What do you get if you take the corner out of Cornerhouse? House? No, Home apparently… and now with more space, less character and a massive adjoining garage. Of course with any house-move there are bound to be compromises.
The old place was great for students… but now we’ve grown up – there are kids and vehicles in tow! The trouble is that when a venue tries to cater for this, it can easily start to feel very conventional… which is not really what we want or expect from ‘art’.
I shouldn’t moan because my write-up of the Magda Archer exhibition at Cornerhouse in 2011 begins with a description of the hairy journey to the venue on foot along Charles Street and Oxford Road with my 4 small kids. But I would prefer Manchester City Council to make public transport easier and cheaper for families to use, rather than just create more car parks.
So the great location and quirky exterior have gone, and Home’s designers have fixated upon the look and feel of the interior as a way of expressing some kind of continuity between the old and new venues.
They have attempted to reproduce and ‘magnify’ the Cornerhouse interior feel, which was purely functional… wooden floors, white walls, big windows. But without the funny-shaped plot and the views of Oxford Road, the overall effect is really BLAND.
They’ve tried to counter the blandness in two ways… they’ve gone all out with the quality and quantity of some of the natural materials, and they’ve attempted a visual pun… they’ve filled the House with Corners:
Yes, this explains the overwrought construction of the central staircase. I was relieved when I realised there was some logic behind it… god knows how many trees died to illustrate this leaden wordplay.
Upstairs a beautiful concrete wall is spoiled by a white skirting board. Is this another ‘corner’ reference? Because, unlike the staircase, it looks like a hasty compromise.
Our kids were completely bored by our visit to Home – so we took them to Nandos for food afterwards, and found ourselves in exactly the same type of interior, only with chicken instead of art.
An interior which reassures; a place where people spend money.
When Cornerhouse opened in 1985, I was a student. I wasn’t sure about the place at first… inside was a bit too shiny, self-assured and characterless, with its glib white walls, wooden floors and over-priced bookshop.
But the venue’s monthly newsletters were an eye-opener: obviously created by enthusiasts, they looked like fanzines, and were packed with information about independent films. My Beautiful Launderette, Wings of Desire, Mephisto, Birdy, Repo Man, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Stop Making Sense, Eraserhead, A Zed & Two Noughts… it felt very satisfying to tick them all off. Even the films I didn’t enjoy felt like worthy steps on some imaginary path to ‘sophistication’… How ridiculous that seems now!
And from the outside, Cornerhouse reflected the independent film world’s quirkiness a little, being a recycled building, wedged into that unlikely gap on the main drag into town… in the shadow of the enormous red wedding-cake.
Home, on the other hand, doesn’t feel ‘alternative’ in any way. I know it’s easy to stand on the sidelines and criticise, but if they couldn’t recycle an unused building in central Manchester, they really should have created an eccentric landmark which people would have crossed town to see for its own sake.
Instead, Home relies upon its car park to tempt us in… and of course the quality of its offer. But how provincial it feels! How un-New-York! How un-London! How very Dumplington!
“Vehicle-ownership” equals “our pact with consumerism”. Maybe we get what we deserve.