Follow the Yellow

Archive of ‘manchester’ category

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

Asia Triennial Manchester 2011

I haven’t been up to Manchester for nearly a year, so I was delighted when All Points North invited me to go up to take a look at Asia Triennial Manchester 2011.

Asia Triennial, showcasing a range of exhibitions, events and commissions across multiple venues in the city, first took place in 2008. The brainchild of Shisha, an agency promoting South Asian craft and visual art in the UK, Asia Triennial aims to offer a diverse and comprehensive survey of Asian art. Following on from the 2008 offering, 2011 saw the Triennial return for its second incarnation, an ambitious festival bringing together 17 venues, 40 artists and 32 new commissions. Here’s my review of a handful of the exhibitions that are on offer – unfortunately all I was able to see in a single day…

Image credit: Brass Art, ‘Still Life No.1’, 2011.
(3D objects in acrylic polymer, light source, table in black box environment.Dimensions variable)

Dark Matters at the Whitworth is an intelligent and sophisticated group show, bringing together a variety of contemporary work exploring shadows, darkness, illusion and technology. There are in fact only a couple of Asian artists in the exhibition, Hiraki Sawa from Japan and Ja-Young Ku from Korea, but nonetheless it made an impressive start to my ATM 11 experience.

Appropriately enough, there’s an element of phantasmagoric playfulness to many of the works in this exhibition. Daniel Rozin’s ‘Snow Mirror’, for example, initially appears to be simply a projection of the grey ‘snowstorm’ we associate with a disrupted TV signal, but come closer and we soon realise that we ourselves are appearing as ghostly figures on the screen. Meanwhile, Barnaby Hoskins’ ‘Black Flood’ surrounds us with four walls on which simultaneous video projections play out images of inky, turbulent waters. Outside, ‘Thoughts’, an installation by the same artist, sees a series of three-dimensional butterfly wings scattered across the gallery walls casting delicate shadows. However it is a new commission from the collective Brass Art that for me was the standout piece in this exhibition. Recalling early 19th century technologies such as zoetropes and magic lanterns, ‘Still Life No. 1’ is an enchanting installation in which a glittering array of transparent figurines and delicate cellophane constructions is illuminated by a travelling light source, sending a magical carousel of shadows playing across the gallery walls.

The exhibition is accompanied by a variety of works exploring the same themes from the Whitworth’s collection, by artists ranging from Francis Bacon to Anish Kapoor. Showing alongside it is Air Pressure, a thoughtful video work by Angus Carlyle and Rupert Cox, which precisely evokes the distinctive atmosphere of a farm situated on the edge of Japan’s Nara Airport runway.

 Image credit: Rashid Rana ‘Desperately Seeking Paradise 2’ 
Installation view at Cornerhouse Manchester 
Courtesy of Tiroche Deleon Collection & Art Vantage Ltd

Along Oxford Road, Cornerhouse plays host to a very different exhibition. Everything is Happening at Once is the UK’s first solo show by the prominent Pakistani artist Rashid Rana.

Like many of the artists in Dark Matters, Rana is concerned with exploring and interrogating the photographic image, combining sculpture, photography and video to blur the boundaries between two and three dimensional image making. However, unlike the quiet, dimly-lit Whitworth galleries, here we find ourselves in a more disquieting space, in which pixellated cubes reveal themselves as defamiliarised representations of ordinary household objects such as a fridge or a vase of flowers, whilst photomosaic images of veiled women are, on close inspection, composed from numerous tiny pornographic images. Whilst these powerful works have no doubt provoked debate, it was the more ambiguous sculptural installation, ‘Desperately Seeking Paradise II’ with its bold lines and angled mirrors that was, for me, the most interesting work in this ambitious exhibition.

Image credit: Ozman Bozkurt PiST//// 
Life in the UK / Balance of Probabilities installation in Castlefield Gallery Manchester 2011

Not far away, Life in the UK/Balance of Probabilities at Castlefield Gallery is another debut – this time the first UK commission by Istanbul-based Didem Özbek and Osman Bozkurt of PiST///. This exhibition sees Castlefield transformed into a temporary Visa Application Centre: entering the gallery is immediately unsettling, as we find ourselves stepping through a metal detector and accept a ticket from a machine, simulating the experience of entering a Visa Application Centre in Turkey. Inside the gallery, a variety of multiartform works explore related issues such as identity, migration, borders, power and control, employing both real stories and fiction with a pleasing touch of dark comedy.

Image credit: Adeela Suleman Drained 2011 – detail

Whilst the Castlefield show is hard to miss, you might have to look more carefully in the dimly-lit interior of Manchester Cathedral to find the ATM 11 commission Drained from Adeela Suleman, an artist from Karachi known for her sculptures that appropriate household objects. Situated in the nave of the cathedral, this glittering, spiky spiral constructed from metal drain covers has strangely meditative properties, and is surprisingly well-suited to its gilt-edged, grand surroundings.

I finished my visit with a trip to Chinese Arts Centre, who have created Institution for the Future as their contribution to ATM 11. This exhibition showcases the work of art collectives and small, independent artist groups who are actively engaged with their local arts infrastructure, and are interested in exploring the question of what kind of art institutions we might need from the future. The collective ruangrupa’s artist-led space survival kit transforms the gallery floor and walls with a cheerful clutter of artist materials, camping equipment, useful literature and scribbled ideas, whilst a number of video installations create the sense of a throng of voices engaged in lively debate. A bold poster created for the 2008 Taipei Bienniale by Jun Yang, immediately grabs our attention, posing direct questions about the future of the institutions of art and challenging the audience themselves to help supply the answers.

