Review: Culture Shifts: Local at Open Eye Gallery

Image from ‘In the Pink Room’ by Stephanie Wynne with Stephanie Fawcett and Tomorrow’s Women Wirral.

Culture Shifts: Local
Open Eye Gallery
, until 22nd December 2017

Words, Patrick Kirk-Smith

Artists working for communities, not communities working for artists. Culture Shifts, the title of this exhibition collection, does a lot of work in this show; initially it sets out the stall for an underrepresented culture to be pinned up in the gallery, but that’s far from the line this exhibition follows.

Culture Shifts isn’t just about representing cultures and exhibitions across the region, that’s far too simple. It’s about moving cultural production forwards, from something that takes and takes and takes, while telling people they’re receiving, into something that gives.

The project leading to this exhibition didn’t set out seeking to get some nice photos to put on a wall to show how well this photographer or that photographer can represent a community. It put photographers with communities and let them teach each other. The groups learned new skills, and the artists learned to listen.

Significantly too, this is not a standalone exhibition. This is the last of six exhibitions throughout the Liverpool City Region since 2016. I’ve already reviewed Winds of Change at Kirkby Gallery. An embracing exhibition that shows the story of, photographer, Tony Mallon working with local women’s group, Golden Years Group, from Northwood, Kirkby (read the review here).

The linked exhibitions were at Williamson Art Gallery, Wirral, Brindley Theatre, Halton, and The Atkinson, Southport, with pop ups and events in Granby, St Helens and Tate Liverpool. Each display was perhaps summed up better by those who produced it than where it was – while it is undeniable that that geography plays a significant part in how this exhibition may influence future ate production around Merseyside.

What can be understood from the groups involved, Sefton Youth Voice, New Beginnings, Women of Windmill Hill, Widnes Vikings Golden Generation, Wirral Change, Tomorrow’s Women Wirral, Surf Dementia Group, Granby Four Streets CLT, and groups linked to the St Helens glass industry, is that their grounding in the communities they serve defines what they do. It’s that grounding that artist often miss, passing through worlds they don’t really belong to, producing work about things they don’t understand. None of these groups let that happen, they dragged their artists in and got everything they could from that experience

And true to the methods of the exhibition, Open Eye Gallery have a huge stack of papers to take away, detailing stories of individuals who wanted to share their stories away from the gallery walls. A wonderfully designed object in its own right, the paper splits into posters, each with a separate story to tell. If you see the show, make sure to grab one, find a coffee and just sit in a quiet corner for a moment.

Culture Shifts is as important to arts organisers as it is for you or I. An exhibition that is openly trying to move a selfish culture of arts production forward at a very fast pace.