Aged 17, I Entered The Reno Fresh From My Boyfriend’s Murder.

Aged 17, I descended the stairs of the Reno fresh from my boyfriend’s murder at the hands of his other girlfriend. I was six months pregnant. I aborted it.

Ivan cries about his dead mum by the fire that Brian Thorne lights in the gambling room hearth the night before we fill the Reno back in again. Flowers in a plastic bottle and 3 bottles of Prossecco left from the marquee celebration are on our exposed mantelpiece. We are quiet. Each lost in the world that was then and is 40 years later. 

‘Have you ever been sectioned?’ I say to him, as the cars drive past looking in on our private party. He cries deeper. But he is still annoying me.

We live isolated lives, the inner city working class: now behind the meaningless Facebook slogans.  ‘Love you mum in heaven.’ ‘Miss you mum.’ We have nowhere to put our truth. Maybe, pissed to our best friend.  Hoping she don’t remember in the morning.

I want to give us the camera. Or as I term it: give the mic to the refugees. Instead of standing beside them as they drip at the shore and telling their story. But probably like us they couldn’t tell their story. What have they done to survive?

In the Whitworth’s sculptor gallery as a living exhibition, the Reno 12, those most loyal to the excavation, plus me, will excavate our selves and recreate the Reno from the Reno memoirs’ stills, excavation, artifact, and archival photos. Each picks a work of art from the Whitworth collection to build our individual collection around. Hang it on our wall. Photograph it. Make 13 individual 12 sheet photo-books. Stitch them into one. Then each picks a day of excavation footage. Edit that. Stitch them into one. Make a film poem. Then use all we have unearthed to build a metaphorical exhibition around us, in our gallery, that tells the story of the Reno through the stories we’ve kept hidden all these years.  The storyboard we will use to create our 2021 musical. In secret negotiations with a massive institution. 

The Whitworth’s new AD Alistair Hudson says: ‘A lot of community projects, even with lots of people involved, are ultimately about making work that advances an artist’s career. Something we need to bring back into the equation is the responsibility artists have. They should work collectively within society to be more useful. ‘

I married my husband in 1978 because my spliff roach came out on my lip in front of a group in a semi circle in the kitchen in the Reno. I was shitting myself. He whispered in my ear: ‘they are all masquerading.’ We started tripping together. He educated me. He carried a tramp across the road to demonstrate he had empathy. He is white. He earned his half-caste strips as a top pickpocket. And he could fight. I knew his name long before I met him in 1977, 6 months after my boyfriend had died, and my baby is dropped into a bucket, Easter Monday, dawn, he was at the top of the Reno stairs. I really fancied X sat behind me at the bottom. Thank God I went up the stairs. I know me, instead of getting the 4 techniques of meditation with Tom I would have become a heroine addict with X.

Every inch of this journey has been scary. Asking MCC for the land to excavate the Reno. Selling the Reno the idea while praying I get the ACE money. 15 turned up to the first meeting in Alec Park. Ringing the Reno Regulars I haven’t spoke to for the 20 years I have been in the arts, to ask for a memoir. Filming the memoirs knowing I could look a cunt any moment; trying not to sound fake, knowing I don’t quite talk their language anymore. Hoping others would get involved in the excavation when only 5 turn up the first day.  But the fear is extreme now. 

Building a spliff was a Reno art form. It was oppressive, like the boundaries of our conversation. Like the clothes we wore. Like our queen afforded her rude mouth because her six feet husband might batter you. Like stationing our self by the toilet for months before moving further into the room. The Reno has all the intrigue of Versailles.

If I tell this story in a book or a play it is a lone story of someone who has sold out. As we work collectively within the Whitworth residency the negative can take its rightful place with the positive exuded so far. Every institution has a hierarchy. This 12 months residency gives me time to discover the visual language to tell the Reno’s. The memoirs bought me freedom from the master's voice. The excavation bought me the freedom of notoriety in both the ghetto and the arts world. In the residency I will be looking for a common empathetic language to talk to both. It is serendipity that me, and Alistair are at the Whitworth together, embracing and enabling each other’s ethos.  

We found a Moet and Chandon in the Reno’s remains. I was the wife of the Raven in Animal Farm, sat on the fence waiting for it all to be engulfed in flames. My court shoes and pencil skirts abandoned, my second hand cheese-clothe un-ironed. Till we sold weed and I then shopped in Altrincham and Hale Barns boutiques.  We don’t engage with regular art, parental institutional art, because we don’t relate. I can see the brown Formica clad walls, feel the energy of our acknowledgment nods, who is in the know, who is at the top tables, whose shoes cost this much, whose shoes don’t need to cost anything, who wears Kickers, the brandy glasses, the base from the speakers, the laughs, the mirror you passed. 

Now imagine the visual language to capture this. Visceral. We would feel it. The inner city working class who aspired to the Reno would feel it. Our kids who wished they had gone would feel it.  The arts would feel it. They would engage with us.

I have loved 2 people in my life: the boy who was murdered, and my girlfriend. When I walked down the Reno’s steep steps in 1976 my heart was broken. When me, and my girlfriend spilt up I sat on the grass of the demolished Reno. I wanted to go home. Home was gone. I dug it up. The community are reunited. I have friends again to whom I can tell my story. My interpretation of the arts world had made me turn my back on them. I believed the stereotype: people like us don’t engage with the arts, we have no heart.

I sold our story to you and I sold our story to them as a colour thing. Then I began to question what story would we tell if it wasn’t linked to colour? There is only one story to tell. Love. Love engages people. So beginning tonight in my weekly blog on I will tell my truth. This was my gift in the Reno. I have never been popular, but I have always been much in demand one on one. I must turn the future videos into that feeling that people get when they are reading a book in private, or watching a play with the lights turned off: the artist is talking to me and me alone.

From now on, I will always lead from my heart. The middle class can perfect politics because they keep their hearts pickled in art. What would we say to each other in secret while living a profitable life on the surface? What are our metaphors? That reveals our heart.

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