Sarah Irving

I do things with words, mainly English and Arabic

UHC’s Tin Town

UHC TinTown

There are various small but perfectly formed exhibitions strewn along Deansgate at the moment. I’ll be blogging Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here at John Rylands for ArabLit, but further towards Castlefield, in the vast, airy space of New Campsfield Market (behind Dimitri’s), is Tin Town, by UHC and the National Trust.

Tin Town celebrates the spectacular collection of silverware going on show at the National Trust’s property at Dunham Massey outside Altrincham. UHC’s exhibition features meticulously-crafted pieces inspired by the collection but made out of common-or-garden kitchen aluminium foil, shaped into everything from individual spoons (“the first one took me half an hour; now I can do one in seven minutes” says the artist responsible) to big decorative trays and tureens. Families who want to try their hand at doing the same can join a series of workshops during the rest of half term – times and dates on the National Trust website here.

Lest this all sounds a bit twee, the collection incorporates UHC’s usual subversive edge. I’m pretty sure examples of 18th century silverware don’t usually depict workmen pushing barrows or grimy lanes of slum cottages. As UHC ‘s Jai Redman says, Tin Town “celebrates craftsmen and women whose work and lives are rarely explored and reflects on Manchester’s industrial and urban heritage” – so grand pieces of country-house silver become records of the working men and women whose labour provided to wealth which built stately homes and fill them with expensive silverware made by refugee Huguenot craftsmen. And in amongst the delicately-made scalloped spoons and elegant tea-strainers is a piece of modern Mancunian urban culture, a foil take-away tray, standing on curved legs like those of the 18th century soup tureens.

As well as the political edge, UHC have also managed to sneak the occasional mocking cultural reference into the detailed embossing, including a line from the Neil Young song ‘Heart of Gold’. After a day of him whinging away in my head that’s not something I’ll be forgiving them for in a hurry…

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