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, doit2013.org 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.
doit is at Manchester Art Gallery until Sunday 22 September 2013
After a day out in the sunshine in Greenwich yesterday, we stopped off in Canary Wharf on the way home to visit the Museum of London Docklands.
Their latest exhibition, Estuary, takes its inspiration from the Thames Estuary itself: ‘a place both specific and vague… a largely overlooked landscape’ that ‘has provided inspiration for many artists and writers, among them JMW Turner, John Constable, Charles Dickens, Joseph Conrad and T S Eliot’. The show brings together a varied selection of work by contemporary artists exploring the estuary, its landscapes and its history, through painting, photography, printmaking and film installation.
For me, it was Michael Andrews’ paintings that immediately stood out – an homage to Turner and Whistler, beautifully painted in a palette of soft browns, greys, greens and blues that perfectly captures the colours of the shore landscape. Further on, Christine Baumgartner’s ghostly prints of rusting old ships create an intriguing contrast with Simon Roberts’ photograph of a deserted Southend Pier, which combines the gaudy fun of seaside nostalgia with a surreal, somewhat spooky sense of emptiness.
Stephen Turner’s Seafort Project, which aims to capture the artist’s experience of taking up residence alone in a derelict seafort on the Shivering Sands, resonated with me less – but I was fascinated by the idea of the seaforts themselves which recurred in a couple of other works in the exhibition. These hulking structures, on stilts raising them high above the water, were built as a defence against German aircraft during the Second World War, but now lie abandoned and rusting – see the image above from Thames Film by Michael Raban.
I also loved The Bow Gamelan Ensemble’s short film, which shows the three artists (performance artist Anne Bean, percussionist Paul Burwell and sculptor Richard Wilson) playing makeshift instruments in and around a group of abandoned concrete barges, whilst the tide slowly rises to submerge them. There are a number of interesting video works in the exhibition, including Andrew Kotting’s Jaunt, and John Smith’s Horizon (Five Pounds a Belgian), which combines a number of apparently images of the sea and the horizon to create a strangely spellbinding short film.
Thoughtfully put together, this exhibition cleverly conjures up the smell of saltwater and the cry of seagulls, offering both familiar and new perspectives on the river. Taking us on a tour of industrial estates and seaside resorts, mudflats and saltmarshes, seaforts and shipwrecks, Estuary is a portrait of an intriguing landscape – forgotten, solitary, bleak but unexpectedly beautiful.
Estuary is at the Museum of London Docklands until 27 October 2013
Levi Pinfold’s Black Dog is the winner of the 2013 CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal. I spoke to Levi about how it feels to win this prestigious prize.
‘I’m feeling great!’ Even though we’re only talking on the phone, it’s impossible to miss the fact that Levi Pinfold has a beaming smile on his face. He’s been named the 2013 winner of the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal, which recognises excellence in illustration, for his second picture book Black Dog, joining a list of winning illustrators that include Sir Quentin Blake, John Burningham, Helen Oxenbury, Shirley Hughes and Anthony Browne, to name but a few.
‘It’s a real honour,’ Pinfold tells me. ‘It’s a hugely personal thing for me. I worked for a very long year on Black Dog and it was very hard work – but very rewarding. It’s just amazing for someone to tell me that it’s good. It’s a real honour to be listed alongside all those fantastic illustrators… it’s really quite humbling.’
Pinfold takes a characteristically modest attitude to his book, which the judges identified as a ‘true modern classic’ that ‘will be read and enjoyed by generations to come.’ ‘I usually tend to downplay my work a little bit,’ he confesses. ‘I’ve looked at it for so long, but I hope maybe the judges could see the commitment that I put into it, and how hard I think about things…. You do put a lot of your personal feelings into books – subconsciously, it just trickles in there.’
Black Dog, which Pinfold wrote and illustrated, is story of a little girl called Small Hope who faces fear head-on in the form of a monstrous giant black dog – but she soon realises that it isn’t quite as frightening as everyone else seems to think. Pinfold explains: ‘I wanted to write a ghost story: a spooky story for kids, with a gothic element. I was sitting in the library, reading a book about the spectral hounds of England, and I found this legend of the black dog, which is a recurrent myth in different counties of England, although in different areas it’s called different things. Usually it was this horrible thing that appears on the moors, and if you see it, something terrible will happen to you. Then I discovered one in Somerset that’s just called the “Gurt Dog” and the description was “he is a nice dog”. I thought that was quite a funny idea, and then I thought “what if he’s just been misunderstood in these other places? Maybe he’s just a lonely dog, wandering around.”’ His next book will also put a new spin on traditional legends. ‘I’m working on a book which should be out next year, which is about vegetables! It sounds very simple, but it’s actually about the Green Man myth, putting a little twist on the legend, and using those symbols in a new way.’
It is Pinfold’s distinctive illustrations which really set Black Dog apart – the Greenaway judges described as a ‘visual treat, full of mood and atmosphere’. Talking about his approach to illustration, he explains: ‘I take a long-term view of illustration and painting. I like to look at very old stuff as well as the most contemporary work. I’m hugely influenced by people like Brueghel as well as people like Shaun Tan and Anthony Browne – I have a very wide sphere of influence’. Thinking about why his style differs from that of many other contemporary picture book creators, he ponders: ‘I think perhaps the other thing is that I spend a lot of time locked up painting, so I don’t spend a lot of time going out and meeting other illustrators, so I don’t tend to get influenced by them. I just love painting and I love children’s books.’
