8 Oct 2019
The Use Hearing Protection FAC 1-50 / 40 exhibition review 
The Use Hearing Protection FAC 1-50 / 40 exhibition review

The Use Hearing Protection FAC 1-50/40 exhibition (aka "we are bored in the city") is on at Chelsea Space and the Chelsea College of Art and Design until 26 October 2019. Curators Mat Bancroft and Jon Savage have assembled historical artefacts in the form of records, posters, archive papers, documents and much more in the first exhibition of its kind that I can remember as part of celebrations of the 40th anniversary of Factory Records (41st shurely? Ed.).

The exhibition deals with the first fifty Fac numbers in approximately numerical order starting with Fac 1 at the end of the corridor as you enter the main space and after some scene-setting posters and publications such as the Joy Division 'Walthamstow' ("Shimmy") and Situationist texts like 'Leaving the 20th Century'. Explanatory texts and captions are kept to minimum but there is a foldout A4 black-and-white information sheet or, for a modest £5, the "we are bored in the city" A5 black-and-white information booklet (by Jon Savage) which contains small reproductions of some of the artefacts on display.

The FAC 1-50 collection is impressive when seen together as a body of work and is all the more so when you consider the very short span of time it took for it to be developed (1978-1981). Given the rarity and value of some of the individual items it's pleasing to see virtually everything that could be displayed is present and correct. The only exceptions are the mega-rare black-on-silver variant of the Fact 10+4 poster and the Fac 46 'Video Circus' poster. The latter number is represented only by the silver A Certain Ratio sticker for the NYC leg of the Video Circus. Interestingly the copy on display featured blue ink on a silver sticker whereas my personal copy (kindly given to me by Donald Johnson of ACR) has red ink. The former is very rare indeed and it was not possible to locate a copy (where are you Steven?).

The Use Hearing Protection FAC 1-50 / 40 exhibition review
The exhibition in final stages of preparation

The supporting material is mainly presented in flatbed display cases with clear vitrine protective lids. This comes from a variety of sources but most notably the AHW Collection at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester. This aspect was especially pleasing for me on a personal level since I have been involved with the documenting and catalogue of that collection since 2009 when I was invited to help the Museum by Oli Wilson. All along it's been at the back of my mind that wouldn't it be great to see this material in an exhibition. That dream has finally come to life and there is the tantalising prospect of even more material being exhibited when the Use Hearing Protection exhibition transfers to the Science and Industry Museum next year. The theme will still be FAC 1-50, but, due to increased capacity when the new exhibition space at the Museum is completed, there will be scope to include more material. I understand that there are also proposals to include a video screening room and perhaps even hold more associated events.

In fact, if there was one criticism of the current exhibition it is just that the limited exhibition space just isn't big enough to allow justice to be done to everything. With the exceptions of Fact 10 which has a whole panel devoted to it, Fac 18 which has 7"/12" variants and Fac 41 Fairy Tales (green and purple colourways), pretty much only one side of one version of one format is viewable. It would be nice to see both sides of the sleeves of all releases in the way that materials were exhibited at The Peter Saville Show in 2003. There are numerous opportunities to include additional material, such as all the variants of the Fac 18 'Girls Don't Count' with all the three different girlfriends, the Fact 14 'The Return of the Durutti Column' variants with and without stencilling, Fac 19 'It's Hard To Be an Egg' with the feather, Fac 39 'Watching the Hydroplanes' on clear and transparent vinyl, different formats of various albums and the occasional promotional poster.

Here's looking forward to next year.

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More info at usehearingprotection.com/exhibition [->]

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