Sharp wit and a great sense of humour – that’s how we’d describe artist Hannah Whitlow. She’s just finished an exhibition of her work at Burnley Mechanics, and already she’s looking forward to her next project.
The 26-year-old showcased her collection titled ‘Neither Use nor Ornament’ at the Mechanics, which took common phrases used in her hometown of Burnley (like ‘it’s crackin’ flags’, ‘swear down’ and ‘want owt from shop?’) and turned them into works of art – ceramics with the phrases incorporated into them, and banners made in collaboration with Tara Collette.
“I’d thought of the title before I knew exactly where I was going with the art exhibition,” Hannah told us. “I’m interested in language and colloquialisms, and when I went to uni in Nottingham it became more apparent that these phrases were so specific to us Burnley natives – most people down there didn’t understand a word I was saying.
“Before this, I’d struggled to find the cross over between observational poetry and art. Just like the words, the pieces I’ve created aren’t functional, they aren’t beautiful; but they’re real.
“I love creating art in any form because it gives you the opportunity to be playful. I already have multiple other commissions lined up using Lancashire and Burnley phrases.”
In fact, Neither Use nor Ornament has been such a big hit that Hannah has been asked to recreate the exhibit in Nottingham. It will be interesting to see how that one pans out!
Interpretive art isn’t the only impression that Hannah has left on Burnley. As part of the recent arts festival ‘Openings’ the former One Sixty Café employee has begun a Zine Machine here in town featuring small-circulation self-published fanzines of original work, with the promise of starting a Zine library for others to contribute to.
“I’ve always loved zines – I’ve been making them since I went to university. They have a lot of heritage and are known for being rebellious or radical. My parents’ friends used to make zines when they were in punk bands. It’s all about culture on a shoestring and it’s a great platform for people to express themselves. They help to bring communities together and inspire people to talk about what they believe in.
“I really want to make Burnley a destination for high-quality art & culture.”
Hannah is also Programme Producer at Blaze – A youth-led arts charity working across Lancashire (does this girl ever stop?). In Burnley Blaze are delivering Generation Change – a group who uses arts for social change. By working with professional artists and learning new skills young artists are creating commissioned pieces addressing topics like climate change and plastic pollution.
“Blaze is focused on nurturing young creatives as they’re the next generation of cultural producers. It’s not just about the art, but also about the journey and what art could be. It can be anything.”