Centre of the Periphery

Pipeline are showcasing six artists working in an old Manchester tram depot
By Lara Monro | Art | 4 October 2023

Opening today, Centre of the Periphery, a new group exhibition at London’s Pipeline brings together the work of six Manchester-based artists – Tommy Harrison, Parham Ghalamdar, Robin Megannity, Nina Chua, Nicola Ellis, and Richard Dean Hughes – who, while embracing different practices and processes, all operate in a shared environment; an old tram depot in Greater Manchester.

Since the 1990s, the government has continued to favour London as the country’s cultural hub, which has unsurprisingly had a significant impact on creative practitioners and arts organisations outside of the capital. Take the government’s national spending on culture, which until last year gave the capital almost half (47 per cent). However, in 2020, the £1.6bn Culture Recovery Fund, which was implemented to prevent a collapse of the entire art sector during the pandemic, was the catalyst for a shake-up in how public funds within arts & culture are distributed across the UK.

In February 2022 former culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, released the government’s ‘Levelling Up’ strategy. This Conservative election promise included a bold commitment to significantly raise cultural spending outside of London. Unsurprisingly, it was an act that caused controversy amongst many high-profile London organisations who lost out on significant public funds as a result. They included Camden Art Centre, where subsidies dropped from £920,000 to £600,000; the Serpentine Galleries (£1,194,000 to £708,000); and the Southbank Centre (£18.4m to £16.8m).

‘Towards Words’, Richard Dean Hughes

On the flip side, the strategy has led to a 21.5 percent increase in public funds being invested into regional cities and arts organisations. Bradford, UK City of Culture 2025, has received £4.9 million to redevelop the intercultural arts centre Kala Sangam and other cultural assets, to establish a network of local arts hubs and support the successful delivery of its year as the UK City of Culture, and beyond. In Stoke-on-Trent, the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery has received £5 million to build a wrap-around extension to improve facilities and accessibility and support local education, health and wellbeing projects.

The pressure to back regional arts organisations has simultaneously led to a strong emphasis being placed on supporting regional artists within their local cities and areas as well as in the UK’s art epicentre, London. For Director and Founder of Pipeline in Fitzrovia, London, Tatiana Cheneviere, prioritising emerging artists outside of the city was an essential component of her exhibition programme;

“Pipeline has a unique format. During every exhibition a work by the artist next in the program is presented in the end room of the gallery. This work is there to provide a step into the artist’s upcoming show and give context to their practice. I can only think that this idea must have come from experience working with a gallery that always looks at the bigger picture of an artist’s work. I wanted to be able to give early career artists, many of whom are based in the UK and outside of London, the same wide or retrospective lens that an established artist might receive at the peak of their career. I am lucky to have a gallery in the centre of London and feel it is important to use that position wisely. Regional artists already have fantastic representation and presence in their local communities. The advantage Pipeline brings is exposing the work of these artists outside of where they may normally be shown.”

‘The Red Mist’, Nicola Ellis

Showcasing the work of six Manchester-based artists, Cheneviere’s new exhibition, Centre of the Periphery, marks the gallery’s first anniversary and honours this group of artists who Cheneviere first met during an initial studio visit with visual artist Tommy Harrison in 2021;

“Tommy and I started a conversation about his work which soon led to a visit to the studio in Manchester, which is where I met the other participating artists. The studio was a spectacular place, with enormous, high ceilings and lots of light flooding in. When I left on the train back to London, I had a lasting impression of Tommy’s work but also the experience of the studio and its other inhabitants. They were all just on a level, making very different work and all at different points in their careers but at such a standard. Selecting the inaugural exhibition of the gallery was made easy once I met with Tommy’s paintings and working environment, I barely hesitated.”

Centre of the Periphery will be the first time the artists have exhibited together; showcasing their stark differences as well as the subtle overlaps and influences that naturally occur from sharing their old tram depot studio space. Through their choice of medium, we observe each artist creating unique disorder and conversations beyond the confines of their studio walls.

As Cheneviere has continued to look outside of London for artists to inform her exhibition programme, she has grown a strong connection with Manchester’s emerging art scene, developing a great respect for its talented pool of artists;

“After being repeatedly impressed by the various artists I visited, especially in Manchester, I looked deeper and discovered the painting education at Manchester School of Art led by Ian Hartshorne was a backbone for many of the artists I was drawn to. I think the art education in Manchester has laid a really solid foundation for some of the most exciting work being made by recent graduates UK-wide. Manchester has always had a creative history but there are new projects developing all over which is great to see. The artists I have worked with so far all have a huge amount of integrity in their work which means it never feels contrived, that seems to be an inherent quality of the place.”

In Centre of the Periphery, we observe each artist’s ability to turn away from the institutionalised studio model as they inhabit a private and repurposed space that allows them to challenge the traditions of their individual mediums. Likewise, it is fully representative of the ethos Cheneviere wishes to promote; a progressive approach that champions the rich and diverse talent of emerging artists operating outside of London.

Centre of the Periphery opens opens 5th October and runs until 2nd December.

‘Puppet Show II’, Tommy Harrison

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