The realms of art and creativity are often championed for offering an entirely liberated space, not bound by the rules or conventions that govern the rest of society. Yet, whilst this sounds, on the one hand, invigorating, as the aphorism goes, nothing can be more daunting – or stifling – than a blank canvas. Counterintuitive as it seems, it is for this reason that a long tradition has developed among creatives of all disciplines devising and imposing artificial restrictions upon themselves as a means of stimulating free and playful thought.
It is this principle of ‘freedom within restriction’ (a line of interest partly informed by the various limitations we’re currently experiencing as a result of the pandemic) that forms the basis of Castlefield Gallery’s latest, rather unconventional exhibition. Obstructions will present the work of an intergenerational mix of 15 artists from across Manchester and the northwest, who were invited to participate on one condition: Whatever they chose to present had to be a new version of an existing piece, re-made following a bespoke ‘obstruction’ conceived by another artist in the show.
Some of the ‘obstructions’ that were set are very simple; others are more elaborate, with sub-points and several stages to follow, or are abstract, such as ‘…you must tell us a story which must include a Goddess and full-on, uninhibited anger’. The response from the artists has been varied, with a number choosing to rebel against their ‘obstruction’ by adopting a deliberately divergent or overly literal interpretation. Inescapably, however, the very mechanism of the show is designed to push each artist outside of their comfort zone and work in new ways, taking risks that may ultimately open their practice up in different directions and have long lasting effects.
As such, this uniquely conceived exhibition should provide a fascinating opportunity to see artists at various stages in their careers operating in unexpected ways. After all, sometimes rules are needed – if only so that they can be broken.