The Preston Market Mystery Project

John Newling

The Preston Market Mystery Project was developed through a series of visits that John Newling made to Preston during 2005 and 2006, in which he became intrigued with the city’s historic Covered Markets. The artist was particularly interested in the activity of transaction and exchange that defines the markets, both with respect to the transaction of goods, and the social exchange between the people who work and shop in the space. The project was developed to celebrate this exchange and to begin conversations about importance of the ‘unknown’ within a city, how mystery contributes to a sense of place and what this means in the context of regeneration. The project consisted of three separate but interrelated events: The Insurance Stall, Voicing Mysteries and The Knowledge Meal.

For The Insurance Stall (November 2006) the artist hired a stall in the Covered Market, from which he ‘sold’ specially designed certificates insuring against ‘loss of mystery’ in return for shoppers’ stories of mystery in their lives. Over a three-day period he collected 280 mysteries, which included stories of lost objects, haunted houses and even possessed mobile phones.

During a twilight performance, in March 2007, Newling stood in the middle of the larger Covered Market and read each mystery aloud from a golden lectern. Of the 280 collected, the artist selected the 30 most mysterious mysteries. The people who had submitted these stories were invited to a three-course Knowledge Meal in the larger Covered Market in June 2007. As well as bringing market users together, the event also provided an unusual spectacle for people passing by, many of which stopped to listen to the guests’ conversations, which were amplified in the space.

The Knowledge Meal guests were reunited the following summer, as Newling invited all contributors to watch a film about the project in the Covered Market. During the event, everyone who had submitted a mystery was gifted a copy of a limited edition of The Preston Mystery Market publication. This contains all 280 stories, alongside visual analysis of the mysteries, and the mystery of mysteries, number 281: ‘Why is it that more women than men refer to lost items, dead people, places and houses in their mysteries whilst more men than women refer to animals, questions, and travel in their mysteries?’

The Preston Market Mystery Project provoked a re-evaluation of the Covered Markets as spaces for evening performances and events. This led to other activities in the space, most notably a drive-in cinema, which was organised by Preston organisation They Eat Culture, Preston Guild and Abandon Normal Devices, as part of the AND Festival in 2011.

Click here to visit John Newling’s artist page.
Click here to view John Newling’s talk ‘A Liminal City’.