Open Eye Gallery’s North – a confusing message on what it really means to be Northern

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North - Open Eye

North – Open Eye

Open Eye Gallery’s exhibition on the North sees Getintothis staffers reflect with mixed results.

Open Eye Gallery’s latest exhibition North: Identity, Photography, Fashion opened in early 2017 and caught the imagination of the public and media alike.

Celebrating its 40th birthday, Liverpool’s Open Eye Gallery, now positioned on the waterfront, is the only gallery dedicated to photography in the city.

And the North exhibition curated by Lou Stoppard and Adam Murray celebrates and depicts all manner of fashion, culture and visual identity associated (or not as the case may be) with the North.

Several of the Getintothis team went down to take a look – here’s their reflections.

North - Open Eye

North – Open Eye

Getintothis visited this exhibition at 11am on a Thursday morning and even then the gallery was pretty busy. Since opening a little over a week ago North is proving to pull in the crowds.

On the walls in the first room was a sea of beautiful images of ‘ordinary northern folk’ – intersected with fashion photography inspired by them and their way of life.

You can imagine the images on show. There’s mucky kids in the street and gangs of hard-faced teens. There’s images of glamorous old girls and cheesy lounge singers; a women pushing a Silver Cross pram and terraced houses with ads painted on the side. The types of images you can find on many a nostalgia website.

The difference between the Facebook ‘memory’ pages and these however are their perception, now, as art. And lets he honest, what is ‘art‘ lies in the status, eye and education of the photographer – and the quality of his or her equipment. Often the images were a bit  voyeuristic – one artist in particular hanging at a bus stop waiting to photograph natives with interesting features.

Curator Lou Stoppard stated that the real focus of North is the “people on the street”, hoping that audiences will relate to the sights and sounds presented.

I want this exhibition to mean something to people” – was the mission statement. Yet many of the images by their very nature (stylised portraits of the working class by professionals) are an interpretation rather than a representation of northern identity and culture.

Northern identity as imagined by the fashion and art world based in London.

Once we reached Corinne Day and Kate Moss (right before you enter the fashion room) my response was solidified – both ladies being as cockney as a bowl of eels. Moss’ impact on the fashion world as the original ‘heroin chic’ supermodel is undeniable but what interested me and what wasn’t clearly explained was how the curators felt ‘heroin chic’ vis a vie Moss related to northern identity.

Upstairs the interviews with high profile northerners were welcome voices. But again the focus was on nostalgia and the set looked like something from Wallace and Gromit.

Although proud to see northern fashion and identity culture under the microscope, we left thinking the exhibition could’ve gone further, a little deeper.

By ignoring their own preferences and prejudices about the subject what was left was quite a shallow examination of what northern culture is. A very pretty examination, but shallow all the same. Rather than the people on the street, this felt like an exhibition by artists and fashionistas for the same.

But then again part of the idea behind this exhibition was to generate discussion on the role the ‘northern powerhouse’ plays in not only the fashion world, but in the UK in general and it definitely succeeds at that. Well worth a look – Janaya Pickett 

 

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We left wondering why there is a portrait of a nude and ever exquisite Kate Moss in this exhibition, but zero shots of the aesthetically pleasing naked male form.

In a film playing silently in the corner we saw a penis, flopping about willy-nilly, with no personality, or face attached. But a random penis is not an equivalent to Kate Moss in the buff, not to us anyway.

Compare the penis, if you will, to the photograph of the Croydon-born Mossy sucking on a Superkings, arranged so temptingly on a bed, her nipples like ripe cherries and her glorious bush on display.

We’re asking for just one image of naked male beauty here. To even things out, you know?

Blowups of the Stone Roses in anoraks and beanie hats, staring out all sullen and sulky, aren’t quite on the same level as Kate’s bush, somehow.

Alice Hawkins’ photographs of Northern women, her attempt to challenge the norms of the way culture is represented gender-wise is enjoyable enough; but only succeeds in part.

Hawkins is ‘highly influenced by Coronation Street and Bet Lynch’, and she seeks to shoot women ’who don’t conform to a normal notion of beauty. Lynch is the epitome of what I love and admire about women – women who are audacious in their appearance. Some consider them to be tacky or tasteless but I think they are dignified and I am completely genuine with my admiration and representation of them in my work.’

