Interview: OUT HOUSE – Public art in Manchester

out house mcr

Akse complete his Heisenberg piece
Akse completes his Heisenberg piece, with a Jay Sharples Hulk on the left, on the new Out House substation site



It’s been great to see the creative side of Manchester given some exposure on the internet this week owing to Akse’s Heisenberg piece (Metro, NME, Reddit to name a few), tapping into the zetigeist of the final eight Breaking Bad episodes being broadcast on a torturous weekly basis.

While most of the coverage has been sheer appreciation, the Manchester Evening News have quoted at least one resident complaining about the implications of having the Emmy-award winning Bryan Cranston’s face on the site. The last couple of days have seen the piece defaced with scratches, scribbles and the legend ‘Walter Shite’ – rather than being done in protest as the MEN angle, it seems these were rather done for the sake of it – because it is there.

Nathan Evan's skeletons have gained some greenery recently.
Nathan Evan’s skeletons have gained some greenery recently.

The focus on Heisenberg will hopefully shift attention onto the other artworks that Out House, who commissioned Akse in the first place, are asking artists to decorate the city with. The Breaking Bad piece is actually on Out House’s second site, an electricity substation that in 2010 became noteworthy for its previously undiscovered Banksy. In a controversial move for some, the decision was made to protect that piece with a wooden frame and plastic cover, a move seen as hypocritical by those prosecuted in the past for painting on public or council owned property.

Out House’s pioneering project is brightening up the city and re-establishing attention to its walls. Get to know them better below.


Screen shot 2013-08-24 at 10.27.45
Edward Snowden, by SLM art
This site is surrounded by small businesses such as Eastern Bloc record shop and Fred Aldous.
A spate of bars and coffee shops are opening up around the corner.
Who is Out House?


Out House is an outdoor space for Public Art. The first site is situated in Stevenson Square. The second site is now the SubStation on the corner of Tib Street.


Whitewashed for round 7.
Whitewashed for round 7.
What’s the pre-Out House history of the three blocks?


It used to be a public toilet.


oUT house 1921
oUT house 1921


And this is what it used to be in 1921!


How did the project come about then? What gave you the idea?


CityCo approached Lois Macdonald who in turn approached Tasha Whittle to work collaboratively on curating the space. Lois left and then Benjamin Harrison was brought on board. The idea came about by the blocks needing a good ol’ lick of fresh paint, and so we programmed it to happen every three months. It is also generously funded by Fred Aldous who supply all the materials for the artists when they come to paint.


What happened to Jonny Dub?


Hoya Hoya / Sketch City's Jonny Dub, almost immortalised for a good while on the blocks.  Pic:
Hoya Hoya / Sketch City’s Jonny Dub, almost immortalised for a good while on the blocks.


As a person, he is still alive… as a picture he is under about 20 layers of paint. People were drawing cocks on his face, which isn’t nice (but a bit funny)… only because it had been there for so long. (In a side note, it was good to see those cocks being cleaned off – by the council? – in the name of preservation – Groovement)


Lispencie's Dub-replacing pug from round one.
Lispencie’s Dub-replacing pug from round one.



Are there restrictions to what you can do on the building in terms of content, time pieces can be up etc?


On the Out House it changes every three months. On the SubStation it is every month. We give the artists free reign in regards to content but ask them to not create work which contains rude images and swear words… which is obvious. All of the artists so far get it.


Sheffield's Faunagraphic
Sheffield’s Faunagraphic


You’ve expanded to the electricty substation! What does that entail in terms of applications and permits etc etc? What’s going on with the Banksy on that site? How do you feel about that being framed and protected?


We got given the site from the previous work done on Out House Stevenson Square. As you will see the Bansky is currently getting swallowed up by moss / fungus growing on that loverly green house frame which was built to protect it. We don’t believe it needs to be framed and ‘protected’. Look at all the previous art work that goes up and around, it’s ephemeral. In some ways it is nice to see that council are finally accepting art that goes up in the streets but that piece isn’t worth protecting.



Do the artists get grief from members of the public, or alternatively applause?


Both. “You’ve missed a bit,” is currently high up on the tally list. We always get grief when we white wash the OHSS space. “What are you doing? Why are you getting rid of it?” “Are you doing community service?”


But most of the time it is a thumbs up and a big smile. In December 2012 an elderly couple walked past admiring the the artists painstakingly paint in proper cold and gave each of them a couple of quid for doing a ‘great job’.
Do you hide in the bushes to garner public opinion? What’s that been like so far? You could give us some of the best and the worst if you like.


Why would we hide in the bushes? There are no bushes in the NQ. We’ve been given permission so no need to hide or wait ’til darkness. It’s been nothing but positive, especially for the artists who get further commissions and recognition from painting the spaces. Everyone is taking pictures of it and spreading the word!


Best – Positive comments, the people who come up and talk about the artists, the art work, their love and fascination of the work being made. We get a lot of people who have figured out when we do our repaints and come to watch. The age range is vast, a lot of our returning folk are old and it gives people an opportunity to talk about what is happening, watch something being created in front of their eyes, discuss ideas and see something fresh. Get a lot of people taking photos too.


Worst – People who take photos but then don’t follow up on checking out who these people are that are creating the artwork. It’s important to know / find out who you are taking pictures of. Editor’s note – check the Out House site for information on the artists for each round.


How do you feel about the growing internet attention to the Akse Heisenberg piece? Any one getting any facts wrong etc – or do you like the speculation?


It can only be a good thing, we’ve had some complaints – through other sources. But essentially, everyone has their own opinion and by putting artwork out in the public realm the artists and ourselves will always be subjected to backlash. We listen, we take note and try to do something about it.



Akse's piece professionally defaced, a couple of days after going up.
Akse’s piece professionally defaced, a couple of days after going up.


Are there any other Manc spaces you think need art?


Everywhere needs a good ol’ lick of paint. All the crap advertising billboards would be a great start, and the old buildings which have been left to crumble for ‘regeneration’.


How do you choose the artists involved?


Look around, meet people, make a list of artists, contact them, if they’re up for getting involved, programme them.


How do surrounding businesses help out?


Fred Aldous are our main sponsor. From the beginning they have supplied art materials to the artists. Without them we wouldn’t have a running project that has lasted this long! Eastern Bloc (record shop) & Soup Kitchen (food and music) are now on board to provide tea, coffee and food for when the artists are painting over the two days.


It would be great if other businesses in the area supported the project as well. Everybody benefits from what the artists put out there! The SubStation is yet to have any supporters, so if you like what we are doing please get in touch!


What’s your opinion of non-Out House associated public art in the city?




Which cities do you think inspire our (Manchester’s) artists?


You will have to ask them! But a trip to Berlin or Barcelona never goes amiss!


What’s your favourite Groovement podcast? (optional) They are all our favourites!!


Follow us: @outhousemcr
Instagram #outhousemcr / #SubStation


Some of the artists who have taken part so far …

mayhew 1 sharples 2 Screen shot 2013-08-24 at 10.25.55 iwm


Agent J aka Jamie Groovement: writer, host, DJ and teacher. @jamiegroovement

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