake. The train slowed as though we were gently floating along with only the lapping of waves and bathing birds for company.
My pop-up for the ‘First Cut’ tries to convey this final journey home and draws a lot of influence from the work of Peter Callesen. This Danish artist is excellent at using a minimalist approach. One sheet of ordinary A4 white paper is used and he creates 3D objects and dioramas which can sometimes show a complex tale. The built element themselves are amazing but the negative image left adds more value to the piece (see ‘Looking Back’ where a 3D skeleton looks upon the human sized space where he came from – (link to this and more)). He also manipulates the paper wonderfully to show mountains or waves. This really comes together in a piece called ‘Big Wave Moving Towards a Small Castle Made Of Sand’. A single small turreted castle is cut out and stands proud of the paper leaving a negative shadow in front, unaware of a wave (made from the curled torn edge of the page) is about to engulf.
My homage to this replaces the single castle which four sets of buildings/monuments depicting the journey. From right to left: two futuristic ‘Blade Runner’ tower blocks that could be seen from our bedroom window in Manchester; a version of the ‘Reclining Woman: Elbow’ by Henry Moore which was outside Leeds Art Gallery; A rudimentary version of York Minster ; and a Tyne Bridge symbolising Newcastle. As they stand up, behind them their negative shadows are shown. In front of these a train track is cut out running from Manchester to Newcastle. The only interruption being a large cut out pool of water around Darlington. At this point the tracks move from being the cut out back to being the paper but by Newcastle return to the negative state. The final touch was to show the intensity of the weather through the waves, so both corners are curled showing how weather almost stopped this perfect trip.
Here are some links to some sites/videos that show more about the excellent First Cut exhibition
Manchester Gallery First Cut website
Interviews with Artists page
First cut installation video
A decent youtube slideshow of some highlights