Suzanne Lacy – The Circle and the Square at The Whitworth, Manchester

The Whitworth presents a major presentation of three iconic collaborative installations by the US artist Suzanne Lacy, a pioneer of social practice art and community organising for five decades entitled What Kind of City? A manual for social change.

The exhibition includes The Circle and the Square (2018) which brought together the traditions of Shape Note singing and Dhirkr chanting as part of an exploration of the effects of the demise of the textile industry in Pendle, Lancashire on local communities.

Made over the course of a year in 2015 in partnership with Super Slow Way, Pendle artist collective In-Situ and Building Bridges Pendle. The project Shapes of Water, Sounds of Hope brought people from all walks of life together to share food, culture and experiences; culminating in a mass community celebration at the former Smith & Nephew Mill in Brierfield.

The project took inspiration from vocal traditions including Shape Note and Sufi chanting. Both are centuries-old forms of spiritual expression that have spread across the world, drawing distant and diverse cultures together. Shape Note has strong roots in Lancashire and is now particularly strong in the USA, while the Sufi tradition of dhikr originated in the Middle East and is commonly practiced by many residents in Pendle. These traditions go back centuries with the purpose of bringing people together, often in domestic settings outside traditional religious establishments, in order to pronounce and celebrate their common spirituality.

The result was the creation of a new artwork, produced over three days at the mill between 29th September and 1st October. Residents were invited to take part by observing performances, participating in singing sessions and coming to a large banquet for 500 people, which took place on the ground floor of the mill on October 1st. They were able to share their stories and experiences of the mill and living in Pendle in the largest event of its kind the area has ever seen. Suzanne and her collaborators produced a film, featuring local residents, interviews with former mill workers and their families and a series of performances of Shape Note and Sufi chanting. The resulting film installation, The Circle & The Square was premiered in the mill in September 2017. The Circle and the Square was added to The Whitworth collection in 2020.

You can see the work along with two other long term commissions; Across and In-Between (2018-2019) co-commissioned by 14-18 Now and Belfast International Arts Festival bringing together communities in Ireland from both sides of the border, almost 100 years since the partition of the country and The Oakland Projects (1991–2001), a video, photographic and archival materials presentation on youth empowerment, media education and policy, which will be revisited through a project working with local Manchester youth.

What Kind of City? A manual for social change is on from 26 November 2021 to 10 April 2022 at The Whitworth, The University of Manchester.

The exhibition is free and all are welcome.