Exhibition: ‘small change’

Bob Gaunt visits an exhibition about change in real and imagined cities.

November 29, 2013
3 min read

This thought provoking exhibition at airspace gallery, Stoke, takes its name and inspiration from Nabeel Hamdi’s ‘Small Change: About the Art of Practice and the Limits of Planning in Cities.’ Hamdi’s idea is that planners and designers might act as catalysts to release our inherent talents for imagination and improvisation to improve the cities we live in. This might start, not with a grand design, but with a small practical intervention from which we can effect positive change.

Two other contexts in which this exhibition can be situated might be the latest crisis of capitalism, and the nightmare of climate disaster. Jane Lawson’s ‘Financial Systems Timeline’ forms a wall-length backdrop, charting the recurrent crises and recoveries of capitalism, which seems to start in an Ice Age and brings us up to the very present with contemporary newspaper articles. Somewhere in the middle, Marx looks both backwards and forwards at capitalism’s rises and falls.

Four pieces by Lauren O’Grady are spread around the show. These scale models of landscapes offer few clues to their meaning, but the repeated motif of a snow-white crystal shaped object surreally juxtaposed with a water tower, might suggest an unspoken fear of ecological disaster, the glacier that knocks in the cupboard.

So how have these artists made their interventions against the seemingly elemental forces of Capital and Climate Change?

Mind maps for post-capitalist futures cite already existing alternatives such as the Bristol Pound and Venezuelan communal councils. Presented in a fluid organic aesthetic of floral forms and planetary orbits, they invite the kind of imaginative thinking required to contest the dominant narrative whose demise is inscribed in the Timeline, and whose effects are graphically expressed in Clare Weetman’s animations: ‘Cheetham Road (Eventually everyone had moved)’; and ‘Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here’- on the clearance of working class communities, and forced migration.

A video by Belgian art collective PTTL asks questions about the future use of civic buildings that had previously displaced an established neighbourhood, only to later fall into disuse following administrative reorganisation. But if subtitled video testimony is not your thing, their punchy political posters surely speak a more powerful visual language, addressing questions of urban regeneration.

‘The DIY Common’ is a project to revitalise Cheetham Park and bring community making to Cheetham Hill. The economic poverty of this North Manchester area was a factor in the riots of 2011, but a renovated park shelter has become a focal point for building community networks. With a café using produce made from the park’s plants, the project is a great example of what Nabeel Hamdi advocates. He often gives the example of putting up a bus stop in an urban slum which became a meeting place, a place to study and a basis for a vibrant community.

This exhibition is really just the ‘tip of the iceberg,’ extending far beyond the gallery. The ‘small changes’ exhibited here might catalyse both the spectator and their wider community into making other changes of their own. It gives us a lot to like, a lot to think about, and a lot to act upon.

The Small Change exhibition continues at AirSpace Gallery until 7 December 2013