Monday, 21 July 2008


this investigation, perambulation and rediscovery of a sadly languishing ‘Jewel of Manchester’ was prompted, as is all too often the case, by an accident. always be suspicious of discoveries purporting to be the result of slavish perseverance and dedication. history repeatedly confirms that so much we know is mere happenstance, a fact i find both consoling and life affirming.

venturing into bodyworlds, a veritable cabinet of curiosities for the disconcerting yet strangely underwhelming ‘world famous plastination’ of willing but misguided cadavers by the self proclaimed professor van hagen, entailed venturing into the bottom end of deansgate to the museum of science and industry, currently busy reinventing itself as a sort of ‘blockbuster’ entertainment centre of the printworks variety where booking in advance is highly recommended and entry is timed to maximise visitor numbers.

walking up to the museum and into the heart of castlefield it occurred to me that i simply no longer go there. its status as conservation area and urban heritage park has rendered it somehow separate from other living sections of the city and that despite feeling much affection for the idea of it, has turned it into a museum space, albeit huge and outdoors, or worse, as i confess to visiting the manchester museum almost weekly! somehow it has become forgotten, a space detached from the ordinary and everyday, its canals, warehouses and historic railways one giant mausoleum, a place so successfully ‘preserved’ for posterity that we have actually made it invisible.

out of the 'atrocity' exhibition i spent an edifying afternoon nosying about revisiting favourite nooks and crannies, remembering old haunts and reminiscing about past adventures, but was dismayed at so much change and neglect in an area so recently declared of historic importance and afforded sympathetic protection and status. i realised that i had taken for granted that this meant i could assume all was well in castlefield and worry about other sections of the city instead.

the shock of rampant decline, dereliction and disappearance of much that is unique about the area was amplified by telltale signs of unchecked new builds – cranes, placards and banners at every turn, erstwhile ‘flagship’ developments already boarded up or bulldozed. over the next few weeks i took to wandering about the edges of deansgate and knott mill, poking around, flagging up changes, reading up on new developments and abandoned plots, compiling questions...

as robert musil noted in his posthumous papers of a living author,

'monuments are so conspicuously inconspicuous. there is nothing in this world as invisible as a monument. you never look at them and havent the slightest notion of whom they are supposed to represent.'

his point is well known to any self respecting student of the city and public space and has beleaguered artists working in the public realm to this day - that memorials or monuments, sites of a supposed collective heritage, become inevitably absorbed into the backdrop of the city, indistinguishable in their familiarity from the everyday street furniture and therefore largely redundant in their aim.

now it would appear that whole sections of the city can become invisible, overlooked once the spotlight of fashionability and urban renaissance is turned away towards pastures new. so a futile cycle of regeneration continues unabated and unchallenged.

but as musil contends in the same essay,
'you would be momentarily stunned were they to be missing one morning...'

for castlefield that morning has arrived...


janpaumat said...

visited castlefield6/6/09. all the canal barges looked flaky and barca was too depressing. that "leisure" poem didn't help...the ducks hissed at us so we gave our bread to the pigeons until one took liberties and tried to eat out of my hand. drove away from parking space covered in glass crystals outside defunct business whilst a middle aged man standing outside his ford galaxy, (kid inside) got nervously stoned. it made me a happy fly, i tell thee no lie.

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