The Gospel According to….. (Part 1)

This spring marks the 30th anniversary of one of the most critically acclaimed and influential bands in modern musical history, The Smiths. What better way to celebrate the musical mark they have made than with a singing, refrigerated bear, a conspiracy theory about the death of Diana and a whole lot of tap dancing; all in the name of art.

Lucienne Cole’s Dance To Music, Lars Laumann’s Fortelling the Death of Diana and other alternative and interesting pieces have been brought together to pay tribute to the band as part of an exhibition at MMU’s The Holden Gallery, Manchester. The Gospel According To… (Part 1) is curated by CUBE’s Creative Director Jane Anderson. The aim of the exhibition is to explore The Smiths and their cultural impact by bringing it into a contemporary context.

Formed in Manchester, The Smiths made a massive global impression. This is marked by the fact that the artists and where the art was made spans several countries, adding an international twist to the affair. These artists have individually, and quite uniquely, re-interpreted the band’s cult status into a variety of mixed media pieces as part of the anniversary celebration. And The Holden Gallery offers a beautifully clean and open space in which to explore the pieces.

In the middle of the room, on top of a table is Lucienne Cole’s piece. Tap dancing to Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, her performance, recorded at the Fabaret event and full of technicoloured tremors and transmission interference, is captured and played on a tiny grey TV.

There’s an expansive collection of original images by photographer Stephen Wright whose iconic portrayal of the band has become synonymous with how they are visually perceived. His widely applauded ‘Salford Lads Club’ image of the four members appeared inside The Queen Is Dead and now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

Displayed alongside his history defining collection is a humorous, and oddly nostalgic, collection of modern day equivalents. Their grimy colour pose an interesting contrast to the original monochrome set. Jeremy Deller has included a couple of his luminously bold prints and Jan Timme has painted his work 5 Words, straight onto the gallery wall. A piece that is almost invisible but very there, you have to walk the width of it to read “Work is a four letter word’ recalling the B-side of Girlfriend in a Coma.

Laumann’s Fortelling the Death of Diana occupies an entire mini theatre booth inside which, spliced cinematic clips are played on constant loop. This is over-laced with a recording of the artist explaining his theory of how Morrissey foretold Princess Diana’s death in God Save The Queen. Another piece, Bootleg Booth, again offers you solace in the darkness of replayed video clips, digitalised and repeated in all their lo-fi glory courtesy of Brave Music Agency.

Striking a counteractive display is Andrew Bracey’s Karhu This Charming Man. Created in Helsinki, the piece features the Finnish traditional god, the bear, transformed into a karaoke singing, symbol of a beer company. Sat, as a box of beer inside a fridge, the bear mouths This Charming Man beside jars of pickles and cartons of fruit juice.

The Gospel According To… (part 1) runs at The Holden Gallery from 16th March till 4th May. In conjunction, (Part 2) will be held at The Cornerhouse, Manchester on April 12th. This panel discussion will look in retrospect to a 1980’s Manchester as inhabited by The Smiths. It will explore the social and cultural politics of the time and discuss how this affected the formation of the band and the music produced, which went on to have such global resonance. The grand weight and impact of their cultural legacy is what the artists in (Part 1) have re-evaluated into something fresh and new that represents where the band sit in the present.

An absolute must for fans of The Smiths, drummer Mike Joyce, who was at the preview, accurately summed things up. When I asked him if he was enjoying the exhibition he replied “Very much so. It’s thought provoking, funny and at times, a bit scary! Just like the records. Perfect.”

For more information visit The Holden Gallery website

All images © Anne Louise Kershaw

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