HOME’s first exhibition, review: The heart is warmed

Jon Bottomley

How HOME’s first exhibition reaches out to its audience – and why not to miss it before it closes.

Cornerhouse, home to contemporary art, film and publications, was an unusually-shaped, intimate space – which was part of what made it unique. Creaky floorboards and a Victorian exterior created the sense that the life of the building was just as important as its contents. Its galleries, cinemas, shop, bar and restaurant had a busy, warm atmosphere in which to approach new ways of seeing and thinking. So when the decision was made for Cornerhouse to merge with The Library Theatre Company and up sticks to a £25m purpose-built new venue called HOME, the response was excitement, and apprehension.

The new venue was backed by two opposing thoughts – the need to move on, versus the risk of losing the memories and comfort of old. HOME’s opening is, then, not only a historic event for Manchester; it’s also part of the developing creative dialogues in the city.

Part of this ongoing dialogue is focused on HOME’s large gallery, a space that connects artistic practice with curatorship. The first exhibition, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, places a sociable, personal dialogue provocatively in the spotlight. Recurring themes of secrecy, online identity and coded power dynamics are shared by the artists on display – and, at the same time, you get the sense that this is the curators’ chance to articulate what it is they are trying to accomplish with the new venue.

“I miss my pre-internet brain,” and “Sorry, I got lost in a YouTube kitten warp”

The gallery takes 500 square metres of the ground floor. Each artwork is suggested to be equally as important the next, highlighted by the design; it’s a circuit of interconnected spaces, with a small room in the centre. At the heart of exhibition (thematically, if not literally), is the exploration of how uncertain emotion is – a topic that cleverly bypasses a potential sense of the gallery context as intimidating, and instead offers a common ground for the audience to explore.

A prime example of this is Slogans for the 21st Century by Douglas Coupland. Spanning an entire wall, this series of prints includes the phrases “I miss my pre-internet brain,” “bored to death” and “Sorry, I got lost in a YouTube kitten warp,” each one splashed in black capitals over a bright background. Here, Coupland’s use of humour – as well as a gesture towards a collective sense of alienation in the digital age – helps the work articulate itself both simply and sociably.

Each piece has its own identity, yet remains part of a collective show. The works are designed to be approached straightforwardly, either by watching one of several video works on display or, as in the case of Jeremy Bailey’s inLoop, participating more directly. This work explores the relationship between the social and the technological: two players are needed, each are given a mobile phone and take turns making the swiping action of a scythe, or the blow of a hammer. They must take turns for the game to continue, in an effort to building relationships that never translates to an actual goal (there isn’t an objective or points).

One of the five new commissions on display is a sixty minute film by artist Declan Clarke, titled The Most Cruel Of All Goddesses. Projected in the central room, the film showcases the artist as a covert agent, pursuing a line of investigation that leads him back to the life of German philosopher Friedrich Engels. He travels around Manchester and London until reaching his fate at Oktoberfest. The sense of history repeating itself slowly grows during of the film, while curiosity is used to keep audiences guessing as to what the final conclusion will be.

The heart is deceitful above all things (22 May – 26 July 2015) was curated by the Artistic Director of HOME Sarah Perks, and senior visiting curator Omar Kholeif. Having been part of the Cornerhouse team for years, Perks has clearly made the charm, intimacy and readability of previous exhibitions there a priority for HOME. By using the human condition as the focus of this inaugural show, both curators have attempted to bridge a real connection to their audience. How the programme at HOME develops is yet to be seen, but as an opening gambit, personal, playful connection seems like a wise choice.

This article has been commissioned by the Contemporary Visual Arts Network North West (CVAN NW), as part of a regional critical writing development programme supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England — see more here.

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