The Conversation: Grandfathers’ Houses

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A conversation between two artists about their work.


Josef asks the questions, Lee answers.


How did the idea of the exhibition begin to form?

After my Taid (grandfather) died two years ago, I visited his bungalow where I’d lived on and off throughout my childhood, returning frequently as an adult. That last visit was to say goodbye to the place, to be there in such a personal, formative place one last time. I went there with my mother. The furniture had gone, it was being sold and it had been redecorated. Only the carpet really remained as evidence of someone’s personal taste. I took pictures, trying to savour being there for the last time while my consciousness was overwhelmed with the impossibility that I could be there for a last time – this house in which I’d always been.


We discussed it and your own life, currently in your own grandfather’s house. I think you pounced on it right then, it seemed like such a rich vein of experience, identity and place.


Why did this exhibition and the work in it need to be be shown?

The work leads us.  We’re just conduits for the play of these structures.  We’re caught in the matrix, sites of human frailty cross-contaminated by the effects of these forces: identity and place. We’re not just drawn to their pull, they warp the space of our experience. We are configured by them and The Manchester Art Authority is our attempt to gain a quick glimpse over our shoulders, to articulate those forces that form us.


Was the exhibition a success?

Personally and relatively – yes.


How would you sum up the work in one word?



Did you feel there was a clear idea underpinning the work?

There were strong ideas in the initial conception, the gestation, curation and installation. They were not homogeneous or singular – they were united. The Manchester Art Authority holds no truck with the single, the individual – it is a multiplicity; an organ of dynamism.


Why was this exhibition not sentimental?

It was riven through with emotional sincerity. Sentimentalism is the craft of procuring an emotional response deliberately and so it is always necessarily contrived. The work in Grandfathers’ Houses was not led by the desire to create a specific kind of response, it was rather an opportunity to think through the matrix of place and identity in which we are all caught.


What was the one thing you are most proud of with this exhibition?

People genuinely engaging with the work.


What one thing would you change?

The luxury of time to proof-read before installation.


Where next?

Up, up and away…


Lee asks the questions, Josef answers.


Why did the ideas of Grandfathers’ Houses rise to the surface and persist over time?

It came out of long discussions about our connection with these space. Lee had his connection to this past place reignited by recent experience and I had been living in this house for some time living in and with the same memories as I grew my own family. The title (which  I seem to recall came along quite early) kept jumping back into my mind and sparking ideas for work and responses, again shaped through our discussion of the themes it raised: place, space, shared memory and family mythology.


If there was a budget what would you have budgeted for?

A structural element – a plinth or a space to display specific objects that had a connection to the two houses.  I would have also liked to experiment with a better way to hang the large wall piece.


This is not a site specific work. Or is it?

I don’t think it started out that way but when the work and the site came together I really couldn’t see it existing (in its current form) in any other space.


How does this project relate to Pomona Is Rising?

A focus on space and a response to it. Pomona was more abstracted as we adopted it whereas these spaces both had a deeper resonance with us. The use of a floor outline was a conscious link but only because we like the idea of marking a space which as a visitor you can feel inside or outside of.


Do you now reflect differently on the grandfather’s house in which you live, seen through the prism of this work?

I feel like the house is more mine now as I have created something unique in it and of it. In a strange way, focusing on the past of it also gave me a sense of moving on from it.


What kinds of responses have there been from other Manchester based creatives?

I was really pleased that people saw there were deeper points of abstraction underpinning the work and that there was a conscious and successful attempt to avoid sentimentality. It was positive that people came and engaged with it; when you produce the work you really want it to be seen and experienced. We made the exhibition, people came.


What was most difficult about the overall process of this project and why?

Installing work in an unfamiliar place under a very tight time pressure. However, the experience of doing it was in itself incredibly positive because we did it and created something very special in the time available.


How will your experience with this project inform the future work of The Manchester Art Authority?

Its given me further confidence to trust in our ideas, create the work and exhibit it. The process of finding and working with Insitu also made me feel that seeking out non-traditional spaces is something that works for us and our work and that the process of adapting and responding to place is a strong theme that we keep returning to. It was also a huge learning curve in all aspects of planning, curating and responding to an exhibition that will make us better placed for the next one.

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