The arthur+martha exhibition 'the warm /&/ the cold', textiles and textworks by homeless people, is at the Holden Gallery, Manchester Metropolitan University until 25 January 2013.
(Part 1 of a two-part blog)
They came straggled and frozen out of the November weather, like a line of refugees from old war footage. Clothes bundled and grey with damp, faces pale. As they got close to, I could see that people were shivering.
Lois and I had been installing an exhibition of artwork by homeless people. Our heads were full of technical details and logistics, as always when installing a show. This morning we'd scheduled a celebratory little gathering of homeless people involved. So it was a reality-jolt to see our familiar group from The Booth Centre, when they filed towards the gallery. Somehow I'd not expected them to be hit by the cold so brutally, not OUR group, our companions.
As soon as they stepped inside, they flocked to the radiators. M, was almost doubled in pain, he perched himself right on the scalding pipes and shivered endlessly. J miserably requested the loo, asking permission while squirming uncomfortably. The white faces seemed somehow tiny, reduced from the lively personalities we'd encountered during our workshops sessions at The Booth Centre, The Big Issue office and the Red Door. These were people who were now concentrated simply on living. I watched them struggling and - stupidly - I felt like crying, like an outraged kid who has just discovered unfairness.
Hot drinks were being served to students around the corner and our group filtered in amongst them, pouring hot coffee into their shaking bodies and eating snacks for the sugar burst. Their clothes and skin marked them cruelly apart from the fresh-faced students who bustled about them. They moved slowly and their eyes contained something faraway.
Then as we settled on sofas and people slowly began to warm up, there was a sea-change in mood. They started to look around them - and see their work. Curiosity replaced misery. We did a walkround tour of the pieces, first the ceramics - wry little lines about warmth, food, shelter, scripted onto mugs and plates.
A particular favourite was a big yellow plate whose enormous capacity delighted everyone - 'You could eat for a week off that.' This piece caught the attention of one of our regulars - he did a double-take. 'They're MY words.' He said. Minutes previously he'd been unable to stand up straight, but for a little while, the pride in what he'd made, the joy of that artefact, that other him, pulled him some way out of pain.
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