Yes we CAM.

Ella Wredenfors

Guest blogger Ella Wredenfors checks out the first exhibition from Contemporary Art Manchester, a new art group that looks set to shake things up in Manchester

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It’s easy to get into an art-viewing rut in this city. For a while you’ll find yourself bouncing up and down Oxford Road, between the plentiful Prosecco and immense crowds of the Whitworth and the confusing token system at Cornerhouse, clattering between galleries, desperately trying not to drop your drink or send your handbag tumbling down three flights of stairs. Another month and the angle of your orbit will change, describing a different path between window shopping at Richard Goodall and sipping tea at the Chinese Arts Centre.

If you are outside the arts infrastructure – I mean, if you’re not an artist, a curator or an arts scene hanger-on; if you are just another viewer – there is a whole bedrock of events you’ll never hear about. Artist-led organisations grow like mushrooms in the dark, warmly nestled amongst the proverbial manure and hay, displaying their activities to a too-small audience. Although this city is teeming with art, it seems you only hear about much of it after these fleeting exhibitions have come and gone.

But maybe this is about to change.

Contemporary Art Manchester is a new, not-for-profit consortium of visual arts organisations, bringing together artist-led outfits with higher profile or more established players such as FutureEverything and the Castlefield Gallery. Supported by Manchester International Festival, Trade City (4 – 19 July) was both the inaugural Contemporary Arts Manchester exhibition and its first birthday hurrah.

Located in the desolate belly of Urban Splash’s residential monstrosity Chips, it fits comfortably in the context of New Islington. On a rainy July afternoon, cycling through the patchily redeveloped streets to Trade City, the awkward juxtaposition of luxury flats and social housing is the perfect set up for an awkward and rather bleak exhibition. When I arrived, the objects were being hastily rearranged due to a flood. Cartons of orange juice, the only liquid remnants of the opening night, sat in a puddle by a front door partly blocked by building machinery.

This ramshackle presentation was in some sense just fine and dandy. Artist and curator Karen Gaskill of partner organisation Interval described CAM as ‘open source’. An online manifesto lays out their guiding principles: ‘co-operative working through CAM engages with notions of democracy, collectivity and self-organisation; examining and revealing the practices of people engaged with creative work within Manchester, who may be operating through less formal structures, or on the periphery of the city.’

Though Trade City wasn’t up to much – and may not represent a pattern for future exhibitions – that’s fine. It was just a beginning of something, and the way in which CAM promises not to hold too firmly to any set statement of aims and objectives means that I, monarch of the misanthropic art fascists, actually feel kinda hopeful for future outcomes.

First, I can’t help but hope it will improve the quality of art in this city, allowing ambitious plans to be more effectively realised and therefore upping the ante for everyone else. Additionally, the sharing of audience information and improvement of communication channels will mean we, the art-viewing public, should start hearing about these events. Perhaps even before they happen. Fancy that.

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Ella Wredenfors is an art history graduate, a Captain Beefheart aficionado and fizzy water connoisseur. Amongst other things she writes Run Paint Run Run, an unfortunately opinionated blog about art in Manchester.

Image credits (top to bottom): Britta Söderqvist

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