Review: Tattoo City at Castlefield Gallery

Kate Feld

A far-ranging contemporary art exhibition at Castlefield Gallery features an eclectic selection of work

Artists who write extensively about their views on life and their creative influences are rare birds. Because so many prefer to let their work speak for itself, creating artwork can be one of the darkest of, erm… arts.  One notable exception is Samson Kambalu, the Malawi born artist and author who has co-curated Tattoo City: The First Three Chapters, a new exhibition at Castlefield Gallery.

His first book, The Jive Talker or How to Get a British Passport, was a memoir of his early life and the influences that shaped him as an artist, among them Nietzsche and the Protestant church. Kambalu continues to flesh out his ideas about life in a novel about a rock star travelling through Africa, and the start of his forthcoming book forms the thematic underpinning for a far-ranging group exhibition that puts his own work alongside an eclectic selection of art, some directly related to Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy of Anthrosophy, and others that more abstractly investigate the relationship between contemporary urban society and its sometimes curious notions of ‘otherness’ and primitivism.

It’s much better as art than it must have been as a (shockingly ugly) necklace

Some of the most arresting work here comes from the youngest artist in the exhibition, Hardeep Pandhal. His brightly inked comic-style illustrated CVs combine a tongue-in-cheek presentation of his artistic achievements interspersed with disturbing tales of colonialism and racial prejudice. They are displayed here along with an enormous hissing and popping glass beaker of homemade fruit wine that figures in one of his darker parables, and a jumper knitted and embroidered by his mother.

Elsewhere, Kevin Hunt takes apart mundane, everyday objects and reconfigures them into new forms; often burning them, he creates through destruction something completely new. He has employed the gallery’s famously idiosyncratic design to great effect here, siting his works in some of its more unusual corners. A tiny alcove on the landing is the perfect place for sculpture made from oddly shaped apricot coloured beads – as the artist himself observed at the private view, it’s much better as a piece of art than it must have been as a (shockingly ugly) necklace.

Poppy Whatmore’s artwork also plays with themes of destruction and reconfiguration, with a lush old-fashioned chair becoming something strange. Sigrid Holmwood’s suitably psychedelic landscape marks the location in the Sonoma County woods of a hippie utopia that flourished in the 1960s and then disappeared; a mattress spring and a few related relics ranged on a shelf here all that remains. And Kambalu’s writing desk, crammed with books about art, philosophy and African culture, gives the ideas at the centre of the exhibition a more tangible presence in the gallery.

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