Castlefield Gallery: 30 Years of the Future, reviewed

Polly Checkland Harding
Film still showing two men on a motorbike carrying a transparent flag

This art exhibition in Manchester brings together the figures of the past with the artists of tomorrow – so, what does the future look like?

Castlefield Gallery’s exhibition to celebrate its 30th birthday feels like it’s looking in two directions at once. Even the title does a curious double take: 30 Years of the Future points to Castlefield’s commitment to progress and innovation over the past three decades, whilst also acting as a kind of declaration about what, in the evolving world of contemporary art, they are looking forward to next. The 15 artists on display have a weight of history behind them; chosen by high profile 14 nominators, all in some way connected to the gallery, they have emerged from years of experience, and from Castlefield’s singular ethos. The result? An exhibition of over 20 different works that feels provocative, pioneering and filled with all the urgency of emerging artists.

At the launch last night, Research Professor at MMU Pavel Büchler, who is also one of the nominators, spoke about the gallery’s unique place in the city. “Castlefield,” he argued, “is committed to the artists present among us.” The artists in 30 Years of the Future do range beyond Manchester, as do their nominators, so that the idea of presence here feels more to do with their work’s immediacy and relevance, than literal proximity.

An exhibition that feels provocative, pioneering & urgent

Take Place of Dead Roads, a six minute video piece by artists Josh Bitellia and Felix Melia in the Upper Gallery: in it, two men ride a motorbike through an apparently deserted landscape, a flag flying like a pennant behind them. Except that the flag itself is transparent, annulled of its usual symbolism. Instead, it becomes a motif of a different sort; its transparency deconstructs the loyalties a flag usually invokes.

Many of the other works feel similarly potent. Jay Delves’ Improvisation for a Sports Club, another video work downstairs, lends an absurdity to the rituals of sport by slowing and repeating actions: in a small group, people unhurriedly tackle each other to the ground, get up, and do it again. Perhaps most playful, though, are six pieces from Timothy Foxon, one of Ryan Gander’s nominees. On a low plinth is a collection of odd objects: a paintbrush wears a costume sovereign ring, two tiny plastic men carry a Lacoste Croc logo between them. There is a punning quality to Foxon’s work that chimes with Gander’s practice – his pieces are fun to look at, and to think about.

Ultimately it is this balance between being engaging and challenging that the exhibition manages so well. Far from being the kind of contemporary art that shuts obscure, scholarly doors in your face, 30 Years of the Future is as open and inviting as the gallery’s wide windows. If this is the future we’re looking into, we’re more than happy to step into it.

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