By Catriona Cox, Asha Hall-Jones and Emily Harrington, MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies, 2019-20

Fanspeak is an exhibition curated by Shy Bairns, a collective of artists, designers and curators based in Manchester. It is a multimedia exhibition currently on display at Castlefield gallery. Fanspeak features artists whose work explores fandoms, pop culture and sub-cultures and seeks to disrupt our relationship with them. The exhibition includes work from Kurdwin Ayub, Lydia Blakeley, Maya Ben David, Graham Dolphin, Ashley Holmes, Owen G Parry, Beth Emily Richards, Rosa-Johan Uddoh, and Salford Zine Library. Below are some of the works which particularly stood out to us at the exhibition preview.

Upon entry to Fanspeak, the visitor is greeted by part of Lydia Blakely’s You’re Doing Amazing, Sweetie collection. These oil on canvas paintings mimic the social media posts of the Kardashian and Jenner family. From pampered Greyhounds to Louis Vuitton bins, Blakely reproduces their opulence on canvas – opulence we’re invited to view both as grotesque and the essence of what inspires their fandom.  These works replicate an interesting dichotomy of extreme wealth, and the negative connotations of inequality that come with this, but also the escapism, aspiration and intrigue that their lives offer to millions of ordinary people across the West. The inclusion of Blakey’s work is a fantastic addition to the exhibition and serves as a reminder that many mainstream figures have cult followings akin to fandom, despite typically being seen as outside of the fandom spectrum.

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The inclusion of fandom zines into the exhibition was particularly innovative. The idea that anything can be considered art, no matter how strange, niche or even cringey the subject, was wonderful to see. Zines such as ‘Stalking Bill Murray’ or ‘Bad Drawings of Pokemon from Memory without Looking at the Paper’ were just some examples on display. Fanspeak was incredibly inclusive, showcasing that you did not have to be a world renowned artist to have your work displayed in an art gallery and that no matter how unorthodox your passion is, you do not have to censor it for it be considered art.

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Finally, Ashley Holmes’ work on football players challenges the perception of what a fandom is. Holmes’ art reminds the viewer that fandoms can be found everywhere. Football fans are rarely likened to other fandoms such as One Direction fans, yet the inclusion of Holmes’ work leads the viewer to draw comparisons between the two and question how different they really are. Fandoms are often associated with being ‘uncool’ yet football fans are not perceived in the same way. Holmes’ work encourages the viewer to think about why some loyal fans are seen as cringey while others are not.

See Fanspeak at Castlefield Gallery 2nd November 2019- 24th November 2019.