Over the counter
by Polly Maxwell
Back in October WHATCHAMACALLIT held an exhibition at The Project Space - Bankley Mill, it included separate works by myself and Lulu and a joint interactive performance: Locally Sourced Produce. The performance consisted of a white counter topped with colourful polystyrene vegetables ‘locally sourced’ from Pound Palace across the road, each piece of veg could be purchased with a blank sticker that the visitor obtained on entrance to the room. It was our first week in Levenshulme (an area just outside of Manchester city centre) and I guess you could say this piece was a kind of first impression. Bankley Mill studios is set back slightly from the A6 a road which, when passing through Levenshulme, finds its sides lined with discount stores and cafes that still serve breakfast under a fiver. We were consumers again and almost every one of our social interactions were divided or joined by an object, a blank rectangular surface: a counter.
This is not where I intend to make a comment on our consumerist culture. What we saw (if you’ll forgive the wordplay) were encounters and we inevitably fixated on the object over which they took place. An object that allows the exchange of more than just currency and produce: there is the exchange of pleasantries and the occasional term of endearment. More than this though we found something in the comfort of knowing our respective roles and even our lines, a set of well learnt instructions navigating us around the potential awkwardness of strangers. Perhaps we were drawn to this ability, could a re-enactment of this exchange soften the potential awkwardness of exhibitions and open studios that we’d had before? We have, for the most part, learnt these instructions and this navigation through play; through palm to palm exchange of plastic peas and miniature coke cans, and I guess that’s what Locally Sourced Produce was. Yes we curated the table, placed its corner in line with some tiles on the floor and painstakingly ordered the fake vegetables so that colours appeared evenly throughout the pile, but our performance was play and Lulu was the shopkeeper.
As people entered the room (a cold white space with grey floors and an expanse of window typical of mills and revealing a spread of rooftops and distant greenery) they were met with a sticker, and the option to trade it for some ‘locally sourced produce’. Most accepted and left with pumpkins and sweetcorn among other vegetables, spreading the word and rapidly depleting our stock. But not before they’d asked questions, exchanged pleasantries and maybe even felt some form of the ease of such well-studied, familiar roles.
WHATCHAMACALLIT have previously played at being cloakroom assistants and are currently working on exhibitions in their back gardens where they hope everything will be laminated, for more information check out their link on our websites page.