Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Artranspennine 98 was a massive exhibition which included internationally acclaimed exhibiting artists supported by a £3 million budget. Intended to enrich the understanding of a bureaucratic construct by highlighting the transpennine route as a region, a celebration of a cluster of world class cities built on the successes of the Industrial revolution during the 19th century. Collectively cities in this region such as Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield have the population, wealth and resources to rival London.

The curators of Artranspennine 98, Lewis Biggs and the late Robert Hopper believed that England was seen from the south and argued that until there is “real regionalism” there would not be an art world outside London. They asserted that the curators had as much right as anyone to propose a region and saw that the transpennine trade corridor may be a way to recontextualise this area and potentially help create a regional sense of identity, and consequently encourage a cultural shift toward seeing England from an alternative viewpoint.

Five years after this big budget exhibition originally participating artists Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson decided to reinvigorate this concept deeming the ‘brand’ of Artranspennine too significant to “fall into abeyance”. They felt that the “cultural momentum generated by the first Artranspennine exhibition was in danger of disappearing” and the pair went on to stage the second Artranspennine with a fraction of the budget of the original, though keeping very much within the confines of the original Artranspennine framework. The exhibition itself was a legitimate quality show and a gentle biennale parody, the final sentence of their curatorial statement announces that “Someday all biennales will be run this way”.

Ten years since the original Artranspennine, and five years since the second, Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson seemed determined to maintain the significance of the Artranspennine brand and approached us to stage Artranspennine 08. The challenge was an extremely daunting and exciting opportunity which, after much deliberation we felt unable to reject. We spent many hours discussing the nature of this particular inherited exhibition and its curatorial concept. We questioned how to explore and reinvigorate Artranspennine and enable it to be seen through a contemporary lense:

A decade later London continues to dominate the cultural landscape; this seems unlikely to change though possibly what has shifted is the drive to alter the south centered view of England. Frequently artists based in the north are bypassing the dominance of London and are heading overseas to exhibit, aided by the explosion of online activity. Quick to inhabit cyber space artists are using websites and free blogs, embracing my-space and Facebook as a vital networking utilities and using on-line resources as a legitimate promotional tool and occasional exhibition space.

Unlike the first Artranspennine our agenda is not to challenge the position of the north as parochial outsider or to promote the Pennine corridor as newly formed location of cooperation but to celebrate the benefits many artists enjoy living outside London as the realities of the internet and affordable airfares continue to place less emphasis on geographical location.

Artranspennine offers an exhibition template, a framework to view the work on show. The artists have the opportunity to challenge the notion of this mythical region or to totally disregard its potential limitations. Our main alteration of the original concept is to disregard a selection process. This democratising tool shows the level at which the ‘brand’ operates, who is engaging with it and what cultural relevance it still has? Artists have chosen to include themselves in Artranspennine 08 revealing the artists opinion of this decade old exhibition concept and its relevance to current practices. This ‘Call to Arms’ shows how artists continue to engage with a ‘brand’ or proposal often with little reward. A lack of fee and potential for failure seems not to dissuade the brave few that willingly place their work in the hands of a sanctioned ‘organisation’.

For Artranspennine 08 our curatorial hand is almost absent, all we have done is enable Artranspennine 08 to happen, we have constructed the infrastructure that will enable the work to be seen along the route whether people travel to see it or not. We have set up a free blog which will act as exhibition hub and audience first port of call, we have set up a face-book group which will facilitate debate and networking opportunities a Photo-bucket account that allows the work to appear as a slide show on the blog and an e-mail address which aids the dissemination of the relevant information to the artists who are participating and the interested audience, and we have taken every effort to promote the exhibition to the public and to on line and printed media.

As artist/curators we see ourselves as facilitators who like all the artists involved it seems find it difficult to turn away from a challenge. As we write this, the work is beginning to pile in to our in-box and we are both excited by the quality of the work and delighted by the generosity of all the artists involved. We are curious to see the potential of viral marketing, to see the reach and breadth these resources allow. We are looking forward to seeing how the exhibition evolves and to discover whether the Artranspennine ‘brand’ was worth resurrecting for the second time and we wonder whether it will return again for Artranspennine13.

Paul Harfleet and Hilary Jack

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