Archives at Play 2 at Castlefield Gallery

Archives at Play 2
Castlefield Gallery
26th March 2023 – 4th June 2023

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Photo of Castlefield Gallery's archives on 35mm film by George Gibson & Grace Collins
Photo of Castlefield Gallery's archives on 35mm film by George Gibson & Grace Collins

Archives at Play 2 is the second in a two-part series of exhibitions inviting an exciting roster of artists to delve into Castlefield Gallery’s archive. These exhibitions are part of a process of reflection as the gallery approaches its 40th year in 2024 and looks ahead to the next 40 years of working with artists.

New works on canvas and paper by Alistair Woods and Gherdai Hassell explore cultural and historical narratives, prompting questions, and encouraging us to look at the past anew. Installations by George Gibson & Grace Collins and Anna FC Smith respond directly to the gallery’s archive, inviting visitors to join a conversation about how the gallery’s past might inform its future.

Gibson & Collins’ installation carves out space in the exhibition for visitors to engage with objects and ideas from the gallery archive, playfully reimagining archive boxes and invoking historic ideals. Drawing from zine culture the artists gather visitors’ wishes for a future Castlefield Gallery and give these hopes, dreams, and ideas, agency.

Smith’s work references the centuries-old tradition of craft guilds and amateur folk plays in the UK. In the early 2000s, Castlefield Gallery’s logo featured heraldic beasts, inspired by the wild animals which roamed the local area thousands of years ago. Intrigued by how this logo and its mediaeval aesthetic might have affected the gallery’s identity at the time, Smith’s installation imagines a story of Castlefield Gallery told with the imagery of folklore.

Hassell explores the relationship between collective and individual memory. With her new watercolour and collage works on paper, Onion Spawns Studies (2022 – ongoing), Hassell continues her artistic research into historically loaded symbols and mixes social research with personal experience. These complex works open conversations about how we carry our past, and how it can grow and change with us.

Woods also has an interest in how symbols, logos and motifs create and communicate shared cultural identity. For Archives at Play 2, Woods exhibits paintings where symbols and icons from art history and the urban environment are intertwined: laurel wreaths, marble busts, streetwear logos and football insignia. Woods challenges the power of these motifs, playing with ideas of high and low culture, giving a new perspective on the past through the language of the present and vice versa.

Archives at Play is a research project led by curator Thomas Dukes as part of a collaborative PhD between Castlefield Gallery and Manchester School of Art at Manchester Metropolitan University. Through events, exhibitions and collaborations, Dukes is looking at how we can activate the archive to ask what Castlefield Gallery means to the communities around us. As well as working with artists through his research process Dukes has drawn many voices into Archives at Play, including Castlefield Gallery’s volunteers, placements, students/learners, peers, partners and supporters, and many of the gallery’s creative communities, including working with Back on Track, Venture arts and Castlefield Forum.

Like Dukes, the artists taking part in the Archives at Play series approach the archive as a living entity – as something not fixed, existing beyond objects, documents, and ephemera; existing in the very fabric of the places and spaces the gallery occupies, within people – through our experiences and held in memory.

Archives at Play therefore invites visitors to get directly involved, to be part of the conversation, to co-imagine Castlefield Gallery’s next 40 years, through the exhibition, events programme, on-site and via social media.

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