Archives at Play

6 March 2022 — 24 April 2022

Archives at Play is an exhibition exploring our relationship with the past, and how this informs the way we make the future.  At a time when it is more important than ever to challenge inherited ideas about ecology, equality, and identity, this exhibition uses archival structures – the ways we hold and engage with the past – as a tool for questioning the worlds we find ourselves within.

The artists Gregory Herbert, Kelly Jayne Jones, Dr. Yan Wang Preston, and Chester Tenneson have been invited to take the concept of the archive as a starting point to develop a series of new works for Archives at Play.  

Both Tenneson and Jones are working directly with the objects and records accumulated by Castlefield Gallery across its 37 year history, developing absurd sculpture, text painting and ritual sound environments.  Inspired by traditional Chinese bird-and-flower compositions, Wang Preston’s photographic series ‘English Gardens’ uses plant species termed ‘invasive’ or ‘alien’ in black & white silver gelatin prints. It is shown alongside an installation by Herbert that interrupts the gallery’s plumbing to create new ecosystems. All their works for Archives at Play will address structures of history – the traditions, the myths and obscured systems – by which constructs and beliefs become normalised, naturalised and unquestioned.

Throughout the exhibition the gallery will host a series of events that will respond to both the archive, as well the physical traces left behind in the fabric of the venue from the artists and events that have gone before. Through performance, sound, and readings the artists will bring their own distinct perspectives to Castlefield Gallery; its history and its yet unwritten future. The wider communities and visitors of Castlefield Gallery will also have opportunities to explore behind the scenes, dig into the gallery archive, and connect with the gallery team and artists in new ways.

Archives at Play is part of a wider Castlefield Gallery research project led by Thomas Dukes, a curator and PhD Candidate working with Castlefield Gallery and Manchester School of Art at Manchester Metropolitan University.  Dukes’ research into the 37 year-long Castlefield Gallery archive looks for ways to approach the gallery archive as more than a site to hold and preserve information as ‘fact’, but instead as a living and complex entity.  One that doesn’t exist in a single place, and that can be engaged with in the present to prompt dialogue and generate influence from many voices, in order to inform thinking about the future.

Thomas Dukes’ research is being undertaken in the lead up to 2024, when Castlefield Gallery will mark 40 years of building dynamic relationships with and between artists, audiences and many partners based locally, nationally and internationally, with a series of exhibitions and events celebrating a history of making new art happen.

Visitors please be aware: this exhibition features work containing live growing Oyster Mushrooms, Sphagnum Moss and Rainbow Chard.


Throughout the Archives at Play exhibition the gallery will host a series of activities that will respond to both the archive, as well the physical traces left behind in the fabric of the venue from the artists and events that have gone before.

Touching the Archive by Sarah-Joy Ford Installed in the gallery’s work space, Touching the Archive features cotton gloves associated with archival practice embroidered with a text referencing archives and the traces we can leave on them.  Drop-in / 12noon – 5:30pm, every Thursday throughout the exhibition.

Curators Tour The curator of Archives at Play Thomas Dukes, and Castlefield Gallery curator & deputy director Matthew Pendergast lead a tour of the exhibition followed by a discussion with a selection of items from the Castlefield Gallery Archive. Free – £3 + booking fee. Book at eventbrite. 2pm-3pm, Thursday 17 & Saturday 19 March

Touching the Archive: Reading and Conversation Artist and researcher Sarah-Joy Ford will read her text about archives; how they hold our history and how they can touch us. Followed by an in-conversation. Free – £3 + booking fee. Book at eventbrite. 5:30pm-7pm, Thursday 17 March (Listen back to a recording of the readings HERE *Please note: Contains one use of strong language/sexual reference.)

Bright Lights from Giant Wheels by Chester Tenneson In this hands-on event, Chester Tenneson will begin by introducing the work he has made for the Archives at Play exhibition, created in response to text he found in the Castlefield Gallery archive. Tenneson will then invite members of the audience to participate in a series of performances, creating a record of fictional exhibitions. Free – £3 + booking fee. Book at eventbrite. 4pm-5pm, Saturday 19 March

Dr. Yan Wang Preston in-conversation with Thomas Dukes From nature to aesthetics, Dr. Yan Wang Preston introduces the photographic series, English Gardens, and talks about her research into why the landscape looks the way it does.  Free – £3 + booking fee. Book at eventbrite. 3pm-4pm, Sunday 10 April

Student-led tour of Archives at Play Art History students from the University of Manchester lead a short tour of Archives at Play and share their own takes on the artworks in the exhibition. Followed by an open discussion. Free. Book at eventbrite. 2pm-2:45pm, Wednesday, 13 April

Kelly Jayne Jones: Nature, Archive & Anarchy In this live performance, Kelly Jayne Jones uses sound to create a site of ritual.  With a deep curiosity for how we interact with our environment, Jones’ performance is informed by the climate crisis, and new ways for people to gather and commune.  Free – £4 + booking fee. Book at eventbrite. 6pm-7:30pm, Thursday 21 April

Focus Shift by Gregory Herbert & Andrew PM Hunt In this collaboration with musician Andy PM Hunt, and narrated by Dan Mahony, Gregory Herbert presents a soundscape of original writing, quotes, and music:


Archives at Play is supported by