17 January 2017

North: Identity, Photography, Fashion

Across three rooms at Liverpool's Open Eye Gallery, 'North' plays with the varying perceptions that the humble North of England has attracted, as well as its undeniable influence on fashion, culture, media and music across the world. Putting the oh-so-comical "it's grim up North" mentality to one side, the exhibition celebrates the region's endless creative possibilities. From the Raf Simons parka with Peter Saville graphics from the Fall-Winter 2003 Control collection that made headlines this year for its current value of $20,000, to humble archive Adidas trainers – there are examples from all levels of the unapologetic fashion hierarchy.

Proven by curators Lou Stoppard, editor-at-large of SHOWstudio, and Adam Murray, Manchester-based academic; the culture of northern England is a distinct one; "..the North of England is a bit like Paris or Rio, even if you haven’t been there before you have an idea of what it’s like – the architecture, the smells, the streets." mused Stoppard in an interview with Wonderland. In the exhibition, nostalgic images by Nick Knight are contrasted with Christopher Shannon's garments while Oasis' Gallagher brothers are recreated in knitted jumper form under a rack of Off-White pieces. 

Sponsors of the exhibition, Adidas, lend historical gems from their vast archives, helping us to see just how little has changed in the iconic trainer styles that are synonymous with the region. New collaborative work from Virgil Abloh and Hacienda designer Ben Kelly takes its shape in pillars standing their ground in the front windows of the gallery space, showing how the design elements of the North arguably have as much of an influence on Chicago's creatives as they do kids cutting about the Darlington Corn Exchange.

As expected, the exhibition also highlights the links between fashion and music and the tribal subculture styles that sprung from this – there's even Glen Luchford's original prints from his iconic and first ever shoot, a session with The Stone Roses for The Face back in 1989. Specific concepts like the masculinization that the region evokes for example, are pinpointed and discussed through design and media formats, honing in on what it is exactly that gives the North its cult appeal.

SHOWstudio conducted a series of candid interviews with Northern talents, including Claire Barrow, Simon Foxton, Stephen Jones and Christopher Shannon, which are complimented by interactive imagery courtesy of the modern phenomenon that is google street view. There's a recreation of a typical Northern living room, you sit yourself down on the floral couch that looks to be from around the sixties and on the TV in front of you, you're lead through the streets of a tiny town. You pick up the old telephone on the side table next to you that has "pick me up" scribbled on the handle and hear Claire Barrow talking you through her upbringing in Yarm and it becomes clear that you're swivelling around the designer's hometown. The exhibition provides the perfect mix of interactive and leave-me-alone-I-want-to-look-at-this-image.

From early photography from Jamie Hawkesworth and Alasdair McLellan and truly iconic images from Corinne Day, to work by contemporary Turner prize winners Mark Leckey and Jeremy Deller, the exhibition explains and evidences precisely why Northern style, art and music has the cultural influence that it has. From fashion and football, to Madchester and modern art, the exhibition takes iconic cultural elements of the region and redefines what they mean in a global context – even if it is in Liverpool; a place that an actual Northerner would tell you is most definitely the midlands and not the real North but we won't go there.

‘North’ runs from 6 January – 19 March 2017 at Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool and if you can't make it along, you can have a peek at my gallery of images from the exhibition here

North features the works of: Alasdair McLellan, Glen Luchford, Corinne Day, David Sims, Jamie Hawkesworth, Jason Evans, Alice Hawkins, Mark Leckey, Jeremy Deller, Raf Simons, Gareth Pugh, Paul Smith, Virgil Abloh, New Power Studio, Adidas, Elaine Constantine, Christopher Shannon, Maxwell Sterling, Simon Foxton, Ben Kelly, Stephen Jones, Nick Knight, Peter Saville, John Bulmer, Peter Mitchell, Nik Hartley, Claire Barrow, Humphrey Spender, Thom Murphy, Ewen Spencer, Brett Dee, Humphrey Jennings, Dave Turner, Rob Williams, David Ellison, Greg Leach, John Davies, John Stoddart, Martin Roberts, Michael Robinson, Michelle Sank, Paul O’Donnell, Stephen McCoy, Tom Wood.