Friday, 22 March 2013

Rogues Galleries, Chester

If I'm honest most of my time spent in Chester has been swayed towards digging in Charity Shops. Rarely do I make a purely cultural visit to the city, well not since the Toy Museum closed. This week sees artists taking up residence in various empty shops across the city under the banner Rogues Galleries. Its aim seems to be to explore the nature of the commodification of well just about everything and the value of things. I hear the word performance drifting down from on the row above me I have first reached my first stop.

Upon entering I'm cheerful greeted and have the goings on explained. I quickly head upstairs to directly meet a man dressed in an ill-fitting suit, who has the practiced joviality of any salesman. This is Harry Giles who is offering a free debt counselling service for visitors today. I accept his offer and he takes me into his office, where the walls are covered in scrawl and graphs and numbers, like the Cave Painting edition of PowerPoint. Mr Giles begins to throw out some jargon and gets me to think what I owe people and what people owe me. I realise that this is something that I don't really think about. Mr Giles gets me to visualise my debt as a 'monster' and I select a distant shuffling zombie, which is precisely how a like to think about my debt off in the distance awaiting a kill shot which will solve my financial problems. Which makes me feel strangely better. If this performances aim is to make the participant to think about what is meant by debt it done that to a degree, on reflection I wonder if a view of how other people dealt with their debt may of have a greater impact.

Still I feel pretty better about handling my debt.

I have a brief look at the videos on display there well-made but none really sing to me. If I'm honest I've come with a performance bias.

Talking of which I fall into Two Destination Language's piece Storyville, it seems like I've walked into their living room. For their piece they have brought all their belongs and have offered them for sale. These items have been in storage so have been existing in a value status. If an object is not interacted with does its value change, does the inaccessibility of the object increase said objects value. These are the questions that come from my conversation with the artists, they engagingly tell me of the histories behind certain objects and I'm happy to discuss these values. We agree about the value of homemade objects. As I sit there surrounded by the collected objects created by peoples passage through life I begin to make connections with the Mark Leckey exhibition at The Bluecoat. Both speak of the alchemy that occurs when value, whether it be cultural, personal or monetary, becomes attached to an object.

I also have to admit there is a slight voyeuristic thrill in going through someone stuff.

Before leaving I have a quick game of Fruit and Veg chess, as the rules change I become aware of how quickly my attitude to having and losing things change along with them. Though an actual working knowledge of chess might have helped.

It's on to The Scrivener's based in the old Odeon cinema. Here I find a small space where Octopi ribbons of paper hang in the air, while a lady types away in the shops window. These are two pieces which deal with the value of words of the cost of communication, what are words worth. The typist in the window is Rowan Lear or The Scrivener she has set herself the task of transcribing an old book of Chester's history. She injects her own thought about the city and what is happening directly in front of her, collapsing two histories into each other. I feel that this piece is about the value of writing of the production of words, of how we transcribe meaning through the written word. Through that it also touches on the different forms of memory and how valuable that is and whether history can be commoditised.

Sharing this space is Heard Words a machine which spits out words, well tries to make sense of the word inputted into it. Speaking into a microphone your words are decoded or recoded by an invisible machine who spits out what it thinks you said. What comes out of the machine is quite often radically different to what went in; it's like a machine which converts everyday speech into beat poetry. I can't help but thing of Burroughs and Gysin as this mashed up beat poem forms in coils around my feet. The whole thing feels like a celebration of gibberish, a point towards the fallacy of words and therefore if communication can become this confused then where is its true value? It's also one of those pieces where the technology used to produce it provides fascination rather than distraction.

I stand outside reading Rowan's words and looking at Simon Faried's collected newspapers before moving on.

I am heading towards the Grosvenor Centre, all plastic shiny facades to find The Haberdashery. It's a little quiet I gravitate towards Anoushka Athique's Repair Stations. A small confession when I read about this piece I thought it will be a great opportunity to get my button sewn back onto my jacket. It's a simple piece where Athique will repair something you own in exchange for a story. It's odd coming up with a story and like many of the other people before me I come up with a 'story' that is about my personal history in relation to Chester. If you're wondering my first date at the now defunct Odeon. As I attempt to tale my story there's something at the back of my mind which makes me think about the history of storytelling and how this apparently unassuming piece is somehow connected to a grand history, of a different time when a tale was currency. Or is that just a myth?

I had arrived too late to catch Secret Door Theatre, and Kate Gater-Davies sound piece doesn't really engage me it feels like it can be developed more or needs to be presented in a different way.

Before I leave altogether I return to take part in Two Language Destinations auction, where the artist's engage and amuse. We also get to see subjective value of objects in action especially when an expensive piece of fabric fails to meet expectations and is sadly removed from the auction. I also get a really nice chocolate as well.

So what did I think of Rouges Galleries as a whole, well I found some interesting and involving works and I felt that the works fitted within the overall theme. Whether it was my bias towards the performance pieces I found the installation pieces to be less engaging or seemingly not as developed as the performance pieces. On the bus ride home I wonder what ambitions Chester Performs have for future versions of Rogues Galleries a North Western version of the Fierce or In-between Time Festivals? If so then this is something our cultural hubs of Liverpool and Manchester should be aware of.





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