The exhibitions at Manchester Art Gallery have brought together two of Suzanne Lacy’s Manchester projects, Cleaning Conditions and a new work, Uncertain Futures, created with an Advisory Group of 15 women over 50. This exhibition transforms the Gallery into a convening space for people to discuss the issues and act together to create real social change. Both projects are made with Mancunians and respond to urgent social questions about labour and the impact of gender, class, and migration. A new film of the 2013 project Cleaning Conditions was premiered in the first installation. A team of volunteer ‘sweepers’ from labour, living wage, and immigration organizations swept the Gallery floors daily for two weeks, pausing at the end of each day for a conversation on current labour conditions in England. The moral value of work was much discussed in the middle of the 19th century. This painting, displayed alongside Uncertain Futures, reflects that debate. One day, as Brown walked to his Hampstead studio, he caught sight of a group of navvies digging a drain. He had been reading Past and Present by historian Thomas Carlyle (pictured with beard on the right), which discussed the nobility of labour. It occurred to Brown that navvies were as worth painting as any group of picturesque Italian peasants who graced the walls of London art galleries. It is both a realistic street scene and an allegory about class and work in society. Brown contrasts work and idleness, poverty and wealth, physical work and mental work. This epic of mid-Victorian life arose directly from contemporary social and political ideas and is unique in 19th-century art. Installation 1: The Interviews Manchester Art Gallery, 24 June 2021 – September 2022 The Uncertain Futures exhibition opened on 24 June 2021 with 100 live interviews taking place with women over 50 in a booth in the gallery. The interviews were transcribed and anonymized, then displayed on clipboards for visitors to read. A sound and text piece played in the gallery when interviews weren’t taking place, sharing the experiences of the work for the 14 members of the Advisory Group. The 100 women came together for a celebratory dinner in March 2022 to honor their commitment and to thank them for sharing their stories, their intellect, and their positive energy. This was a key networking opportunity and a chance to share and develop agency about issues affecting women over 50 and work. Installation 2: The Process Manchester Art Gallery, September 2022 - date In the second iteration of the exhibition, we reveal the development of the Uncertain Futures and initial research findings. The project continues as interviews are being analyzed by our research team. This website has been created to merge the lived work experiences of women over 50 in Manchester with legal and social policymaking and age discrimination case law. Uncertain Futures combines art, research, and activism and aims to create real social change and affect social policy.
As a Woman Over 50 made by Advisory Group filmed and edited by Alina Akbar and Finn Browning
Soup Collective: Mark Thomas sound/text track (From Installation 1)
Mark Thomas 100 women dinner (from installation 2)