The Crossley Gallery sits within the iconic Dean Clough complex in Halifax. Visiting is an unusual experience as the gallery is spread around the walls of the office spaces, meeting rooms and conference areas. You can turn a corner and see a long corridor of work then turn another corner and come to an office of a small marketing company. This made the viewing experience less absorbing but as we got familiar with the layout, the solitude was actually very relaxing.
I was intrigued to see an installation by Christian Boltanski, a long-time inspiration of mine. The ‘Work People of Halifax’ had been rescued from a flood at the mill and placed in storage containers. Viewers are now allowed to open, touch and get lost in these artefacts of long-gone workers at Crossley Mill – the largest carpet manufacturer in the world at the time. Boltanski has an obsession with memory and categorisation and in his words, aims to create cathedrals in which to position his work. Even though this installation was now not in its intended original form, the immersive discovery was an enticing lucky dip – inside every box was a unique snapshot of a life. I found myself asking why specific objects (most often photographs) had been chosen by these people, what they were feeling about the value of their working lives and whether they believed in the project or was it a pointless exercise that no one would ever see. Yes, a photograph is an obvious visual snapshot of a person’s life but the more emotive objects we found were door name plates and spectacles. What came across was a real sense of pride in this mill community, of fun beyond the workplace and most importantly of a joined-up community that was world-beating at carpet manufacture.
The other works I enjoyed in the permanent collection are below Boltanski’s. I was drawn to the paintings that confused me, the painstaking detail that bewildered me and the simple drawings that relaxed me. Maybe it was the unusual nature of the gallery, the emptiness and solitude possibly, but I had quite a few moments when I was transported into the mind of these artists. I sensed their deep enquiry, their masterful toil and that final nod when a piece speaks what it was intended to speak. If that defines what good art means to me then so be it, this gallery did this again and again.