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‘Idea Home Show’ Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art Addresses Housing Crisis

Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art launches its autumn season with Idea Home Show, an exhibition that contributes to the urgent debate around housing. Opening on Saturday 21 October 2017, the show unfolds in a series of thematic sections, as per the first 1908 Ideal Home Exhibition, from which it draws its inspiration. Idea Home Show takes a political slant, demonstrating how practitioners working between art, architecture, design and activism are proposing ground-up solutions to homebuilding, actively opposing the corporate interests of the construction industry and provoking civic and commercial interest in providing affordable, good quality, social housing.

In February 2017 the government published a white paper titled ‘Fixing Our Broken Housing Market’ in response to growing awareness of, and unrest about, a myriad of issues in how people live in the UK. A recent report by Shelter, ‘Shut out: the barriers low-income households face in private renting’, highlights that more than a million households living in private rented accommodation are at risk of becoming homeless by 2020 because of rising rents, benefit freezes and a lack of social housing provision.

“There is an urgent need to look at the housing crisis at many levels” comments director Alistair Hudson. “It is vital that we re-route development away from a trajectory of profit extraction. Rather than building to make money we need to be creating architecture for living. This requires collective solutions with the latest technologies and ideas, that come from our communities and creative practitioners. We simply cannot leave the corporate sector to deliver the environment we inhabit.”

“There is a long history in the relationship among art, architecture, design and society. We are continuing this tradition using this season’s programme to fire up the debate, and to launch new initiatives in housing and community building. We are working actively beyond the gallery, in some of Middlesbrough’s most challenged areas. These projects include Isabel Lima’s Gresham’s Wooden Horse; working with residents in North Ormesby; Creative Age, an initiative involving those living with dementia, in partnership with Thirteen; our support of design social enterprise New Boosbeck Industries; and the launch of George Clarke’s MOBIE partnership with Teesside University.”

“Through these projects we are exploring alternative solutions for the Tees Valley, showcasing new community-driven building processes. Using these methods of thinking through doing, we hope to influence some significant changes in the living conditions around us, and ideally beyond”, adds Hudson.


A Room of Our Own looks at the home as a political site and demonstrates what artists can do to contribute to making useful and enjoyable living spaces. If the Arts and Crafts movement in the UK was a politicised reaction to the rise of mechanised production and the resulting loss of skills in the nineteenth century, this exhibition asks how, in a post-industrial, post-Brexit society, we can take control over our lived environments through cooperative production and creative thinking.

The display emulates a twisted stately home or show room to create a trade show of furnishings and processes made by British artists. It features products and projects that encapsulate small-scale, ground-up and thoughtful production. This imagined town house is clad floor to ceiling in wallpapers, furniture, ceramics and lighting; an environment where art intersects with living spaces.

Highlights include works by artist-led businesses CommonRoom, through which Kate Hawkins commissions other artists to design and produce wallpapers, and The Artist Tea Towel Company, run by Simon Bayliss. Lighting for the exhibition is provided by Coco Crampton and Matt Calderwood. Jasleen Kaur, with Eastside Projects, contributes ‘The Five Ks’, a series of carpets and communal meals.

The Housing Question examines issues related to the subject of housing in the context of capitalism. It addresses the publically-oriented housing initiatives of the early and mid-twentieth century and the increasing drive towards the privatisation of housing provision under neoliberalism since the late 1970s.

The exhibition borrows its title from the 1872 essay of the same name by Friedrich Engels. Engels documented how slum clearance programmes such as Georges-Eugene Haussmann’s Paris, the rebuilding of St Giles in London, or of central Manchester, meant that ‘the infamous holes and cellars in which the capitalist mode of production confines our workers night after night are not abolished – they are merely shifted elsewhere’. He thus saw projects for encouraging workers to become homeowners as a cover for repressing wages.  Engels, insistent in his belief that capitalism can never solve the housing crisis, offers lessons for today.

The exhibition outlines theories of countercultural living and progressive architectural initiatives from the 1900s to the present day, and explores the politics and economics of housing. Highlights include works, texts and documents by artists, scholars and community organisations such as Paulo Catrica, Claire Fontaine, Friedrich Engels, Freee, Núria Güell, Adelita Husni-Bey, Samuel Levack and Jennifer Lewandowski, Recetas Urbanas and selections from the Arte Útil Archive. The eclectic mix of content featured puts forward an intellectual framework and offers a set of tools to approach matters of housing and capital.

Assemble, Granby WorkshopProducts and Processes is the first presentation of a new acquisition for the Middlesbrough Collection. It encompasses a body of works from the community orientated Granby Workshop, developed by Turner Prize winning collective Assemble and local people. The project grew from years of resident-led re-building in the Toxteth area of Liverpool, which has faced decades of turmoil and dereliction.

Granby Workshop produces functional pieces, made with simple techniques and materials from the local area that are used in inventive processes. The Granby Rock Mantlepiece, made with Will Shannon, for example, uses rubble from demolished houses in the area, while the smoked ceramic handles are fired, for 12 hours in a barbeque with banana skins and pine needles adding to their unique patina.

Supported by Contemporary Art Society, this new acquisition includes five products along with all associated trials, prototypes, moulds and documentation that demonstrate the collective working process of the Granby Workshop. Assemble is known for their experimental and collective work in the public realm, which is led by social need, and profits from the sales of these products contributes to local renovations.

Untitled (City Plan) brings together a selection of works from the Middlesbrough Collection and archival materials from Teesside Archives that explore the ways artists represent, reflect on or imagine the built environment. A group of works focuses on Middlesbrough, and includes drawings by L. S. Lowry and a photographic panel by Stephen Willats commissioned by the former Middlesbrough Art Gallery in 1997. Other works, including Untitled (City Plan) by Guillermo Kuitca (from which the exhibition’s title is borrowed), examine themes of urban planning and spatial experience.

Offsite Projects

George Clarke, who launched Ministry of Building Innovation + Education (MOBIE) earlier in 2017, has partnered with Teesside University in a new approach to rethinking the design and build of housing, and to create a future workforce equipped with new methods of house building. The partnership sees Teesside University offer a pioneering suite of courses, including advanced home construction Higher National Certificate and Diploma, a BSc (Hons) Advanced Home Construction (Top-up) and an MSc Advanced Home Futures.

New Boosbeck Industries is a social enterprise initiated by artist Adam Clarke derived from the Boosbeck Industries, a Bauhaus influenced project in 1930’s Teesside. New Boosbeck Industries offers local people new skills through design and technology, who create and produces furniture.

The Middlesbrough Settlement revisits the historical settlement model in North Ormesby, one of Middlesbrough’s most deprived wards. Projects involving artists and residents address some of the needs of the area. This initiative is part of the Tees Valley Combined Authority’s Great Places scheme, funded by the Heritage Lottery Foundation.

Gresham’s Wooden Horse is a project by artist Isabel Lima, who is working with people living in Gresham, an area of Middlesbrough that made national headlines with the ‘Red Door’ story, which exposed the poor living conditions of asylum seekers in Middlesbrough. Through the construction of a ‘Trojan Horse’, residents learn skills that will support them to build and reclaim homes on their own terms, as part of a wider strategy for a community-driven future.

Celebrating Age is a constituent-led initiative for those living with dementia and their carers, and for older and isolated people around Middlesbrough. Through a partnership with social housing provider Thirteen, this programme takes the ethos and approaches of this organisation’s existing dementia friendly work into community hubs that they manage.

The new season launches Saturday 21 October 2017, from 11.00 to 4.00pm, and runs until 18 February 2018.

By Emily