Art Sheffield Life: A User's Manual

By Briers, David | Art Monthly, May 2010 | Go to article overview

Art Sheffield Life: A User's Manual


Briers, David, Art Monthly


* Art Sheffield Life: A User's Manual

various venues Sheffield 6 March to 1 May

Sheffield Contemporary Art Forum is a coalition formed to raise the city's profile as a locus for contemporary art, to build audiences for art and to provide opportunities for artists based in the city. During the past decade, SCAF has organised a series of biennale-style exhibition projects. These now comprise a single exhibition spread across civic, independent and artist-run exhibition spaces, in which artists with an international profile are shown with, and unsegregated from, Sheffield-based artists. Sometimes they are the same artists. Part of the distinctive experience of viewing Art Sheffield is the act of perambulating between the six city-centre exhibition spaces within which it happens, venturing away from the shops and into Sheffield's hidden post-industrial hinterland.

In 2008 the internationally peripatetic art critic Jan Verwoert was invited to provide a framing commentary for the event, collaborating on its realisation with SCAF and the artists. The mind-tickling text he wrote provoked considerably more interest than hitherto. He also introduced a retrospective element, interestingly positioning within the exhibition examples of East European conceptual art from the .970s. This idea has been perpetuated by the 20.0 Netherlands-based co-curators Frederique Bergholtz and Annie Fletcher. One outcome of their interest in examining the legacies of feminism is the interpolation within their selection, amongst other things, of Susan Hiller's analytical study of 305 picture postcards, Dedicated to the Unknown Artists, 1976. It was Hiller's installation, in fact, which was the starting point for this whole project. Otherwise the exhibition is conditioned by something else from the 1970s: the spirit of Georges Perec. The title of his 1978 book Life: A User's Manual has been taken as that of the exhibition, though it doesn't matter if you have never read the book. Perec chose good titles for his books, good enough to convey the alluring flavour of a large group exhibition. The quality that we can transfer to the exhibition from Perec's novel derives from its detailed, Oulipian examinations of the personal belongings and daily domestic habits of the fictional residents of a block of flats. A similar intimacy of scale is intended to inform this exhibition, one that also echoes Perec's long-abiding preoccupation with the 'infra-ordinary' and his coining of the related term 'endotic', the opposite of 'exotic'. Bergholtz and Fletcher suggest that the transformative potential of unspectacular everyday acts can offer a different path through the current global crisis--an appealing agenda. The exhibition also explores, say the curators, the notion of 'affect'. Used as a noun (though occasionally also used as a verb in the explanatory texts appended to the exhibition), 'affect' is a word for which it is extremely difficult to find a clear or consistent definition. Via Deleuze's version of Spinoza's affectus, the word has entered academic discourse about critical art practice, but otherwise it may remain as confusing for general visitors to the exhibition as it was for me.

In the mixed groupings of artists in the exhibition, the curators have successfully achieved their aim of creating a dialogue between the works, while allowing some intentional contradictions to surface. …

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