Herstory at Touchstones, Rochdale

I’ve been enjoying weekends wandering around art galleries lately.

I have no specialist knowledge of Art. I don’t know how to critique it. I don’t remember the names of artists, apart from the most famous ones (usually the men we were taught about in school). I can’t tell you what’s technically good about a piece. But I enjoy going nonetheless. Fear of not knowing about art seems to stop us from thinking that galleries are for us, but I’m overcoming that. They’re for everyone.

There’s something about the serene spaces. Calm but with art of various shapes and sizes , curated to look appealing even to the extremely untrained eye as much as to the harshest critic. Places like that make me feel more creative. I often have the urge to write after I’ve visited a gallery or I wonder aloud about the artist and what they’d think of their work being scrutinised all those years after they made it, sometimes even after they have died.

When I’m at a gallery I like to read about the artistand their work, step back and enjoy the lines, the depth, the colours. Think about the piece as a whole and whether I like it, and what I like about it. Or even what I don’t. I learnt to do that at lunchtime sessions about Mindfulness and Art when I worked in Manchester and recently read that, in a world where we’re constantly busy and switched on , this is a technique being advocated for by the Tate Modern. I often enjoy a cup of tea, and sometimes a scone in the  gallery  cafe afterwards and browse the gift shop, looking at books and prints and novelty stationary. Typically, I’ll get something in the latter category for work, but I’m certainly not averse to a book or a print if I’m feeling lavish. That wasn’t in the lunchtime sessions and I’m pretty sure is optional at visits to galleries and museums (but if you don’t have a pen inscribed with the name, did you really visit?)

I recently saw a review of a local exhibition at a gallery I’d never heard of, let alone visited, in the Guardian. Touchstones (formerly Rochdale Art Gallery) is unassuming and welcoming. Downstairs is a museum about Rochdale’s history as the birthplace of the Cooperative, life in the war and significant locals across from a cafe on the same floor. Upstairs is a small but perfectly formed space for exhibiting. It’s bright and airy and in Gallery 1 the light from the huge stained glass dome in the ceiling is beautiful. That space currently houses French Artist Caroline Achaintre’s works under the title Wimper, available to buy if you’re that way inclined.

Touchstones Gallery 1.jpg
Gallery 1: Exhibiting Caroline Achaintre until 8 September 2018

It was refreshing to see something other than a play, gig, exhibition or event that sounded right up my street but was all the way down in London or up in Glasgow. So, naturally, I had to visit.

Herstory (open now until 29 September 2018) is a collection of women’s art, with the majority on loan from Patricia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. Rebaundengo is a collector of Contemporary Art with a particular interest in supporting Women in Art, which marries up with Touchstone’s current (and historical) strategy to put Women’s art at the forefront. The exhibition focuses on work from the last 40 years and ranges from paintings on canvas to sculptures, photographs and even essays. Local women have also contributed to the exhibition, providing responses to some of the pieces.

I particularly enjoyed the wide range of art available to see here, but most notably I cannot remember a time that I have ever seen such a body of work by only women in one place. Usually, even where the focus is on a woman, there is much reference to male counterparts, influences or men working at the same time as her. The show is provocative; one piece, that I’d only ever seen in a magazine previously, is of a the artist’s naked torso with piercings all over her body and her face covered with a leather mask ‘Pervert’ is tattooed across her chest. Another is of a woman pointing a gun towards the room.

Touchstones Gallery 3.jpg

As well as works that are entertaining, moving and sometimes shocking, visitors will leave with food for thought. About the experiences of the women that made the work and those that feature in it. Perhaps about why, in 2018 and beyond, there are not more women only exhibitions.

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