• Rachel Connor

Clear and apparent and evident: ‘Twenty Years’ at Cross Street Arts

Updated: Jul 16, 2019

I love the etymological root of ‘manifest.’ The meaning of the word is ‘to be clear and apparent and evident to the world’: not just a name for the festival, then, but an indicator of its ethos.

There is a power in the collective energy of being seen and heard, as Roger Bygott, one of the festival Directors, reminded us at the launch. This year’s festival, #ManifestArts19, includes more artists on its trail, enabling more interconnections and covering more ground – both creatively and geographically. Cross Street Arts in Standish (Wigan) is one of the newcomers. It is the studio's first year of involvement with Manifest. And it is perhaps fitting that it should happen in the year that it celebrates its twentieth birthday.

Standish might feel a long way from the urban vibe of Manchester’s city-based studios. Cross Street Arts, housed in a suite of offices, appears at first unostentatious but it belies a rich identity that characterises the development of creativity in Wigan. Jane Fairhurst, the studio's founding member, tells us that there is no better time to be an artist in the town. Situated on the main west coast train line between London and Glasgow, roughly equidistant between Manchester and Liverpool, Wigan is home to a vibrant and growing artistic community. The recent #TheFireWithin festival is testament to that, having brought together local artists (some of whom are based at Cross Street) and internationally-acclaimed AL and AL, who have relocated from London to the region.

Cross Street Arts’ contribution to this year’s Manifest festival is ‘Twenty Years’ – an exhibition that is at once a celebration of their anniversary and a reflection on the passage of time and the nature of memory. Anna FC Smith’s ‘The Children of Mercury’ is an art object that functions performatively – a large commemorative medal intended for use in civic procession. This particular piece foregrounds acts of communal remembering through ritual. Smith's work celebrates carnival and folk culture and draws on history – on the Renaissance and Medieval periods particularly – as a way of understanding the present through the past, including the political social role of the Fool figure. An awareness of the artist’s social roles seems important at Cross Street Arts. Brian Whitmore, for example, uses calligraphy to engage disadvantaged groups, including addicts and the homeless. For Whitmore, the process of lettering and creating ensõs is a Zen activity. It is this sense of peaceful creativity and in-the-moment awareness that he wants, in his workshops, to pass on to others. Watching him etch letters (including ‘M’ for Manifest) onto an old music score is itself a meditation.

Photo credits: Roger Bygott

I was struck by how so much of the work at Cross Street Arts is underpinned by religious discourses and the language of spirituality. Dustin Lyon’s mesmerising light installation ‘Blood Gatherer’ is a message for the end times; it is a diorama, the recreation of a mystical portal that allows access to the underworld. Lyon’s intention is to prompt us to question how we have continuously invented and predicted ways to destroy the earth.

In a different vein, other artists engage – and resist - patriarchal discourses of Christianity in its various guises. Jane Fairhurst’s shelf of female deities demonstrates her fascination with the goddess figure, with women’s strength and power. Her exploration of the amulet as a symbol of female self-protection informs so much of her work, including her recent return to painting.

Debra Budenberg’s studio is itself an installation, showcasing her career-long piece that is still, even now, a work in progress – a collapsed bed with a mattress crafted into figures from a bedspread and a blanket from her childhood. The figures, trace-like and ghostly, capture a sense of family, the domestic and the role of the mother. The piece has been created and reconstructed in different, site-specific contexts, several times during her career. Debbie is passionate about the ways in which women have been denied an authentic selfhood within the power of patriarchal language – in particular, the Christian bible. Her theological studies have helped her unearth the deep complexities of female identity in western patriarchal structures.

There is a deep spiritual impulse at work, too, in Steven Heaton’s paintings. His recent visit to Venice has resulted in work that explores how the Italian city, a human-made structure dominated by water, is slowly returning to the earth. Steven explores representations of time and memory, and how place incorporates memory and feeling. Deeply influenced by the St Ives school and Vermeer, he is also fascinated by the depth of silence in paintings and how that can be represented in contemporary ways. In fact, this is the focus of his forthcoming exhibition ‘Composed from Silence’, which will show in October at Saul Hay Gallery.

At the end of a very full morning, it was back to Manchester. I was disappointed I couldn't stay on for the party and performances at Cross Street Arts in the evening. Amongst other things, the evening featured Claire Doyle’s piece (Matriarchal) Reliquary’ - a ritualistic act in which Claire removed nail clippings from Jane Fairhurst - who was dressed in the costume of a female shaman - to archive her as a secular matriarchal saint. And from the pictures of the evening, it looks as though there was a strong sense of carnival, too – music and a DJ and dancing (and a visit from AL and AL). Cross Street Arts’ deeply-rooted sense of community and celebration are indeed clear and apparent and evident to the world.

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