In the closing stretch of the ultracynical, hyperrational twentieth century peoples minds seem to have gone full-on haywire, conspiracy theories are the common currecy theories are the common currency of bar room conversation; little grey men assassinated JFK, there’s termite DNA in human embryos, Masonic forces control of the Vatican etc.etc.etc.etc.etc.

No one seems to care about ghosts anymore, they are nonsense, relegated to dubious folklore and kiddies books. Problem is that spooks, spectres, phantoms and phantasms not only exist but haunt in scary abundance a disused Victorian mental asylum in Brockhall Village, where a cabal of artists are summoning the sprites and living amongst them. Flux has the evidence…

The “My House and Your House” project is an artist run space (with the world’s most understanding landlord) located at the rather dilapidated ex hospital. Its a residential site born of necessity where artist, tired of paying silly money for rehearsal rooms and studios are gathering to work, exchange ideas, inspire each other, offer practical solutions and even sleep occasionally. This system of support and accomodation operates comunally in Europe and America but has no model in Britain and perhaps this lack of precedent allows the artists to take a playful approach to this experiment. The gallery system has failed many but the inhabitants of My House and Your House have not reacted with mere bittereness, they manoeurve with a funky looseness ¬†impossible within the constraints of the white cube and bitching circuit.

The Furnace artists collective responsible for My House and Your House was initiated by the irrepressible Michael Mayhew, himself the antithesis of the art school snob. Michael’s altruistic approach is strongly informed by the dazzling Utopian assults on culture waged by the dada and surrealist movements. Neither dada or surrealism were inauguated as art per se; but instead set about posing equivocal questions about received culture and our relationship with creativity itself. Dada approached this critique in an angry dark and humoured way with surrealism functioning in a more mystical fashion; both these forces are to be detected in the Furnace’s endeavours, often using materials society has decreed junk or scrap to invoke chance visitations from the other side of art. In their own time the Dadas adn Surrealists were no strangers to the odd bit of the good old fashioned controversy malarkey and Mister Michael Mayhew’s existence on this planet has had a share of such. Michael was ‘politely asked to leave’ Dartington College of Art (an achievement in itself) and after a residency in Rotherhyde decided to return to his ‘owd northern roots’. On his return he had a spell of writing for the Contact Theatre. It was here that the pious attention of the Bishop of Hulme was attracted by a play considering contemporary representations of the image of Christ and spirituality. The learned Bishop’s opinion was that ‘the City of Manchester should ignore him!, not realising taht such comments area CV enhancer for troublesome tykes like our Mike.

Forgive us father, but the visionary work of Furnace and faith in the redeeming qualities of art itself proved too intriguing to ignore and the FluxMobile set off, road map on lap, blundering our way through rural Lancashire towards the heart of darkness. Despite our addled navigational abilities we managed to find a quarry ( a coupled of minor wrong turns here and there but you’ll be fine as they’ll send you a map and you can probably read maps liek any normal human being, or if not, with prior arrangement someone will very kindly be picked up from Langho station adn given a lift to the site).

On the arrival have a wande around the hospital grounds. they are unreservedly beautiful and the hospital itself is elegantly wasted. Large expanses of grass and fields are populated by mainly figurative sculpture made from chunks of rusted cast-iron and stone. In this context they remind one of the shadowy lost souls in search of their elusive final resting place. This impression is amplified to the max by the fact that the Asylum looks like a composite Hammer Horror set with a tangible aura of wierd, thus if staying overnight on no account must you and your friends split up to find the source of that mysterious tapping sound.

One of these field sculptures is a spectral archer sending his arrow through space and time only to discover that age has destroyed his target before the weapon has chance. Another in this series is a cast of a family unit carrying suitcases full of nomadic implications and goodbyes that suitcases contain. We pondered these for a while before making our way indoors past some welcoming slate arrangements and artfully morphed wood. The sculptural work produced by the Furnace collective is defiantly unfettred by the theories and trends that concern us fickle urbanites. It is art that uses materials derived from the land; slate, stone, wood, clay adn are craftily exorcised of their base origins, becoming both about and part of the natural landscape.

The pastoral retreat is regularly host to a variety of visiting shows attracted more by a kind of aesthetic gravitational pull rather conventional channels. On the evening Flux visited the surreal estate, ‘My House and Your House’, the American writer and performer, Rachel Kaplan, was visiting with their piece entitled ‘Come Live with me and You’ll Know Me’, a hypnotic exposition of the rites and rituals of family life. Rachel is internationally renowned as an important interdisciplinary artist based in San Francisco who has collaborated with students and graduates of the European Dance Development Centre in the generation of this four act improvisation. We enjoyed stretches of mesmeric meditation on tropes of female identity juxtaposed with flurries of wild hilarity. Kaplan and Co, describe neurotic experiments and memories of spacial phenomena, claustrophobic and agoraphobic. Being European performance artists , many of the players wore the traditional European performance art uniform-nowt, but the sexuality described was barbed with narcissism and possessed by the livid spirits of the hospital’s hysterical diagnosis, the first of society’s miscredits exiled here. At one point I was offered an apple by one of the performers but remembered a tale of a gentleman accepting such a nibble from a naughty, naked lady, politely declined, perhaps the good Bishop of Hulme resided in me this evening.

Furnace’s ‘My House and Your House’ is deliberately and necessarily anarchic. Its only brief is to create good art! The emphasis of the Brockhall Village groups endeavours is on process, irrespective of media. Dance, painting, sculpture, performance and the electronic arts are all part of the palate available. Twenty four hours a day , seven days a week they bring new objects into the world and resuscitate a few dead ones. Despite all these lofty ambitions and scorching brainstorms the Furnace offers a space to fail if needs be. With this agenda they can’t lose. If all this is a trifle vague, its because any definition of limiting of this adventurous gang, who relish an open minded approach to practice, would by a disservice. Furnace are in the act of remixing their lives. Why not join them?

‘My House and Your House’, is a residential artists colon. It offers basic living accomodation and studios ¬†for 40 artists. A 2000ft exhibition space can be hired for performances, residencies, workshops or conferences. Whatever your idea, they can accomodate it. Limitless possibilities.

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