Monday, 11 August 2014

Nostalgia, bulldozers, and Humberto Velez’s ‘The Storming’

Early next year, Cornerhouse relocates and is reborn as HOME on First Street. As I sat down to continue my research for Humberto Velez’s project ‘The Storming’ – the immersive large-scale installation that will be the final staged event at Cornerhouse in April –­ I saw a story tweeted from the Manchester Evening News revealing that the two Cornerhouse buildings (the main building and Screen 1 over the road) are likely to be torn down by the Council at some point in the future when the site is ‘redeveloped’. I’d already heard a rumour two years ago that Oxford Road station would one day be expanded to encompass this entire site, but my hopes of a reprieve had been quietly raised by the lovely Scandinavian-style bike park that’s since been erected outside Java coffee shop. I don’t want to lose that lovely bike park. I don’t want to lose Java either, or the magnificently squalid ‘Exorcist’ steps that barrel down towards Caley Street. And while it would be impossible to justify the existence of a stand-alone cinema screen with no managing body, it will be sad to see Screen 1 vanish too (there’s been a cinema there in one form or another for 103 years), but why the ‘corner house’ building itself, the old Shaw’s furniture store which has become so iconic?

From my frustrated doldrums I tweeted this:

…and this:

The ‘pain’ in question actually referred to my clavicle surgery, but fellow tweeters seemed to sense something like the pain of alienation, and a hearty discussion ensued. Investigations were made into the mysteriously disappeared Grade II listed status of the two Cornerhouse buildings (I know I didn’t dream it, they were listed) and passionate back-and-forths were had about City Council building projects and neglected bits of Manchester architecture. A few hours later one of the tweeters started a petition which at the time of writing has 700 signatures.

Reading back over the original Evening News story it was the word ‘hotel’ that was my main trigger. It’s safe to say that word is my red rag. I lived on Whitworth Street for six years and every day I would pass the abandoned development at the corner of Whitworth and Princess Streets with its contrived yuppie imagery and condescending tone of entitlement and its empty useless scar across the only gay neighbourhood in the city. The hotel and apartments intended to go there have never materialised. Why not build something on it? Legends, the place I partied endlessly in my Whitworth Street years, was bulldozed with meagre resistance in order to build a hotel that has yet to appear (as if its presence could salve the wound anyway). Clubbing in the city hasn’t recovered. London Road Fire Station continues to frustrate and upset anyone who passes by and gives a damn about architecture. Why not do something with that? The old BBC site is a permanent open car park and an uglier space than even the reviled Piccadilly Gardens. Why not build your office/h*t*l complex there?

Let’s be clear. This is not about nostalgia for times past; it’s about demanding an interesting and beautiful future without the need for a scorched earth policy. Nostalgia is a pejorative if it consists only of the endless romanticisation of a thing. When Legends was set for demolition I published a zine named after my clubnight ‘Drunk At Vogue’, featuring articles and artwork protesting the closure. I took a classic Mancunian Situationist approach and wrote, somewhat hysterically:

‘LEGENDS is the mental labyrinth of your DESIRE….!
LEGENDS is one of the ONLY gay/queer spaces that survives outside the GATED COMMUNITY OF GAY PRIDE….!
Mainstream media vouch for the Twisted Wheel as A HISTORICAL MONUMENT and we DOFF OUR CAPS to the dance floor pioneers and the faithful who still believe… But what about ME AND YOU…!
Every inch of queer Mancunian dance floor is a monument to NOW…!

This is what ‘nostalgia’ ought to be; a kind of anger, and an insistence in a future worth living in. Be ‘nostalgic’ for what you did yesterday, last week, this morning, so that you can keep on living and improving.

You may have heard about ‘The Storming’ already, again in the Manchester Evening News, where it was loosely conceived of as a ‘rave’ style event. This is only one part of the final picture. As we piece together the myriad components of ‘The Storming’, we actively draw on Manchester’s numerous identities, the complexity and diversity of its cultural past and present – clubs and music venues included – in order to celebrate, pay homage and energise the future; and yes, to party hard like Mancunians. As Sarah Perks from Cornerhouse says in the Evening News article:

Of course we all feel nostalgic about Cornerhouse closing its doors, but nostalgia only deals with the past and never with the future.’

‘The Storming’ will do things differently. The inspiration point for Humberto’s piece is ‘The Storming Of The Winter Palace’, a choreographed mass action that was staged in Petrograd in 1920 as a piece of ritual theatre which re-played the 1917 revolution in order to sanctify and celebrate its achievements. It wasn’t nostalgia, but a celebratory re-enactment of the recent victorious past that would invigorate a brilliant future for Russia; and the Council didn’t bulldoze the Winter Palace afterwards.

No comments: