The Ground Beneath Your Feet

Castlefield Gallery

“There may be a slight splash risk during the performance,” the curator shouted, hushing the room’s chatter whilst two or three fretful members of the crowd shuffled out of the front row.

Four male performers, positioned on the four corners of a Persian rug, began beating down rhythmically on metal drums resembling oil barrels. Their tensed arms clutched iron sticks, casting a strong dent upon each beat. A small child performer knelt in the centre, chiming delicately on Manjira hand cymbals. I watched, awaiting a grand splash. The beat circled its way round, each performer rising and kneeling like pistons of a well-oiled machine. Gradually at first, the drums, bruised and contorted, began to bleed. Black liquid oozed from their cracked metal sides, seeping greedily into the weave of the Persian rug. Rhythmically spluttering oil, the blackness trickled onto the gallery floor, its flowing only stopped by a barrier of sand hemming the edge.

“I’m from Iran”, the artist, Omid Asadi, explained when we spoke. “Where I’m from, people bang on drums when there is bad news.” Asadi told me how oil companies have detrimentally altered his country. He was quick to highlight BP (British Petroleum) and show me how the centre of the rug, which he equated to the centre of the world, remained unscathed. His performance piece, Dammam (2018), successfully works to visualise the tragic dissolution of cultural tradition under the relentless fist of oil corporations.

At Castlefield Gallery’s latest show, The Ground Beneath Your Feet, artists from various corners of the world, including Israel, Ecuador, Iran, Scotland and England, work together to address issues threatening identity. Through amalgamating this worldwide collection of artists under one roof, Castlefield Gallery demonstrates the benefit of working collaboratively to confront and overcome the hostility pervading the current political climate. The gift shop sells lighthearted merchandise from Keep it Complex, a collective of cultural workers that emerged during the EU referendum campaign. T-shirts reading ‘Potatoes are Immigrants’ and badges stating, ‘pay women more’ work to strike a comical spin on the more sinister issues of rising homelessness, the refugee crisis, right-wing populism and Brexit. Working as a part of the With One Voice International Arts and Homelessness Summit & Festival, the exhibition engages with its content in a very real way.

Perhaps the exhibition’s most peculiar artwork is its display of mushrooms, including some that actually glow in the dark. Jane Lawson’s Progress Has Stopped Making Sense (But There Is Still Neighbourliness) maps out mycorrhizal networks that exchange information and nutrients between mushrooms as a metonym for social structures. Through reducing communication to its biological roots, the marvellous capabilities of nature work to undermine our own modern disconnection.

The exhibition grapples with identity through focusing upon a tactile physicality. In Tulani Hlalo’s dual video installations, the artist portrays herself actively rubbing the Zimbabwean soil across her body in Fatherland (2016), whilst in Motherland (2016) she stands passively accepting the gentle waves of the drizzly Tynemouth sea. Israeli-born Roee Rosen confronts xenophobia and the mistreatment of refugees in her video, through a sensory exploration of a character’s perverted relationship to cleaning appliances. Other artworks include Wizard of Oz illustrations on Michael White’s thumbed Zimbabwean banknotes, Oscar Santillan’s small stone peak and donated items from the Museum of Homelessness.

From Asadi and his performers trailing oil-covered footprints across the gallery floor to the growth of mushrooms or the hush of the tide as it washes around Hlalo, within The Ground Beneath Your Feet we are brought to the face of action. Nature shows its resilience, it carries on, it grows, it rises and it sets, but we seem to have lost our way. Through this collection of artists, Castlefield Gallery firmly asks, why have we put a price on humanity? In this unique exhibition, we have been asked to act, at a price that requires more than the one-off purchase of a Brexit tote bag, however stylish it may be.

Holly Pollard

The Ground Beneath Your Feet continues until 3 February 2019.