Beginning with a visit to Beijing by Quarantine’s co-Artistic Directors Richard Gregory and Renny O’Shea in 2005, Walking Backwards now describes our creative relationship with 2 visual artists – Rania Ho and Wang Wei of Arrow Factory, one of Beijing’s most intriguing art spaces. Arrow Factory was an independently run alternative space located in a small hutong in the city centre. It reclaimed an existing shop front as a space for site-specific installations and projects that were designed to be viewed from the street, 24/7. Arrow Factory was closed down as part of the redevelopment of the area in 2019.
Over the years the four of us talked endlessly in real time and by phone or Skype – even sent a few letters; made bread; taught cookery classes to people in their own homes; met musicians; pawn brokers; refugees; the people responsible for branding Manchester; a Professor of Gambling Studies and many many more. We continually returned to ideas around the impossibility of authenticity, that unreachable, ineffable quality that tourists and certain kinds of zealot seem to be searching for….
Our relationship gave rise to Kitchen Project, which we made versions of in both Manchester, UK and Utrecht, The Netherlands. You can read more about that here.
Inspired by our conversations, Quarantine attempted to make a series of pavement plaques in Manchester – flat monuments to ordinary people and everyday events. A collision of personal histories and city geographies, our memorials were to mark the memories of a mechanic, a child fascinated by pretty Polish dresses and the brash joy of cycling topless along city streets. We loved the content, but ultimately - after months (years?) of spiralling around in the labyrinth of bureaucratic permissions and producing never-ending risk assessments about flat plaques as trip hazards and method statements around who would maintain them in perpetuity - we gave up. Often, unless you start from the inside out, cities make it very difficult to legitimately create public art. Which felt like an appropriate full-circle connection with our collaborators in Beijing. Not so distant as we might appear.
Walking Backwards now exists on our website as a series of photographs, a project that never really happened, an elegy to past moments, a failure to find its place in the shiny new Manchester.
We’ll make something else at some point with Rania Ho and Wang Wei. And maybe next time, we won’t ask for permission….