Manchester International Festival has been dominating the column inches recently. From Kenneth Branagah’s Macbeth through to the audio visual experience of Massive Attack vs. Adam Curtis, there have certainly been some diverse events across the city – both paid and free.
The Festival Tent in Albert Square has certainly reinvigorated the area with its programme of free entertainment including acoustic acts, classic pieces and DJ’s spinning the decks. Last nights excellent edition of The Culture Show on BBC Two focused on the festival with a behind-the-scenes look of Maxine Peake’s performance of The Masque of Anarchy, the Library Theatre’s Manchester Sound and do it 2013 (and is available on BBC iPlayer for the next 7 days)
The festival got off to a pretty unique start with a 65 hour performance, that at times felt more like an endurance feat than an art installation thanks to the unseasonal heat. Nikhil Chopra’s Coal on Cotton aimed to explore the relationship between two objects than together had made Manchester, but still today, effectively enslave others in the world.
The Whitworth Art Gallery stayed open 24 hours a day during this performance, which began as Chopra erected a canvas tent in the empty space where the new landscape gallery will be. Bemused visitors who had been staying up into the night were charmed by Chopra’s enigmatic presence, if a little dismayed he wasn’t actually doing much.
By contrast, the following day he was furiously drawing on the cotton canvas using chunks of coal to produce a modern cityscape resplendent with billowing towers belching smoke.
To get the most from Coal on Cotton, you had to follow it through its 65 hour run. I was lucky enough to see it at the start and end of its journey, and the commitment, and change in Chopra’s characters as he transferred from Indian farm hand to Lancashire mill worker through to dapper businessman was captivating to watch, alongside the movement of his charcoal coated hands as he worked on the cityscape. Finishing with him ordering everyone out of the tent before dragging his work to the front of the Whitworth and pinning it up, he finally waltzed off into the sunset leaving a large group of applauding onlookers to examine his work up close.
Charming and articulate, Chopra’s performance is something that I suspect will linger long in the memories of those who took the trip up to the Whitworth to see him. Hear more about the exhibit in this introductory video:
Manchester Art Gallery is also getting in on the MIF action, as do it 2013 celebrates 20 years of the instructional art exhibit with a typically barmy and increasingly bizarre set of ‘interventions’.
From the Mark Radcliffe voiced lift that whispers its way up and down the gallery to the vending machine dispensing beer, it is certainly an eclectic collection – if not entirely my cup of tea.
Yoko Ono’s Wish Tree is certainly a highlight of the exhibit, with a mixture of the silly and touching wishes adorning its many branches under the instruction to “Make a wish. Write it down on a piece of paper. Fold it and tie it around a branch of a wish tree.”. The chance to touch an alien object or watch some of the physical exhibits – the groups cleaning the gallery for example, is where do it 2013 comes really alive.
I think that children might engage with the exhibits more. The instructions appeal to the inner child within us all, and the wacky nature of many exhibits seems to reinforce this. You almost expect Harry Hill to turn up halfway through. Certainly when I went to see it, the gallery was near deserted lending a sad air of desperation. The instructional nature can get a bit weary at times, lending an air of disconnection between you and the exhibits – a connection that was painfully felt during Chopra’s performance.
It’s lively, but lacking. Despite some of the heavyweight names featured, do it 2013 falls surprisingly flat in some areas whilst the bombardment of interventions feels overwhelming in other places.
Whilst MIF is undoubtedly very successful for Manchester and its residents, it does feel as if some events are inaccessible. The popularity of some events has meant that many simply cannot get tickets, and with the social media and PR machines in full swing, it can be easy to feel left out.
This said, there’s still chances to attend many events, some will have a life beyond the festival – it’s well worth nipping over to The Biospheric Project on the banks of the Irwell to see how they are tackling the problem of food shortages. The Machine, the story of chess Grand Master Garry Kasparov’s battle with computer Deep Blue also continues to critical acclaim.
One thing that has resonated about the festival is the choice of venues – from The Machine’s Campfield Market Hall to Mayfield Depot and the candlelit interior of the Albert Hall, everyone has been spellbound by the renovation and use of these distinctly Mancunian, and mostly forgotten or inaccessible venues – something that MIF should be recognised for.
Incidentally for an alternative and amusing take on MIF another Manchester-based blog, Frivolous Monsters, has written a terrific post on their version of the festival here that is well worth a read.
Manchester International Festival concludes on Sunday 21 July. More photos are in our Flickr set here.