Pillars painted in black and yellow or black and white greet the passers-by from the windows of the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool. One of them with its irregular shape actually looks a bit like an extremely tall Ettore Sottsass vase, but the others distinctly point towards the heart of the UK's dance revolution in the late '80s, Manchester's very own Eiffel Tower - The Haçienda - with its spacious architecture, high roof, bare brick walls, pillars painted in hazard stripes and traffic bollards around the edge of the dance-floor.
Liverpool is usually associated with The Beatles, but the Open Eye Gallery is currently taking visitors on a tour of a wider geographical area - the North of England - presenting a series of collective visions and interpretations exploring the influence of this region on fashion and visual culture.
"North: Identity, Photography, Fashion" (from today to 19 March 2017) explores indeed northern culture via photographs, artworks and fashion designs, while celebrating the gallery's 40th birthday.
Co-curated by writer, broadcaster, curator and editor-at-large of SHOWstudio.com Lou Stoppard and academic Adam Murray, co-founder of photography collective Preston is my Paris, the event opens in the gallery windows with Virgil Abloh of Off-White's pillars recreated for his fashion week party with the help of Haçienda designer Ben Kelly.
The section dedicated to photography is naturally one of the strongest parts of the exhibition since the Open Eye Gallery has championed photography as an art form since 1977.
Shoots referring to Northern England or set in this area inspired the two curators to look for editorials or series of pictures in which specific local features (think terraced houses and brick walls) were elevated to cultural tropes and assumed a wider relevance for a global audience.
This means that visitors will spot a variety of ideas and inspirations, ranging from the 1980s to the 2000s, and including iconic shoots by Nick Knight, Tim Walker, Jamie Hawkesworth, Alasdair McLellan and Alice Hawkins; further highlights include Glen Luchford' session with The Stone Roses for The Face in 1989 and a film featuring the late Corinne Day.
The most interesting subjects aren't models, though, but anonymous people such as the ones pictured in the streets in Manchester, at the bus station in Preston, at the Saint Leger Fair in Doncaster or like the women who worked in and around Liverpool's waterfront or who departed from it to work at sea (see the 2007 images by Michelle Sank marking the 800th birthday of the Borough of Liverpool). All these pictures point indeed towards extraordinarily ordinary real lives.
While work by Turner Prize winners Mark Leckey and Jeremy Deller are also exhibited, "North" highlights better the strong influences this area had in music and fashion.
Sportswear and Adidas trainers (the company is one of the sponsors of the event) point at The Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses and Oasis; clothes by Paul Smith instantly conjure up visions of football casuals and of other labels favoured by hooligans into designer-label casualwear in the '80s – think Sergio Tacchini, Kappa and Fila – references that have recently inspired contemporary labels à la Gosha Rubchinskiy.
While there are sections dedicated to defunct label New Power Studio, interviews with talents from the north such as milliner Stephen Jones, fashion designers Gareth Pugh, Claire Barrow and Christopher Shannon, the most famous fashion and music link in the exhibition remains the one between Peter Saville and Raf Simons.
Saville is well known for his Haçienda posters and Factory Records covers such as Joy Division and New Order's albums, including "Unknown Pleasures" (1979), based on an image of radio waves from pulsar CP 1919, "Movement" (1981), with its art plagiarised from the cover of a 1932 essay by Italian Futurist Fortunato Depero in honour of Marinetti's visit to the Trentino Region, and "Power Corruption and Lies" (1983), based on the painting "A Basket of Roses" by Henri Fantin-Latour.
Homaged in 2011 during the "Postmodernism" exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, Saville worked throughout the years with various designers, including Yohji Yamamoto, Jil Sander, John Galliano, Christian Dior, and Raf Simons.
For his Autumn/Winter 2003 "Closer" collection, Simons was granted full access to the archives of Saville and the latter's album covers were replicated on German military parkas, trench coats and leather Perfecto jackets (designs from this collection are currently worth around £20,000…).
In other designs Simons also referenced Mark Leckey's film "Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore" (1999), a video featuring a selection of fragmented, remixed, repeated and slowed down footage filmed in British nightclubs during the 1970s, '80s and '90s.
One theme - literature - should have maybe been expanded in this exhibition since there have been a few writers out there who have told stories based in/inspired by the North of England in enchanting ways, but maybe this will be a theme to explore in the future.
For the time being take "North" as a way to re(discover) this region not just from the art and fashion points of view, but from the point of view of a community: most of the images included pay indeed homage to urban places, domestic spaces, ordinary people, personal styles, individual creativity and youth sub-cultures.
"North: Identity, Photography, Fashion", Open Eye Gallery, 19 Mann Island, Liverpool Waterfront L3 1BP, through 19th March 2017.
Image credits for this post
1, 2, 3, 4, 13, 14, 15 and 16. "North: Identity, Photography, Fashion", Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool, 2017. Installation Images by Adam Murray.
5. Photograph by Alasdair McLellan, Boy at the Saint Leger Fair, Doncaster, September 2005
6. Photograph by Alice Hawkins, Derrin Crawford & Demi-Leigh Cruickshank in 'The Liver Birds' LOVE magazine, Liverpool, 2012
7. Photograph by Jamie Hawkesworth, Preston Bus Station, 2010
8 and 9. Photographs by Jason Evans, Untitled, Manchester, 1997
10. Photograph by Stephen McCoy, From the series Skelmersdale, 1984
11. Photograph by Brett Dee, The Anarchy Issue, no. 82, 1990
12. Raf Simons' A/W 2003 "Closer" collection. Image courtesy of Raf Simons