From somewhere within the labyrinth of social and political catastrophe that is our divided nation and the world around us, the new exhibition at Castlefield Gallery finds a place for art.
The Ground Beneath Your Feet tackles some of the most complex and uncomfortable global tragedies that continue to shake the earth.
As part of the With One Voice International Arts and Homelessness Summit & Festival, the exhibition features work from a range of artists that explore ‘the refugee crisis, rising homelessness, environmental catastrophes, right-wing populism and the tragedies caused by de-territorialised capitalism’.
So, great for a casual Thursday evening.
Like any good exhibition, The Ground Beneath Your Feet comes with a content warning that it contains work of a challenging nature. This is to be expected. Somewhat surprising is the allergy warning for the mushroom spores that are present in the gallery.
Jane Lawson, the artist responsible for the fungi, presents her work Progress Has Stopped Making Sense (But There Is Still Neighbourliness). She spoke of the systems in which fungi and plants share information and nutrients between species. The work asks that humans might learn to replicate this in our own ecosystem.
Lawson asks the viewer to stand in a blacked out room for three minutes, and once your eyes adjust you will be able to see the glowing fungus. With an unguarded blackout curtain scuppering our three minute eye adjustment, we ourselves become interdependent and without some good old fashioned team-work, would not have seen the luminous mushrooms. Perhaps this was the point.
Oscar Santillan undoubtedly uses nature to make his statement. The Intruder presents ‘the top inch of England’. Santillan displays a tiny piece of stone that was taken (stolen?) from the summit of Scafell Pike in the Lake District.
FUNGI: One of the mushrooms seen growing from the art
In the absence of the artist, Matthew Pendergast, the curator of the exhibition, pointed out the parallels between the angry demands Santillan met in 2015 to return the piece of rock, and the demand of the Leave campaigners to return our sovereignty from Brussels a year later. With negotiations peaking and deals emerging, take of that what you will.
The Ground Beneath Your Feet goes beyond its multimedia quota with both performance and art film.
Omid Asadi and company performed a moving piece inspired by musical rituals in southern Iran. Using barrels as drums the group struck them as they leaked oil (black paint) onto a Persian carpet that was left stained. Before the performance Asadi explained how his art fits with the wider exhibition.
From Persia himself, he spoke of conflicts in the Middle East at the root of the refugee crisis and how this has contributed to the rise in homelessness worldwide. The audience were left with the uncomfortable sorrow of collective guilt as they looked upon the oil soaked carpet, destroyed and abandoned.
VIDEO: Tulani Hlalo’s piece uses films to explore her dual heritage
Other works on display are Roee Rosen’s The Dust Channel, a film that deals with the mistreatment of refugees and asylum seekers in Israel, specifically those held at the Holot detention centre. The film is an uncomfortable viewing experience and features a couple with a ‘perverse devotion’ to a Dyson hoover. Castlefield Gallery have deemed it not appropriate for younger viewers: a wise decision.
Fatherland and Motherland are two video works by Tulani Hlalo who graduated from Manchester School of Art just last year. She spoke of her Zimbabwean and British dual heritage.
Her works show Hlalo herself as she covers her body in the dry earth of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe and stands in the sea at Tynemouth. The birthplaces of her parents, she explores the stark differences and shrouded similarities between these two countries both failed by their governments in the past and present.
Lastly Michael White’s series of ‘demonetised Zimbabwean banknotes’ show characters from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The Scotsman explained his interest in Zimbabwe after spending time in the country.
His work harks back to a period of hyperinflation in Zimbabwe in the 1990s, and links it to the famous literary allegory of the economic, political and social instability in 1890s America.
ROCK: The centrepiece was taken from Scafell Pike in the Lake District
The Ground Beneath Your Feet is accompanied by a display from the Museum of Homelessness as part of the State of the Nation project. Donated items from homelessness workers, volunteers, activists and people experiencing homelessness, stories are told by objects.
A hat hangs on the wall, donated by an anonymous individual with experience of homelessness. The statement that accompanies it reads: “With your hat you pretty much wear the same one every single day and it becomes part of you, and that’s what your home does as well, you know you become part of that place.
“I think that’s why when people lose their home it’s so difficult to sort of pick yourself back up from because it’s a massive part of who you are.”
The exhibition is ‘asking how we relate to, learn from and are affected by the ground beneath our fee’.
It would appear from the works on display that the very ground beneath our feet is not feeling as solid as perhaps we would like. With record numbers of homeless people in the UK, a global refugee crisis, continuing conflict in the Middle East and worldwide, and a divisive future ahead, art may not be the answer, but it sure as hell isn’t the problem.