Looking North

Open Eye Gallery withVirgil Abloh and Ben Kelly’s installation

For the past few years, London’s galleries have been hosts to some incredible fashion exhibitions, luring visitors from every corner of the world to pore over their sartorial treasures. With the dawn of a new year, however, a new city is emerging as the latest fashion destination. From January 6 until March 19 2017, Liverpool’s Open Eye Gallery is showcasing North: Identity, Photography, Fashion, an exhibition curated by SHOWstudio’s editor Lou Stoppard and Adam Murray, a lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University. Prompted by the impact the North of England has had on fashion, music, design and art the world over, as well as the clichés associated with the area, the exhibition explores and challenges these dominant themes, asking the visitors to come to their own conclusions. The heritage of the North is unpicked through photography, historical films, interviews with its artists and designers, garments, fashion magazines and music, highlighting the impressively far-reaching influence of the region, one which is seldom acknowledged, ignored even, in the capital city oriented fashion world.

“Liverpool is tiny, but it has a lot of impact.” – Christopher Shannon, designer | A view of North: Identity, Photography, Fashion

With Stoppard and Murray not being full-time curators, the organisation of the space is free of restrictions and preconceptions of seasoned professionals, allowing for a fresh take on the potential of exhibitions. The rooms have a relaxed vibe, a coolness about them, which one can already sense getting off the train at one of Liverpool’s stations and walking through its streets to reach the gallery. It feels very authentic, honest and respectful in its representation of England’s North, a much welcome relief from the sometimes derogatory mentions the area gets in the media. Walking through the exhibition, admiring the prints by fashion’s favourites Jamie Hawkesworth, Alasdair McLellan and David Sims while being slightly amused by Alice Hawkins’ genius portraits of Northern teen girls or perusing the editorials in i-D, Arena Homme+, Vogue and The Face, all inspired by the visuals of the region and displayed in custom-made Sheffield steel vitrines (not a single detail escaped the curators), one starts to question the lack of credit given to cultural centres outside of London. Even musical legends such as Morrissey, The Stone Roses, New Order and Oasis, who have conquered the world with their sounds, (and who rightfully have their own pride of place within the exhibition) grew up and formed within the North’s energetic environments. No one can dispute that the talent which hails from and is inevitably profoundly influenced by the North of England enjoys great stature worldwide, yet their origins are often forgotten. Fortunately, North brings the talent home again.

“There’s tons of beautiful girls in Liverpool that aren’t WAGs with caked on make up.” – Thom Murphy, stylist | A view of North: Identity, Photography, Fashion

The magnitude and the wealth of visuals the North provides the world with becomes even more apparent upon entering the fashion gallery. Garments from the Belgian Raf Simons, German adidas and American/Milanese/Ghanaian Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh all clearly show signs of the North, emphasising its crucial and international role. On display are various versions of the adidas Samba and ZX trainers dedicated to Northern cities. Elsewhere, an Off-White knit pays tribute to the Gallagher brothers, while a Raf Simons Autumn/Winter 03 parka with a print of New Order’s ‘Power, Corruption and Lies’ album cover designed by Peter Saville hangs nearby. The parka can still be bought online, though it does fetch $20,000. Who said the North wasn’t fashionable? Add the giant steel columns created by Abloh and Ben Kelly, the designer of Manchester’s iconic Hacienda nightclub, interior of which was a starting point for this installation, which, complete with Abloh’s signature chevron, dominate the facade of Open Eye Gallery, and the North of England is firmly secured on fashion’s radar.

“The most Northern part of me is my sense of humour. That more than anything is the thing that has endured and what I use in my way of dealing with people. But I’m not a professional Northerner.” – Simon Foxton, stylist | Raf Simons parka from ‘Control’ Autumn/Winter 2003

“Some things I explore in my collections relate to my life in the North-East. There’s a sense of real life, because things aren’t so aspirational.” – Claire Barrow, designer | Mark Szaszy, Corrine Day – Diary (Extract) (2012)

There are many other gems scattered around the exhibition space. A small Panasonic TV from decades past screens an extract from Corrine Day’s diary, where the late photographer reminisces about her shoot for Dutch magazine in 2001 titled ‘A British Summer: Blackpool 2001’ featuring Kate Moss, George Clements and Rosemary Ferguson. A 1939 short film named ‘Spare Time’ documents the people of Sheffield, Manchester, Bolton and Pontypridd in the in-between times when they are not working in the towns’ famous industries. Watching the movie sat on a park bench, headphones on, you get sucked in, almost feeling as though you are in the film yourself, observing the goings on, being a part of the daily Northern life. Yet the biggest surprise is upstairs. The room is transformed into an old, seventies maisonette, complete with lace curtains, a floral print armchair, a bed with an embroidered throw, a giant wooden cross, shaggy carpet and old rotary dial telephones prompting the visitors to pick them up, revealing sound bites by Northern creatives such as Stephen Jones, Christopher Shannon, Claire Barrow and Gareth Pugh in which they look back at their upbringing and the importance of the North of England in their life and work. It is a charming corner to relax in, take a trip down memory lane, meet the locals and ponder on the importance the North of England has on the country’s image. Perhaps just this little refuge in a twenty-first century city is a reason enough to return for another visit. As Gary Aspden remarks in his interview upstairs, “all roads lead back to the North.” This exhibition is a testament to that. So do yourself a favour, brave the almost five hour long round trip from London and visit the Open Eye Gallery. Believe me, it is worth it!

