The end is nigh for the Cornerhouse cinema and gallery in Manchester city centre. The Playtime exhibition featuring installations and videos from nine artists is the last show before the arts venue closes its doors in April ahead of a move to a new HOME (sorry) down the road in May.
As last hurrahs go, overall Playtime was more of a deflated balloon than a party popper. The first installations in Gallery 1 by Gabriel Lester, ‘Melancholia in Arcadia’ and ‘Bouncer’ epitomised what many people hate about contemporary art; they were obtuse, unexciting and unrecognisable as a work of art. I’ve experienced more than my fair share of modern art (Gabriel Orozco’s Empty Shoebox of 1993 remains a highlight), but I literally didn’t realise ‘Melancholia’ was an artwork, I just walked straight through the room. There’s understated, and then there’s just completely unrecognisable. The extent of the piece was a series of hardened lace curtains on the windows to look as if there was a breeze; what the gallery notes described as ‘haunting’, read… boring.
I’m not prone to negativity, so I’ll focus on the two pieces within the collection that I found genuinely interesting and edifying. True to the Playtime theme of the exhibition, the offerings from Andy Graydon and Naomi Kashiwagi were interactive and fun, clever but lighthearted.
Graydon’s ‘Plate Tectonics 2009’ in Gallery 2 was initially perplexing for someone such as myself who has little to no experience with a record player (I’m more in the cassette player generation). With four record players in the middle of the room, the installation invites the visitor to play DJ with a range of vinyl recordings of sounds collected from some of the most famous art institutions in the world such as New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and the Cornerhouse itself. With the speakers mounted on boards taken from the galleries’ walls so you could experience the sounds in their ‘natural’ habitat, the installation was delightfully meta.
I most enjoyed mixing a recording of the New York City Museum with one from a MOMA Andy Warhol exhibition; while the layering of sounds was disorientating and interesting, I don’t think I’m going to be giving Skrillex a run for his money any time soon.
The third and final room, Gallery 3, gave the best collective experience out of all of the rooms, with a mixture of video, sound and participatory objects creating a soothing but slightly unreal environment. Taking ‘Playtime’ to its logical conclusion was ‘Kashiwagi’s ‘Swingtime’, a set of swings with trigger sensors which play sounds as you move, integrating the rhythm of the visitor’s play with the work itself. As the gallery was empty I had a cheeky swing myself, and with the subtle outdoor recordings and general ambience it was all rather pleasant.
The exhibition was in part intended to reflect some of the heritage and general aesthetic of the Cornerhouse itself. I won’t do the Cornerhouse a disservice by judging it solely on its final artistic offering, which as an exhibition felt disjointed, disparate and underwhelming. However, the tone of both Kashiwagi’s and Graydon’s pieces provided a more appropriate send off. Quirky, engaging, playful and surprising, they were true to the spirit of the Cornerhouse as a varied and accessible arts venue that will be missed by its many patrons.
The Cornerhouse is dead, long live HOME!