The Reno: Exhibition review

‘The Reno’ at the Whitworth Art Gallery

Written by Harry Hunter

Photography by Lewis White

‘Ours was called the RENO. Excavated, we dipped our finger in its fountain of youth. To write our story’.

– Linda Brogan – Playwright-cum-Excavator

The term ‘anemoia’ is to feel nostalgia for a time you’ve never known and peering into the photos that adorn the walls of The Whitworth’s upper floor, it’s hard not to feel a kind of wanderlust – a pang of nostalgia for a time you’ve never experienced.

The photographs in question regard the former residents of The Reno nightclub (1968-1987), a haven for Manchester’s mixed-race community in an age where the repercussions of the 1930 ‘Fletcher Report’ (a paper that insisted children of mixed heritage suffered from inherent physical/mental defects) dictated who could be granted entry into Manchester’s nightclubs and public houses.

This is a one-of-a-kind, interactive space that over the course of its one-year residency intends to grow organically by imploring the visitor to, ‘View our artefacts, excavation photos, films, memoirs and chat to help us imagine our future exhibition’ at its end in March 2020. The Reno therefore doesn’t just inform the viewer but openly invites and transports them into this space through recorded testimony – where one can sit and bear witness to the many patrons who played dominoes in the ‘gambling room’, drank bottles of Jamaican Dragon Stout, danced to imported American soul and funk records and were subject to frequent police raids. Distancing itself from conventional exhibitions that deal with local history, ‘The Reno’ is a living sculpture – a dissertation in how memories of this space will grow over time. In short, it demands participation and interaction. The memorial wall that dominates a quarter of the space implores visitors to contribute by posting photographs of those who were connected in any way to The Reno – akin to a stamp of approval, of visitation.

This literal digging up of the past was born out of Manchester-based playwright Linda Brogan’s desire to cast light on an altogether different scene, one perennially overshadowed by arguably what would become Manchester’s most famous nightclub – The Haçienda. Situated adjacent to the Heineken Brewery, Brogan visited the empty, poppy-filled site in 2016:

‘I sat to remember our civilisation, our black market, our social structure. I am a multi-award-winning playwright, but a play couldn’t capture the nuances’.

Instead, Brogan filmed ‘Reno memoirs’ in the homes of the attendees with the opening line; “Tell me about your first night down The Reno” – a question that would spiral into hour-long descents down memory lane. 45,000 views and 18 months later, ‘The Reno Project’ secured funding from the National Lottery to excavate the site with the assistance of the Salford University’s centre for Applied Archaeology. Bringing the past into the present, Brogan has connected intergenerational gaps between Moss Side’s residents, as the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who frequented The Reno helped with this digging into the past.

The flared trousers, combs, perfumes, bottles with remnants of alcohol and even marijuana – heirlooms of The Reno retrieved in the excavation – are currently on display side-by-side. Fittingly, these items, charged with the memory of the club, are displayed below a timeline that charts the experience of the Windrush Generation first arriving in the UK in the 1940s – to rebuild a British economy weakened by war – to the present day of ‘colonising’ The Whitworth and building a settlement here. This exhibition is not simply a celebration of The Reno as a space in which Manchester’s mixed-race community could form relationships with likeminded individuals, but a wider commentary on the mixed-race experience. Brogan herself has asserted that her mission during this year-long residency is to find out; ‘What conversation would I have if I didn’t talk about race?’ ‘The Reno’ therefore is an opportunity to take ownership of a complex narrative often misunderstood by those who have not experienced racial conflict first-hand, of ‘Our white mums being ostracised from her family’ and ‘Being divided by our mum’s roast and our dad’s yam’ as Brogan succinctly describes it.

To capture the essence of ‘The Reno’ in the simplest form, its ethos and intentions are:

‘To collect your story. Which contextualises ours. We are all pages in the book of our time on earth’.

‘The Reno’ is a work in progress and not a ‘complete piece’ – an exhibition that requires multiple visits as it evolves throughout its year-long residency. What makes ‘The Reno’ progressive is its very unpredictability, its demand to be interacted with, as opposed to be merely looked at. As visitors we are intrigued to see how it will develop over time and therefore we forge a metaphysical bond where The Reno has not only been excavated but resurrected for all to see.

The Reno‘ is on at Whitworth Art Gallery from 15th March 2019 – March 2020. Check out our What’s On Calendar for more exhibitions.

Our guest blogger is Harry Hunter, a Copywriter and Literature postgraduate based in Manchester. His writing focuses primarily on memory, hauntology and psychogeography and how these interrelate to forgotten places in the North West.

Our guest photographer is Lewis White, a fine art street photographer who looks at loneliness in the city. You can purchase his prints on his website lewiswhitephotography.com.

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