The City of Chester is known for a lot of things: Romans, shopping, being old and – surely most significantly of all – being where Hollyoaks is set. However, what it is not known for is a diverse and thriving contemporary art scene, and that’s because it doesn’t exist. Chester theatres have to survive on budgets of about 45 pence; the cinema is an increasingly dilapidated empty shell; and as for contemporary visual art, well, aside from having no contemporary spaces the sheer air of snobbery that exists within Chester’s walls is so pungent it can be smelt from outer space. Any exhibition containing contemporary visual art is met with rabid cries of ‘we can’t let this kind of thing continue’ from locals: These are kind of people that would get outraged if the beige hue on manila envelopes was decreased by a fraction of a percent. As you can imagine, these are anything but my type of people and they are certainly not an audience I wish to engage with.
There are some positive points to Chester that just about keep the tumbleweed from blowing. The music scene probably just about boarders on average and venues such as Alexander’s and Telford’s Warehouse to their level best to develop emerging performers. However, this interests me about as much as drinking a cup of hot piss. I’m a visual artist. And if I am to develop, I need to escape.
Towns and small cities can utilise the arts effectively. A quick pop down the road from Chester to Wrexham will show you that the arts can make positive and vibrant contributions to smaller communities. However, they do not possess the allure of larger cities, which effortlessly seem to captivate with Hollywood-style notions of prosperity. I have wished to live in a large city for some time. Indeed, a majority of last year was spent gawping at cities on Google Earth until I fell into a semi-conscious state. But for reasons that are both professional and personal, I opted for Sheffield.
Sorted then! Well, except for the tiny issues of packing, finding a job and finding a house in a city sixty miles away from Chester. Although it must be said that, whist on a break from the mind-numbing procedure of packing, an idea occurred to me: As I made myself a sandwich I began to consider the ingredients I was using. Cheese from Cheshire, mustard from Norwich and bread from …Well bread from Tesco actually, but nevertheless, it struck me that food is loaded with historical connotations which are grounded in local communities.
So can a city, a town, an entire county be defined by local food? Can areas be mapped according to the food it produces? More interestingly, can we manipulate and alter this local definition for artistic gain? For example Henderson’s Relish – a product local to Sheffield – and Colman’s Mustard could be exploited in order to represent each other: Blurring local and national boundaries and consolidating local histories. It is certainly a notion which can be explored. But for now, you will have to contain yourselves with this little number, which is Henderson’s Relish represented through the medium of Colman’s Mustard. Enjoy!