Tuesday, 22 April 2008

The first of the Artranspennine exhibitions, ATP98 was held between 23 May and 16 August 1998. Artranspennine98 was an exhibition of public art that combined the method and language of the art museum (the bringing together of artworks to create the ephemeral experience of an exhibition) with the method and language of those commissioning public art in the UK (the permanent siting of artworks to create a legacy within the public domain). It occupied a specific territory, bounded by Liverpool to the west and Hull to the east and traversed by the M62 motorway. Artranspennine98 aimed to foster a new sense of pride in this territory (diverse as it is, encompassing Yorkshire and Lancashire) through the proposition that it should be considered a region . It was always intrinsically concerned with its own legacy, both in terms of the number of permanent works of art situated in the public domain and in terms of the precedent for inter-institutional cooperation across the region.

The exhibition involved 64 artists working on 40 projects at 30 sites across the transpennine region and was a joint initiative of the Tate Gallery, Liverpool and the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds. Curators-in-chief Lewis Biggs and the late Robert Hopper worked for some five years to develop the programme and coordinate the involvement of numerous regional institutions.

The intention was to create a unique art exhibition which also enriched the understanding of the area. It was the largest exhibition of its kind ever mounted in the United Kingdom and was in itself the recipient of the largest ever Lottery award allocation for a single exhibition, close to £1.8 million, in addition to approximately £1.2 million of private funding and other sponsorship. The presentation of Artranspennine98 was based on the region, not on the personality of the artists. It articulated a new impetus toward regional association and the role of cultural forums: it understood that England is seen from the south and until there is real regionalism, in the sense of devolution of resources and decision making, there won’t be an art world apart from disparate elements such as the Henry Moore Institute, etc, outside of London. Furthermore, the exhibition asserted that the curators had as much right as anyone to propose a region.

There had been a Transpennine Ltd (a company lobbying politicians at Westminster and Brussels) in existence for some years, supported by business and local authority subscribers ambitious for the region to be accepted as a single entity from a planning point of view. The economic potential has been recognised by the European Union in its designation as “the growth corridor for the 21st Century” - the E20 route. This is the trade corridor that commences in Limerick, spans the North of England and ends in St.Petersberg. The Transpennine Railway built in the 1860’s was the last element in the economic and industrial infrastructure that gave the region its world importance in the 19th Century. The region is one of the most densely populated and urbanised places in the world.

The transpennine regions contains some 42 universities, 456 hospitals, it produces one third of the gross domestic product of the UK, consists of a land mass larger than Belgium and containing some 13 million inhabitants. It is, in short, a small country.

Note: Much, but not all, of the above text is culled from an essay by Robert Hopper and Lewis Biggs in Leaving Tracks, the publication which was produced after Artranspennine98

In 2003 artist/curators Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson re-invigorated the ‘brand’ of artranspennine by asking artists to respond to the notion of the artranspennine region, the following appears on the artranspennine 03 website. (http://www.artranspennine.org.uk/)

“More pertinently the desire to stage the second Artranspennine exhibition came from the simple observation that if the ‘brand’ were permitted to fall into abeyance then the cultural momentum generated by the first Artranspennine exhibition was in danger of disappearing. Put simply this gesture is about keeping open the cultural 'Rights of Way'.

That there is a transpennine region at all is something of a bureaucratic invention. Certainly trade has flowed across the Pennines for hundreds of years but to ask people from Hull, Sheffield, Lancaster or Bolton if they belong to a region called transpennine would be to invite at least confusion if not a derisory kick in the teeth. Thus the way in which we have organised this exhibition has, in the first instance, grown out of our appreciation of artists as the primary artistic resource of the region.

We would not expect visitors to the exhibition to see it all, even in three days of concerted traveling. In fact as curators we are unlikely to see all of the projects. We do hope, however, that experiencing even one of the works in the glorious complexity of its specific context will give the viewer a significant encounter with contemporary art, a better understanding of the transpennine region and an appreciation of the true cultural capital it possesses.

Note: Much but not all of the above was culled from Artranspennie03’s website

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