You may have heard of Antwerp Mansion, and first thought of a dilapidated edifice in South Manchester. Previously notorious for its DnB raves and narcotizing atmosphere, The Mansion has undergone a series of creative changes. From almost total ruin to a short-lived spell as a run-down theatre space, the future seemed far from structurally sound. However, the iconic staying power of this venue has proven hard to beat.
Manchester’s beloved student nightclub has collaborated with ‘West Art Collective’, a team of six Manchester-based contemporary artists. Together, they run a zero-cost exhibition programme that has transformed the Victorian gothic structure into a friendly and welcoming space for artists and new creatives.
Founded in 2019, the Collective’s principal aim is to nurture financially accessible art without the fees and framing of traditional art settings. There is a certain charm to the earnest nature with which artist Mimi Waddington expressed their collective desire to “know what (our) audience want because we’re a part of our audience. We’re a part of the community”.
The emphasis on building and maintaining community is evident in almost every exhibit and event that the Collective run. An enthusiasm for an inclusive Manchester art scene courses through a lifeblood of talent.
In an interview with the Collective’s Lucy Briscoe Rimmer, who spoke on behalf of the team, she confided that none of its members had felt happy with their university experience. She explained how the overwhelming feeling of having to “answer for everything that we did” really took the joy out of creating. Thus the team places a focus on making art for fun. Hosting interactive and experiential exhibitions with the hopes of providing something different from a “normal white cube gallery space”. Far from the belief that the party atmosphere could detract from their art, they try to provide a whole experience through their shows, which is available to everyone, free from prestige and stigma.
Lucy’s own line of artwork was born out of a scandal: she accidentally left what would be considered pornographic art in her window. Following a neighbour’s complaints and a story in the press (the interview for which she laughed about having to do at Boomtown festival), Lucy felt dissatisfied with and separate from Manchester’s “funky” art scene. However, when the owners of Antwerp heard about it, they found it funny and encouraged her to keep creating. She continues to be grateful for their confidence in her.
Having experienced the difficulty of being too skint to pay submission fees as art students, the team works as sustainably as possible on a non-profit basis. As such, all the revenues from their shows are ploughed “back into making the next one better”.
West Art Collective was founded to “support students with good ideas” and harness the potency of collective energy. Lucy remembers that as a student she was made to feel like her “ideas weren’t worth anything”. As well as their zero-cost exhibition programme, they’re also hoping to go into universities in the future (Covid permitting) and bring students into the creative space between the lines at Antwerp. Their aim is to give students the experience of building exhibitions and accurate knowledge of the industry, thus preparing them to begin showcasing their own work.
This desire to create an inclusive atmosphere caught the attention of Zac Melrose, Founder of Inner City recordings (ICR). When he approached the Collective, Mimi and Lucy had only just begun to experiment with art opportunities at The Mansion. Sharing their experimental ethos, Melrose was keen to build an extensive, unique sound design and develop innovative techniques for exhibiting sound.
West Art Collective has previously worked with live bands and DJs across events such as 2019’s Endurance, which saw multiple artists attempt to combine sound across the multiple floors and outdoor terrain.
An independent label and record company, ICR is the first major music management body to become exclusively involved in the Collective’s work. Melrose began his music career working in student radio. He describes the forming of ICR in 2018 as a “transition whilst staying in a studio environment”, which he thrived in. He quickly moved to a platform for creative individuals “with a shared enthusiasm” for bringing sound into event environments.
By onboarding Melrose and his team, the Collective are delving into experimental sound, adding another notch to their curation belt.
The collective has an upcoming “big boy event” called ‘Eden’, a collaboration with ‘Inner City Records’ which Lucy described as a health and wellbeing themed charity event. Half the profits will go towards ‘Chrones and Colitis UK’, and the other half towards ‘Pip Foundation’ which is part of ‘Anorexia and Bulimia Care UK’. With ‘Eden’, the collective are hoping to create a sort of utopia at Antwerp. They plan to use the space to exhibit inspiring artwork that is a timely and positive reflection of recovery.
Lucy also spoke animatedly about their erotic, sex-positive event ‘uncensored’ that they held at Antwerp back in February of 2020. It comprised a room take over by ‘Erotic Art Exhibition London’ as well as live performances from ‘Wax Pour’ and ‘Electric Hoop’ and the opportunity to participate in a live wet photoshoot. (Definitely more exciting than a slow amble through the National Gallery’s oil paintings.)
The team’s firm assertion that they “don’t unnecessarily censor anyone’s artwork” paints the collectives as a slightly rebellious, welcoming “dysfunctional little family”, who are trying to make art fun and entertaining by taking inspiration from and inspiring confidence in others. Surprised by their own experiences of negativity and limitations in the art world, they reject “art world rules” in the name of inclusivity.
West Collective’s Eden will run from 17th September 2021 at Antwerp Mansion. Tickets can be accessed by clicking here.