We speak to Liam Hopkins, the artist behind Manchester's latest food experience
Food and art have had a long and storied relationship – we’re used to seeing luscious still lifes, sumptuous last suppers and gouache fruit. Then there are the art gallery cafes – we are fortunate in Manchester to have some good ones – that reward dedicated art lovers with a lump of cake and a pot of tea after a hard day of culture-trekking.
Lazerian SPACE on King Street is perhaps the first time that an art gallery itself has also been a space for eating. Or perhaps more accurately, by eating and drinking, we experience art happening. Sounds wild, right?
From the street it's hard to tell if it's a sanctified gallery or crazy new super-Instagrammable cafe
The space is the brainchild of Liam Hopkins, a multidisciplinary artist based in Denton whose artworks are collected and exhibited around the world. His practice focuses on the intersection between craft and technology. You might remember his polar bear sculpture that sat in New Bailey and he contributed an organic, twisting bench to the Manchester garden at Chelsea Flower Show.
Liam Hopkins - artist turned cafe owner
So why is an artist whose recent projects included a chandelier made from hand-cast lead soldiers and a range of corrugated cardboard furniture opening a cafe on King Street?
Liam told us: “It's a response to the time we've gone through, and are still going through. I wouldn't be doing this now if it weren't for the pandemic.
“I'm an artist and designer and at the start of last year, I had commissions all around the world and then they just came to a halt.
“I did a project called 50 Windows of Creativity here on King Street. I made a very large pair of binoculars which is all about looking from a distance and the connection with being able to look through the studio – what are we doing back here? This space is the progression from that."
“For me it sums up what King Street is about, combining an art gallery with food - a great hybrid of the two. A far as I can gather this has not really been done anywhere else. It's usually frowned upon if you eat in an art gallery.
“The space will evolve over time, and lead on to over collaborations with different chefs and restaurants. Each week it will change and that why it's really exciting.”
Lazerian SPACE currently offers cakes and coffee. The cakes come from a pastry chef who also works with Lupo in Prestwich, though all sorts of culinary adventures are planned down the line. Evening is an ideal time for a pint or a cocktail, with beer supplied by Manchester Union Lager and spirits from Worsley-based Rockstar Spirits, fresh from a recent appearance on Dragon's Den. A neat addition is a beautiful collection of chocolates that resemble tiny planets, all handmade in Chorlton.
Isolation as inspiration
Liam doesn’t want to be drawn on which restaurants might eventually get involved – though we can speculate on certain chefs that would be a perfect match – as he is already having "conversations". Collaboration is something that clearly sparks ideas for Liam: “I love collaborating and new relationships with different people but I also just wanted to open and then build upon that.”
As Liam explains the details of the space to me, it becomes clear that every facet has been sparked by our recent collective experiences. The pods, for example, have been created to represent our isolation and the “bubbles” we have all been a part of. They also serve a very practical purpose in keeping the space COVID secure and, by being bookable, allow the flow of people coming into the space to be controlled as well.
Each seating pod is a metallised hull with a colourful upholstered interior – like a comfortable-looking chrysalis from outer space. Liam made each element himself, from the metalwork to sewing. The vivid upholstery, made from reclaimed plastic found in the sea, was inspired by the drawings of rainbows taped in windows right at the beginning of the pandemic. Even the design of the carpet, again by Liam, reflects the theme, so that colour seems to gather in puddles beneath each pod. The effect is particularly striking at night when the pods glow with colour.
There are a series of circular paintings on the walls, calling to mind strange, luminous planets, while larger canvases are splashed with colour, the effect created by a knobbly object made from spray cans. The cluster represents a single coronavirus, spurting out paint instead of RNA.
Digital meets analogue
While the street-level space plays with colour, downstairs is a stark white room that is perhaps more reminiscent of the traditional idea of an art gallery and is home to some of Liam’s totemic animals, including sharks and a dog called Gerald.
I booked the pink pod for my visit to Lazerian SPACE. The smallest pod of the cluster, it's comfy for one or intimate for two, while the darker blue pod is large enough for a family, with sizes in between. Each pod can be reserved with a small deposit though walk-ins are welcome too.
Lazerian SPACE does turn our expectations on their heads. From the street, it's hard to tell if it's a sanctified gallery to be approached with hushed voices, or a crazy new super-Instagrammable cafe. We've been told for a while now that to survive, the high street will have to provide "experiences" instead of feeding us consumer goods. That is certainly part of Liam's mission.
There are further plans for every element of Lazerian SPACE, including Liam making all the cutlery, plates and cups. He is driven by taken things apart and discovering how they work and hasn’t yet met a method of making he didn’t want to get his hands on. “I’m interested in bringing a digital element into an analogue world. But then the fact that these things have been crafted by hand gives them a little bit more of a sense of soul,” he says.
Lazerian SPACE, 24-26 King Street, city centre
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