This is problematic to me, in that Bet Lynch was not a real woman, and in fact a fictional onscreen character from off the telly.

Looking back to days softened and made acceptable by rose tinted spectacles, or examining people who never were in the first place, is disappointing.

Come to Liverpool on a Saturday night, Alice Hawkins; come up here from London, and photograph the women of our city; the ones spray tanned, hair backcombed, in tits and arse dresses, tottering about in skyscraper heels. Scouse-browed and contoured, with false lashes and shellac fingernails, having the time of their lives, and as bold as hell; these northern amazons are the real Bet Lynches, and deserve to be documented now, and not via the safety of a romanticised hindsight. – Cath Bore

North - Open Eye

North – Open Eye

The idea of nostalgia seemed a recurring theme.

From the photographs of neighbours long gone to the poetry of Scott King in The Other Side of Midnight. The Hacienda posters, adidas trainers, Paul Smith and Raf Simons collection pieces…

It seems quite easy to think that the north thrives on it’s nostalgia however an interesting point made in the exhibition was how the nostalgia wasn’t for a place but more so for the freedom of youth.

North as a collection of work, shows the best side of a culture which embraces and cherishes the idea of youth, forever craving to relive it.  The raw images of estates and derelict building and settings, showed the space where the vibrant music and fashion scene exploded from, the places that needed the escapism so it created it’s own.

The addition of contemporary examples the north’s influence would have been welcomed.

Overall the combination between the interactive videos, the staged rooms (which looked a little too familiar to the rooms we grew up in), the iconic fashion pieces which told their very own tales and the photography, meant this exhibition gave an incredible insight into the culture of the North.

North explored what makes it what it is – a vibrant, creative and inspiring place without having to dwell on the hardships. It embraces the triumphs. – Jessica Borden

 

Raf Simons A/W 2003 Collection (Credit to Open Eye Gallery)

Raf Simons A/W 2003 Collection

This is an extremely powerful and striking exhibition – particularly in the portraits that are displayed on the walls.

But there is so much more to explore in the videos and installations that give a sense of a northern identity and fashion style which has had an effect across the globe – adidas trainers, New Order parkas…

It’s clear that politician’s talk of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ is indeed just that – political talk and hot air – while northern cities such as Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds just get on with things and create music, fashion, style and culture on their own terms.

That is the point of the exhibition.

To celebrate, not only a difference from the south, but a coherent attitude which could probably only come from the clothes, the music, the smells, the houses, the men, the women, the communities we northerners call our home.

The portraits are the main focus – this is, after all, a gallery designed for photography, but the other material – the clothing, the mock up bedroom, the old copies of magazines – all add together to create a thoroughly impressive piece of curation. – Peter Goodbody

North - Open Eye

North – Open Eye

The Open Eye is one of our favourite spaces in Liverpool – we regularly just pop in for a quick mooch.

However, space is exactly what’s in distinct shortage for North. Thematically, the curators have attempted to pack so much in, it’s a confusing and sometimes muddled message. On the one hand the photography is largely brilliant – the portraiture is stunning; both the music icons and the kitchen sink Scousers are vivid and beautifully shot.

Similarly some of the videos capture the imagination. Corinne Day’s wonderfully funny diary extract of a weekend in Blackpool with a very young Kate Moss and pals dicking about on the beach, in a bedsit and finally pole-dancing to Prince’s When Doves Cry in a strip joint are playful and energising.

However, the back room’s fashion exhibits feel clumsy, badly pitched stereotypes and sometimes completely otherworldly – the mannequin for example looks like something from a futuristic cartoon – and is certainly not representative of any Northern clobber I’m aware of. Plus the emphasis on Manchester is weary and overblown – where is the Europe-conquering clobber that the Liverpudlians brought back to their home city?

On the one hand, North is certainly worth a look – as there’s plenty to enjoy, however, for one of our favourite cultural spots hubs, this exhibition is far from their best and seems a little like a missed opportunity.  – Peter Guy

Pictures by Getintothis’ Peter Goodbody

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