Superior Goods and Household Gods, review (2015): Products of seduction

Polly Checkland Harding
Wall hanging with a woman part submerged

Castlefield Gallery’s latest exhibition comes with an adult content warning – so does it make voyeurs of its audience? We find out.

After erotic promises of controversial, curtained material, Superior Goods and Household Gods feels a little sterilised – which, it seems, is the point. Expectations from references to pages from gentlemen’s magazines and “loosely-censored” pornography turn out to be more steamy than the reality of retro, small-scale installations that sit in a fairly empty gallery, just as the jaunty shapes that obscure the really naughty bits in Suzanne Posthumus’ erotica collage Butter Wouldn’t Melt are where the imagination really gets going. It becomes clear that this exhibition is about frustrated desire, rather than gratification.

The idea of voyeurism is where the intricacies of this exhibition work really well

Dutch artist Posthumus makes this point the most obviously: the (mostly) censored images she’s found flash by faster than it’s possible to appreciate, and the Shepard Tone soundtrack (a rising pitch that never seems to reach a peak) endlessly thwarts the climax. On opening night, Posthumus spoke of her surprise at the UK’s censorship of pornographic material, which she argued both blunted its purpose while “keeping the imagination working” in a more provocative way. Sarah Hardacre, co-curator of the exhibition, also works with censorship, this time using the “honest body shapes” of old-fashioned erotica, but blanking out the faces so that they are unable to return the (traditionally male) gaze.

The idea of voyeurism, then, is where the intricacies of this exhibition work best. “Hopefully viewers will come and have time to think about how these things relate,” said co-curator Matthew Pendergast of the sparseness of what’s on show – and certainly the minimalist layout, while not achieving the kind of convincing draw that previous exhibitions here have had, allows for nuanced reflection. Sometimes quite literally: in Hannah Farrell’s site-specific installation, Palm Springs, the use of mirrors turns the viewer from onlooker to subject. Ultimately, an exhibition more showily lewd or grander in scale might have seduced its audience into guilty objectification – this one doesn’t.

Superior Goods and Household Gods at Castlefield Gallery is part of Wonder Women 2015.

Culture Guides

Writer Niamh Mulvey. Photo by K Elliott

Literature

There’s plenty of sunshine-drenched reading to immerse yourself in from established names and emerging talent, poets and prose writers alike, both in real life as well as online.

Music

From rising stars playing basement sets to open air shows by your favourite bands’ favourite bands, there are some gems in this month’s music picks.

Theatre in Manchester

Theatre

Eclectic theatre festivals, silly slapstick and dreamy outdoor shows, there’s lots of brilliant performances happening inside and outside over the summer.

Classical Music in Manchester and the North

We preview the standout classical music events and venues in Manchester and the north.

Food and Drink

Spend June at some of the best restaurants and bars in Manchester and the North.

Cinema

Explore Hollywood history, queer rarities and squirm-inducing horror across the big screens of Manchester and the North this month.

The Tudors: Passion, Power and Politics

Exhibitions

Let’s make the most of early summer, with this month’s selection of brand new art exhibitions from across the North!

Geronimo Festival 2022

Families

Festivals, shows, museums, and much, much more – there’s plenty of summer fun to be had for families in Manchester and the North, whatever the weather. Here are our top picks.

Tours and Activities

Discover a new hobby, experience the most deliciously diverse area of Manchester’s city centre and explore the city’s infamous music scene in this month’s Tours and Activities guide.