North: Fashioning Identity at The Civic, Barnsley, explores the way the North of England is depicted, constructed and celebrated in photographs, artworks and fashion collections. The show looks at the style and cultural heritage of the region, considering truth, myth and the spaces in-between. Aesthetica speaks to Curator Adam Murray about the show.
A: Why is it important to stage this exhibition in 2019? How does it tie into wider social and political dialogues around identity?
AM: Curator Lou Stoppard and I began the project in 2015. At the time we both felt it was an important topic because of the political projects and social and cultural issues of the time – such as The Northern Powerhouse and Brexit. I don’t think either of us could have predicted that the subjects would remain so prevalent, right through to this incarnation of the exhibition. Regional identity plays such an important role in social and political dialogue and this project aims to recognise this.
A: How does the exhibition celebrate the international influence of the North?
AM: It identifies, for the first time, the global reach that the North of England has had in fashion. For example, major designers such as Virgil Abloh and Raf Simons – both at the top of their industry – directly reference ideas and themes from the North. You also have a whole range of photographic practice that is destined for a global audience. If this work did not resonate with audiences around the world then it simply would not be commissioned. It is important to point out that the exhibition is not just a celebration – it also asks questions and encourages audiences to reflect on this influence.
A: Fashioning Identity spans work dating back over 80 years. What recurring themes and motifs are revealed?
AM: There are many. We have made some hints at these in the way the work is displayed and the accompanying texts. However, we are very aware that these are not distinctive themes and motifs, therefore we don’t want to identify them too definitively. We encourage the audiences to see which relates to them and develop their own interpretation.
A: The exhibition features over 100 photographs, garments and artworks. Do you have any highlights from the presentation?
AM: It was a real joy to work with set designer Tony Hornecker. He was able to bring innovation into the way the themes of the exhibition are communicated through challenging exhibition design. The tree that he constructed to display the John Alexander Skelton collection is a real highlight, along with the individual room sets designed for the in-depth interview films that we made in collaboration with SHOWstudio.
A: What do you hope audiences take away from the show?
AM: Throughout the development of the exhibition, Lou and I have been very aware that the show will appeal to a broad range of audiences. This is one of the strengths of the project. For some, it will appeal as an opportunity to remember certain places or experiences that mean a lot to them. For others, they will learn about parts of England they were perhaps not familiar with. Some will relish the opportunity to see work by major photographers, artists and designers. For a younger generation, we hope that they may feel like their own experiences are just as valid. For regional identity to keep developing, it is important that they are motivated to produce work based on their own lives.
North: Fashioning Identity runs until 21 December. Find out more here.
Lead image: Photograph by Alasdair McLellan,Tickhill Road, 2014.