Creating the beautiful, richly-detailed spreads in his picture books is something of a labour of love for Pinfold. ‘My process of creating illustrations is quite lengthy,’ he explains. ‘As for a lot of illustrators, it tends to begin in sketch form, then you produce a fairly detailed rough for your publisher. After that, what I do is I paint the illustration by hand. In Black Dog I used tempera – a kind of old-fashioned paint where you mix egg yolk with pigment. You layer up your painting over weeks. I don’t get bored… when I’m painting, when I’m exploring that world that I’m creating, that’s the moment when I think “this is what I’m meant to be doing”. I’m looking through the piece of paper, looking into it, and that’s what I enjoy.’ Thinking about this for a moment, he adds: ‘It’s a nightmare for my publisher, I imagine – I’m busy “exploring the interior space” and they just want a book!’
Pinfold is not a newcomer to winning accolades for his work: Black Dog has already been awarded the Children’s Book Award in the AOI Illustration Awards 2013. His first picture book The Django won a Booktrust Early Years Award for Best Emerging Illustrator in 2010 and in the following year he was selected as one of ten Booktrust Best New Illustrators. ‘It can be tremendously difficult when you’re starting out as an illustrator and trying to make a mark, and it really helped with awareness of my work, and the relationship with my publisher,’ he reflects. ‘Plus I got to meet the other illustrators – it’s great to see them doing stuff now. Winning those two awards was incredible for me. It’s been a wild ride ever since.’
Pinfold is using his Kate Greenaway Medal win as an opportunity to celebrate libraries and librarians across the country. ‘I’m honoured that my work has been recognised by CILIP on behalf of librarians, for whom I have nothing but respect. I am always amazed at the passion for reading, looking and understanding that libraries inspire in everyone. The availability of a whole universe of knowledge and inspiration in one place is something highly underrated, as is the importance of encouraging minds, young and old, on the pathway to discovery. I think we all have a lot to learn from libraries.’
Photo by Alessandro Quisi courtesy of Barbican Art Gallery
Following on from the phenomenally successful Rain Room, the Barbican’s Curve gallery has a brilliantly intriguing new exhibition as part of the Dancing around Duchamp season: Geoffrey Farmer’s The Surgeon and the Photographer
The exhibition sees the gallery populated with hundreds of strange puppet-like figures that the artist has pieced together from images cut from old books and magazines, and scraps of fabric. Each idiosyncratic character is part surreal Dada collage, part shaman’s poppet. An otherworldly soundscape and the spiky shapes of the shadows that the figures cast across the gallery floor only add to the sense of the uncanny. Weird, fascinating and highly recommended.
Photo by Alessandro Quisi courtesy of Barbican Art Gallery
Photo by Jane Hobson courtesy of Barbican Art Gallery
Photo by Jane Hobson courtesy of Barbican Art Gallery
Geoffrey Farmer: The Surgeon and the Photographer is at the Barbican Curve Gallery until 28 July 2013 (and it’s free!)
Casablanca has been my favourite film since forever, so clearly I couldn’t resist Future Cinema‘s latest extravaganza, which sees the Troxy in Limehouse transformed as if by magic into Rick’s Café Américan.
I’d never been to a Future Cinema event before and having heard tales of their most recent Shawshank Redemption themed event, I had to admit to feeling a bit unsure about what I was getting myself into. The fun begins as soon as you book your tickets and receive your instructions and ‘papers’ complete with your new identity for the occasion – I became Gabriela Ostrowska of Italy for the evening. Arriving at the Troxy, the queue was full of people decked out in impressive 1940s finery, clutching their papers for inspection, whilst members of the Moroccan police shouted out orders, and various shady characters lurked in the shadows or struck up conversations with those waiting in line.
Once inside the theatre, however, there were champagne cocktails, swinging music from Benoit Viellefon and his Orchestra, roulette tables and Moroccan food from Moro. The music was fantastic and I enjoyed the chance to practice my (pretty woeful) swing dance steps on the dance floor, but even more fun for me was spotting the various characters from the film as they appeared amongst us: from Major Strasser and his fellow Nazi officers striding about, to Senor Ferrari, complete with fez and fly-swat, chatting with guests; from Sam leading a rousing chorus of ‘Knock on Wood’, to Rick himself coolly playing chess in the corner. There was plenty going on around us: the police hauling off anyone who looked like a ‘suspicious character’, much hushed talk of exit visas, and of course, the arrival of Ilsa and Laszlo to look out for.
My highlight of the evening, however, was singing the Marseillaise in a recreation of my favourite scene from the film – I’ll admit to having been a little disappointed that most of the audience didn’t seem to share quite the same level of enthusiasm for joining in (but perhaps unlike me they hadn’t got the words ready in advance, ahem…).
Finally came the opportunity to watch the film itself, with every ‘Here’s looking at you, kid,’ getting a big cheer from the audience. Even though I must have seen it dozens of times, it was just as brilliant as ever, and I still teared up at the final scenes, as Laszlo tells Rick, ‘Welcome back to the fight. This time I know our side will win.’
At the very end of the evening we were granted our exit visas assuring us safe passage to Lisbon. Sadly it was time to leave Casablanca behind us and head back out into the cold and wet East London night…