Follow the Yellow

Manchester International Festival 2013: do it!


Fischli and Weiss

Last week I paid a flying visit to Manchester – the first time I’ve visited the city for ages. Needless to say, I immediately grabbed the chance to squeeze in a little taste of this year’s Manchester International Festival. MIF always has such a varied and exciting programme, and this year’s has obviously been no exception – there have been all kinds of intriguing goings-on, from theatre to live art to music, and even an urban farm springing up in the city.

I only had a couple of hours in the middle of a Thursday to spare, so I decided to take a quick stroll through Festival Square to soak up the atmosphere, before heading over to Manchester Art Gallery for do it – a group exhibition curated by MIF artistic adviser Hans Ulrich Obrist. This exhibition-with-a-difference invites visitors not merely to look at the work on display, but to actively take part in creating it.

do it is not a new project – in fact it began back in 1993, the brainchild of French artists Christian Boltanski and Bertrand Lavier, as well as Obrist himself. Since then, the project has grown into a continually-evolving and expanding compendium of instructions and ideas generated by artists. The idea is that anyone can follow the instructions, taking part in all kinds of eclectic activities, and so becoming part of the show, creating and performing artworks. The project has already had more than 50 incarnations all over the world, and artists taking part have included everyone from David Lynch to Sarah Lucas to Douglas Coupland.

This exhibition for MIF celebrates the project’s 20th anniversary, and previews 70 new instructions. It brings together artists from the earliest do it experiments with a new generation of contemporary artists, including Ai Weiwei, Adrian Piper, Tracey Emin and Cory Arcangel, to name but a few.

Walking around Manchester Art Gallery, you can find out more about the history of the project, as well as stumbling upon instructions of all kinds – from the obscure, to the apparently meaningless, from the everyday to the esoteric, from the straightforward to the seemingly impossible. You might find Yoko Ono’s Wish Tree or Ai Weiwei’s instructions to disable an overhead CCTV camera, or encounter children making a huge newspaper ball in response to instructions from Michelangelo Pisoletto. Visitors are invited to upload images of their responses to the various instructions via the exhibition website, and you can find some of the instructions there too – such as Tacita Dean’s challenge to find a four-leaf clover, or Subodh Gupta’s recipe for a fish curry.

I really liked the idea of this show, which reminded me a little bit of Miranda July’s Learning to Love You More. The concept of an experimental, playful exhibition, in which everyone strolling through the gallery, from visiting artists to casual passers-by, becomes a participant, is both inspiring and a huge amount of fun. However I have to admit to feeling a little disappointed to the experience of the exhibition itself. Looking around the gallery and spotting the instructions was entertaining, but without much information on what the show was, or where the different elements could be found, it was easy to miss things, and it sometimes felt a little incoherent. Perhaps, though, it’s simply that what makes this exhibition interesting is taking part in it: the spaces came to life when people were exploring them, when two strangers were making a connection over trying to squeeze a lemon on a bicycle seat – but when the galleries were empty, it seemed a little flat. But this criticism aside, do it is certainly an exhibition that makes you think differently – which for me, is always what MIF always does best.

do it is at Manchester Art Gallery until Sunday 22 September 2013

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