I had been meaning for a while to visit Manchester Art Gallery’s current exhibition by the Mexican-Canadian electronic artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, and blue skies and sunshine on Saturday convinced me it was the right sort of day to take a train across the Pennines, and meet my mother for a birthday outing.
The Leeds-Manchester trans-pennine route is quite possibly the most beautiful mainline rail journey in the UK. On a fine autumnal day it is breathtaking; or at least it would be if you could see through the congealed grime of the carriage windows. The brighter the day, the harder to view. Blinding sunshine means only tantalising occasional glimpses of scenery when the train flashes through a shadow patch.
At Piccadilly, I had twenty minutes of carry-on farce trying to meet up with my mother. I had suggested Cafe Nero as the rendezvous, but was foiled by Piccadilly being a rare Nero-free zone. The Costa alternative caused more confusion since Costa is omnipresent on the concourse. My mother in the meantime was lurking in an upper-level Lavazza. We spent so much time missing each other we had no time for coffee and had to go straight to lunch.
Rafael however made it all worthwhile. I am sometimes wary of technological art being more about novelty than substance, but ‘Recorders’ succeeded in exciting, surprising and involving the visitor with the pieces and installations, and yet disturbing with the insidious implications of the underlying technology. On the light side, whispering into microphones, waving in front of hidden cameras and dancing before projected light reminded me of the early innocent days of surveillance technology when you could spot yourself in the local petrol station security camera. Who wasn’t confused by the failure of such cameras to reflect the conscious movement you made to better see yourself on the screen?
In Rafael’s work, the visitor becomes actively complicit in each piece, and in the excited enjoyment and awed viewing of the results, the alternative ways in which contemporary society may use this technology is momentarily obscured and forgotten. A metaphor emerges for the general tendency of society to embrace the here and now of technology and consistently choose to ignore its potentially deeper, more sinister implications.
Concurrently showing at the gallery is an exhibition of Goya’s etchings from the collection. Etchings are an art form which reproduce well, but despite being familiar with many of these prints from books, the chance to see them close-to, in their aged glory, is an opportunity not to be missed. Goya’s printmaking technical virtuosity is always inspiring, but even more so is the enduring human content of his work. Menacing, threatening, amusing, witty: all of life encapsulated in some of the most extraordinary imagery ever created by imagination.
Go if you can.