This year, the North has been in the headlines a lot. Hull is the UK's capital of culture and Manchester once again showed its enduring strength, solidarity and rich creativity in the face of June's tragic terrorist attacks. Brexit, of course, was a conversation starter. What is really going on up North?
And now, a new exhibition, championing the North's artistic influence on culture, fashion, music and art, opens at Somerset House.
Agyness Deyn. Rawtenstall, 2008 (c) Alasdair McLellan
North: Fashioning Identity first opened its doors earlier this year at Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool. Following rave reviews and huge Northern success, Somerset House took on the challenge to host a bigger, better version down South.
According to the curators – SHOWstudio editor-at-large, Lou Stoppard, and lecturer at Manchester School of Art and Central Saint Martin, Adam Murray – North, Fashioning Identity, 'unpicks the themes and tropes present in these collective visions of northern England, from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Birkenhead, and from Doncaster to Preston, considering why these regions, or representations of these regions, are increasingly a source of inspiration and still so idealised today.'
The show is a veritable visual feast, featuring a panoply of media: art, fashion, famous faces, television programmes and cult records, alongside fashion photoshoots, documentaries and record sleeves.
Jamie Hawkesworth, From Preston Bus Station, 2010-2015 © Jamie Hawkesworth
In the thematically curated exhibition, we see photographs of women in overbearing hoop earrings, big scrunchies, with top-knot pony-tails, rural, bleak landscapes and cityscapes with washing lines, cobbled streets and thick factory smoke billowing from industrialist buildings.
Elsewhere, in a poignant series of images taken by Doncaster-born Alasdair McLellan, we see 'stereotypical' Northern subcultures dissected. Burly looking men are photographed in public places including pubs, clubs, bars and stadiums while 'their' women are photographed in domestic environments. It’s no wonder, as the curators emphasise, that 'a highly masculine, hetronormative and often oppressively white image dominates'.
Tom Wood, Pink lipstick,1983 © Tom Wood
Look out for Glen Luchford's images of The Stone Roses for Face magazine, as well as stellar photography by Shirley Barker, who has been capturing Northern cities and their inhabitants since the 1950s. Nottingham-born fashion designer Paul Smith's Japanese sub-label R Newbold is also worth perusing. But the real talking point is the interview films in the final gallery, created by SHOWstudio.com and complemented by typical Northern scenes from Tony Hornecker. Small but perfectly formed, they transport you to another world, albeit it fleetingly.
Housed in the lofty, airy galleries of Somerset House’s East Wing, North: Fashioning Identity is one of the most ambitious but beautifully curated small-scale exhibitions on in London now. It’s engaging and lively, and we bet you’ll find yourself asking: Should I finally move out of London?
Expect nostalgia; expect energy. This is a great intro to the great 'up North’.
|What||North: Fashioning Identity review, Somerset House|
|Where||Somerset House, Strand, London, WC2R 1LA | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Temple (underground)|
08 Nov 17 – 04 Feb 18, Opening times 11am til 8pm on Wednesday, Thursdays and Fridays
|Price||£7/ £5 concessions|
|Website||Click here for more via Somerset House|