A Modest Show explores food, hospitality, consumption and dining across multiple venues in Manchester. It’s the local counterpart to the British Art Show, a national touring exhibition organised every five years by Hayward Gallery.
The exhibition features 42 artists living and / or working in Greater Manchester who were chosen following an open call out last year. Fayre Share Fayre, dubbed the ‘main course’ of the exhibition, is the largest collaboration within the programme forming a central hub for the show in the South Gallery of The Whitworth.
‘Fayre’ is the Middle English word to describe food or a market and ‘share’ a virtue and economic instrument. The open-plan exhibition space is similar to a market in that it showcases a range of art and artists together in a shared space and many pieces in the exhibition explore the economics of food. Once in the space, exhibition visitors are free to explore and sample a ‘taste’ of each work.
The high walls of the South Gallery are a pastel pink, a shade reminiscent of human flesh. I feel as if I’m in the belly of the gallery, questioning whether I am the consumer or the consumed.
I’m consumed in this infinite loop, thinking of how we blind ourselves from the reality of food.
The start of the show is marked by an experimental visual and sound piece titled ‘Flesh and Fantasy’ by John Powell-Jones (2017). The work explores the idea of how we use language to distance ourselves from the origin of the products we consume. Inspired by European folklore, body horror, survival horror and science fiction, the film shows a person in a hooded piece picking up and dropping cuts of meat.
I’m consumed in this infinite loop, thinking of how we blind ourselves from the reality of food. We name meat to distance ourselves from the animal and the life it came from. The filming and screening of ‘Flesh and Fantasy’ adds another layer between us, the viewer and the reality that it represents.
Artist Scottee’ s work ‘The Legacy of Poverty’ (2021) is a red and black letter-board marquee. Echoing the billboards made by artist Jenny Holzer in the 1970s, Scottee’s piece illuminates political injustice through language; calling out the Conservative government’s treatment of starving kids within the UK. In Scottee’s own words, “I don’t make fine art for those who know about the shit I am talking about”.
In Scottee’s own words, “I don’t make fine art for those who know about the shit I am talking about”.
I leave the hollow belly of the gallery and venture out into Whitworth park. Here I am met with a piece by Hilary Jack titled ‘Unsettled Ground’ (2022) a series of architectural models of lost buildings in Salford. Ending the show outside acts as a reminder of the lockdowns we endured and a nudge to enjoy the freedom we have to explore once again.
Outside I reflect on the work I have seen which questions the relationship between food, humanity and political power and return to works that had more of a political focus, such as Jack’s ‘Corruption’ (2020). In the dual screen video work titled a hardboiled red and white striped stick of Blackpool rock with the word ‘corruption’ running through it is dropped from a height, crashing to the floor alongside a printed paper of Boris Johnson.
A tweet by political journalist and activist George Monbiot inspired Jack’s work in which he said “corruption runs through this country like words in a stick of rock”, regarding lucrative contracts dealt by the government during COVID.
The work brings to the forefront how the ethics of consumption and politics intersect with the exhibitions central themes of food and ‘hospitality’. Fayre Share Fayre is a reminder of the system in which both food and hospitality coexist, where greed, hunger, ethics, pleasure and community combine.
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Elizabeth Adejumo is a young creative who is interested in all things cultural, in particular; race and gender theory, the power of social media and music. Based in Manchester and London.