Art Apart from Wyatt and Westmacott’s horrific and glorious Nelson Monument at the centre, Exchange Flags will always be synonymous, at least for me, with the magazine programme with the same name broadcast by Granada television in the early 80s, co-hosted by Tony Wilson (so called becase this was the location of regional broadcaster's base of operations). My memory of the programme is dim, I’d only just entered junior school, but it was one of the few television programmes from which I got a sense of the place where I lived rather than alien worlds like London and Texas. There are odd snatches of it on YouTube. Here’s Dead or Alive being absolutely awful, but worth it for the audience cutaways:
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On a rainy day, Hsieh Ying-Chun’s Re-Live offers welcome shade. Scattered across Exchange Flags are a number of A-frame shelters designed for use in disaster zones where they can be easily constructed by unskilled people. They’re not permanent structures, but with their solid metal frames and rigid fabrics, they’re more durable than the average tent and would seem to be capable of withstanding horrors more terrifying than what’s probably a light shower in comparison. Nevertheless, I can imagine office workers rushing for them in lunch times and breaks when they inevitably become caught in an unexpected downpour.
What they’ll find inside is an exhibition about the artist’s work in areas which have been hit with such disasters, some natural but often political or financial. He co-operates with the local community to create homes that are biocompatible, sustainable and self-sufficient even to point of training the local people to be able to construct the properties themselves though often there is already a tradition of house-building. On one of the boards, I think it says that 70% of all the housing in the world is created in this way to some degree. Some are grander designs than others, but all share the element of having been built by their owners.
Wandering from frame to frame, there is the potential for information overload as we’re confronted with dozens of photographs of different types of building and short explanations of the kinds of projects being undertaken. Perhaps the most receptive audience would be an architecture student. But it’s impossible not be impressed by the demonstration of sheer force of will being exhibited by these disparate peoples not to accept the lot they've been given. Perhaps the most interesting is how in China in areas where concrete has overtaken soil as the main property of the ground beneath people’s feet, they’re making plant life part of the fabric of the buildings instead.