Tim Garner’s Autumn Irewell – Manchester Mid-Life

On a recent visit to Manchester I dropped in to the ARTZU Gallery and discovered an artist called Tim Garner.

Tim’s work is fascinating. His most recent work in and around Manchester consists of large photographs painted over to bring out relevant effects. For me the dominant theme is of transition. His works are post industrial but they don’t just think about the past – they also look to a future. One picture in particular exemplified this for me – it is called Autumn Irewell.

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Autumn Irewell differs from some of Tim’s other work in that it is less obviously “post industrial” – other works by him show disused mills, warehouses and so on. However this is most definitely post industrial – the river itself is and was navigable and part of what gave Manchester the ability to import raw materials and distribute finished goods. It also contains within it the LS Lowry Luxury Hotel. I’m not sure I can conceive of a more post-industrial concept than is contained in the phrase “LS Lowry Luxury Hotel”.

A little about Tim – Tim is my age – middle age (slight clenching of teeth there). Like me, Tim grew up in the country and came to Manchester later. We both moved away from Manchester and the occasional returns expose and underline the enormous changes that have happened in that city over the last three decades. Manchester is reinventing itself, just as, I am beginning to see, people do too.

For me, this is a mid-life picture. It is a picture that illustrates a complex past of many changes, and yet still a future, albeit uncertain. This picture reeks with symbolism of time: a river, a bridge, a time of day, and a specific season – and that season is of course Autumn. As with Tim’s other works this is paint layered onto a photo – but the aspect ratio of the photo is that of a snapshot, a polaroid – a point in time.

The bridge – which appears more sharply in the original than it does in reproduction – is a high tech, computer designed suspension bridge. We are invited to read left to right – the support member is on the left – in the past – and it reaches out across the river – the landing point is indistinct. But the sun is shining onto the future bank of the river.

I think that a meaningful work of art is like a poem – it gives you different things when you go back to it, and gives different things at different ages. But just as I like the poetry of Martin Farley because he and I are similar ages and have similar childhood backgrounds, I feel that I can resonate with the work of Tim Garner – even if I am getting things out of it which he didn’t intend to put in! Anyway, in the musings of a day off, this is what I get from this picture, today – my snaphot.

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Why I won’t be going to the Roman Colosseum again

A few years ago I wrote a piece about the way that as a society we tend to forget past horrors and end up glorifying things that we surely wouldn’t, if we could manage a little empathy for people who were basically no different to us.

A further experience in this vein happened recently when I went around the Colosseum in Rome. Some frankly pretty shitty stuff happened to people there. People who were sentenced to death “ad bestias” were killed by wild animals in front of 75,000 baying spectators. I suspect a significant number were crying for their mothers while it happened. Unarmed people pitted against gladiators, slaves forced to kill or be killed. Thousands of people put to death brutally and publicly; imagine being pulled from a dark cell into the bright sunlight of an arena and thousands of people shouting and cheering as you are chased by a starving animal, or as you have to decide whether you are going to attempt to stave off death for a few minutes, possibly at the cost of another person’s life.

So when visiting the place where these atrocities happened, what kind of demeanour would you expect from the visitors? Smiles and selfies, laughter and chatter wouldn’t be the main thing for me. And yet, times hundreds, people walking round, posing for photos, and even the ones who read the factual, non-glorifying information that set all of this out clearly, grinning like idiots.

This may seem like a small complaint – after all it was a long time ago wasn’t it? Well, no, it wasn’t really – in evolutionary terms the people were indistinguishable from us, and a couple of thousand years is a blink. The speed at which our system of ethics, culture and values has developed is astonishing by comparison, but it can clearly move quickly – in any direction.

This is a distasteful comparison, but I am going to make it – how many years will it be before visitors to Auschwitz are trooping around in laughing groups, deciding whether to be photographed with the guy in the SS Guard uniform or the one in the prison uniform? I hope: never, but I wouldn’t bet that it won’t be happening a couple of thousand years from now.