“I still think that people from down South don’t understand people from up North. And it is this huge cultural, class and every-which-way divide.” – Stephen Jones, milliner | A view of North: Identity, Photography, Fashion)

“I feel still very much connected to where I grew up… it’s a huge part of who I am. And I think in that it’s the Northern work ethic, that’s also something that is quite important.” – Gareth Pugh, designer | A view of North: Identity, Photography, Fashion 

Sources:

‘North’ on SHOWstudio.com

Somerset House Welcomes a New Addition

In Somerset House’s long history, many artists have walked through its courtyard and created their works in the endless nooks and crannies of its maze-like interiors. The long legacy of vision, beginning in 1779 when the Royal Academy of Arts became the first resident in the newly refurbished Somerset House, through its many Royal Academy Exhibitions, the move of The Courtauld Institute of Art into the North Wing of the building, becoming the home of British Fashion Council and London Fashion Week, to hosting blockbuster fashion and art exhibitions as well as multiple annual festivals such as Pick Me Up and Photo London, now continues with a new venture.

From October 2016, the New Wing of the former sixteenth century palace has been transformed into a home of Somerset House Studios, a new experimental workspace for a wide spectrum of creatives. Musicians, filmmakers, performance artists, designers, writers, architects, visual and internet artists are among the first residents in the repurposed, 36,000 sq ft space, soon to be joined by 25 new arrivals. Eventually, the space will house 300 creators, inventors and originators, making Somerset House a vibrant hub for London’s visionaries.

Somerset House Studios comes at a time when London’s uncompromisingly high rent has driven out artists such as Gareth Pugh, a world-renowned British designer, from their previous spaces. Pugh laments, “there is so much about creativity and how London is this place people go to and look to, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to actually make ends meet and make things work. Responding to this very serious problem, the Studios are offering up to two and a half years of residency at a capped rental price equivalent to 2014 rates for workspaces, allowing creativity to flourish, while offering much needed security to vulnerable artists and at the same time preventing the flocking of precious British talent elsewhere. The community Somerset House Studios will create is also crucial, as musician, artist and writer Brian Eno highlights: “People sometimes think that everything artists need is in their own minds. But it isn’t: as well as talent and enthusiasm, they need good places to work, and they need people to talk to and share ideas with…it represents a lot of possibilities for creative cross-pollination.”

This artistic exchange will not be exclusive to the residents, however. Instead, performance spaces, event and exhibition rooms will showcase the talent to over 3.2 million guests which come to Somerset House each year. The first round of exhibitions, called Somerset House Studios 01 has already been a great success. Newcomer but already one of the most exciting London designers, Charles Jeffrey, hosted one of his famous LOVERBOY raves in his space during the opening night. Inés Cámara Leret conceived an out-of-the-world cube which catches the spectators’ breaths and imprints them, creating a tangible object out of our DNA, while design practice Superflux set up a fictional court case, leading the visitor from their lab through sheets of plastic hanging off walls to the crime scene itself, posing questions about the world of gene-fixing and genetic profiling. What makes this work really compelling is its interaction with the audience, a new area which art is just beginning to tap into, but is already very much at the forefront at the Studios. Exciting things are happening at Somerset House and we cannot wait to see the incredible, inspiring and invigorating work which will once again announce London and one of its iconic buildings as the leader in artistic innovation.

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                                     Gareth Pugh | Sycorax | Somerset House Studios | Image by Dan Wilton

charles-jeffrey-somerset-house-studios-image-by-dan-wilton

                                     Charles Jeffrey | Somerset House Studios | Image by Dan Wilton

Applications for Somerset House Studios are open until 7 January 2016.

 

References:

Somerset House Studios Press Release (https://www.somersethouse.org.uk/press/somerset-house-studios accessed on Monday, 14 November 2016)

R. Dex, ‘Gareth Pugh gets a studio at Somerset House after being priced out of Dalston’ in Evening Standard (Wednesday, 19 October 2016) (http://www.standard.co.uk/fashion/news/gareth-pugh-gets-a-studio-at-somerset-house-after-being-priced-out-of-dalston-a3373406.html accessed on Monday, 14 November 2016)