New Cartographies: Opening events, family connections and QR codes

So we are all winding down somewhat after a very exciting series of opening events last week. We were delighted to see that the preview of New Cartographies: Algeria-France-UK attracted over 1300 visitors and that so many people had travelled from across the North West and beyond to join us.

The seminar held during the following afternoon, ‘The State and Stakes of Contemporary Art in Algeria’ was also well-attended and the excellent speakers delivered insightful and engaging presentations that illuminated diverse aspects of the seminar topic. We were also particularly delighted to welcome to Manchester the emerging Algerian artist Atef Berredjem, who in partnership with The Delfina Foundation, is currently staying in London as part of a six-week residency during our exhibition. Atef is currently working with us on a very exciting – and top-secret event – to be held in central London in early May during his stay: we’ll let you know more when we can!

Ever since we began planning the exhibition way back in 2008, the whole project has been marked by serendipity – so we half-expected that an unexpected event might well arise as we prepared for the preview night. And so it was to be the case again when we learned that Leila Cogdell, currently working as an Engagement Apprentice at Cornerhouse, was a distant relative of one of the participating artists!

When Leila began working with us preparing the exhibition, she noticed that work by the French artist Sophie Elbaz had been included, which made her wonder if there was a connection with her own family, some of whom shared the same surname. Upon meeting Sophie herself at the exhibition preview last Thursday, Leila’s suspicions were confirmed: her grandmother’s cousin Jacques Elbaz is none other than Sophie Elbaz’s uncle – another contemporary connection between Algeria, France and the UK! You’ll be able to learn more about their family connection in next week’s Cornerhouse podcast.

Another gratifying aspect of the preview night was seeing so many people access the wide range of additional virtual material within the galleries by scanning the QR codes with their smartphones. We hope that this adds a further dimension for visitors by allowing them to view other works by artists and listen to interviews recorded especially here in Manchester for the exhibition. Fear not, however, if you don’t have a smartphone: later this month, all the images, text and audio material accessible via the QR codes in the galleries will be freely available via Cornerhouse’s website. Watch this space for more details.

Finally, for all you francophones out there – whether at intermediate or native-speaker level! – a reminder that I will be leading a guided tour of the exhibition in French tomorrow Thurs 14 April. We’ll be meeting in the downstairs foyer at 18:30 and it’s free – you only need to book in advance via the box office. Venez nombreux!

Dr Joseph McGonagle
The University of Manchester
Co-curator of New Cartographies: Algeria-France-UK