Image credit: Jun Yang, Galerie Martin Janda Vienna, Vitamin Creative Space Beijing, ShugoArts Tokyo
(Institution for the Future, Chinese Arts Centre)

There’s so much more to see in this year’s Asia Triennial Manchester, but even this small selection of exhibitions offered up an intriguing variety of work.  Critics have suggested that this year’s Triennial is too vague and incoherent, and certainly the declared themes of time and generation are sometimes hard to draw out. Dany Louise, writing for the New Statesman, describes it as ‘a curious event, loosely curated…. somehow… both too open and too specific to create genuine cultural dialogue.’ Yet for me, it was this openness, this looseness that ultimately gave ATM 11 its strength, providing it with the space and freedom to challenge the conventions and stereotypes of what today’s art from Asia might be. Coherent it may not be, but Asia Triennial Manchester is certainly a richly varied and celebratory showcase of contemporary Asian art.

This review was written for All Points North and is also published on the All Points North website here. Check out the website for more reviews and information about contemporary art events and festivals happening in the North East, North West and Yorkshire and Humber regions this Autumn

“Toto, I’ve a feeling that we’re not in Manchester anymore…”

A couple of things happened yesterday that got me thinking. The first was that the very nice people at Central Station featured Follow the Yellow Brick Road in the Spotted column of their online bulletin, alongside some great Manchester artists and projects. The link reads: discover top cultural commentary on events taking place in Manchester in this blog by Katherine Woodfine. Lovely. But when I clicked through on the link, I realised with shame that I hadn’t actually written anything about Manchester since February. Oops.

Seeking a diversion, I turned to my Twitter feed (ah, Twitter, ever an endless source of distraction) where I spotted that the nominations for this year’s Manchester Blog Awards are now open. I started thinking about which of my many favourite Manchester blogs I was going to nominate – and then suddenly realised that for the first time since I started writing it, my own blog wouldn’t be eligible. I don’t live in commuting distance of Manchester and now I’ve finished my Masters, I’m not even studying there anymore. The last time I even went to Manchester was…. months ago. And that’s when it hit me: I live in London now.

Perhaps that might sound pretty obvious: after all I’ve been here for over a year. But when I first moved down to London, I really felt I had a foot in both camps. I was still still coming up to Manchester often for dissertation supervision meetings, and readings, and to see friends, and to go to exhibitions. Being in London felt very temporary and I was thinking of myself as a sort of jet-setting hybrid, part-Manchester, part-London: in transit, or as I believe Creative Tourist put it so aptly, ‘flitting between the two’.

But I can no longer claim to be a part-time Londoner. I have a full time job here; I have friends; I have a flat, and mysteriously (in spite of my original decision to leave most of my stuff in my mum’s jam-packed attic and lead a more minimal existence) have acquired enough stuff to fill it with, including several shelves-worth of books. I know the best ways to cycle to places on my bike, the short-cuts down the back streets. I have favourite places to eat. I know where previously unknown locations like Crouch End and Herne Hill and Walthamstow are; and what’s more, I’ve become one of those London people who is always enthusiastically comparing boring details of their commute with people they meet. I’ve even stopped calling it That London, except in a sort of jolly self-deprecating fashion when talking to people who live elsewhere. And though I still go north regularly, it’s usually to stay with my mum up in Lancaster, rather than to visit Manchester anymore.

I still can’t see myself living in London forever – in my view it’s a great place to be for a couple of years before you move on. Yes, the public transport may be amazing, and it always seems to be sunny, and there are loads of restaurants and galleries and interesting places to go to, but I’m sure after a while that all that will pale beside my insatiable need for wet walks on windswept moors, steak and kidney pudding with chips and gravy, and conversations with other people who call a cup of tea ‘a brew’ and who know what the word ‘mither’ means. And who knows, perhaps before very long I’ll end up back in Manchester. But for the moment I think I’ll have to hold my hands up and admit to it: right now, I’m a Londoner.

So what does that mean for Follow the Yellow Brick Road? It’s a good question. Because much as there are are a million and one exhibitions and literature events to go to here in London, one thing I’ve noticed is that the arts scene here feels strangely impenetrable. I miss the friendliness of Manchester’s arts scene and that sense of belonging. The brilliant hubs of cultural activity that exist in Manchester that open things up to everyone and make connections between people – like the Manchester Blog Awards and Creative Tourist, like Kate Feld’s Manchizzle blog or over in Leeds, the Culture Vulture – just don’t seem to exist here in quite the same way, or at least if they do, I’m yet to discover them. And though I’m always excited by new exhibitions and things I want to see (right now, Alice Neel and the new Jake & Dinos Chapman children’s commission at the Whitechapel), I’m still equally excited, often even more excited, by all the great things that are going on in the north. This autumn, for example, I can’t wait to check out Manchester Literature Festival, the Liverpool Biennial, AND festival, the Northern Art Prize… I could go on. The idea of not being in the north, not writing about the north makes me feel incredibly sad.

That’s why in the end, what this really comes down to is nothing more than a teeny tiny edit in the blog description, up there in the top right hand corner of the screen. That extra word… um… “sometimes” (bet you’re glad you bothered to read the whole of this blog post now, aren’t you?) Or then again, on the other hand, I suppose you could say it comes down to a whole lot more.

I struggle to put it into words, so instead I’m going to leave you with a link to something else: Lydia Unsworth‘s winning story about Manchester from the Rain Never Stops Play short story competition run by Creative Tourist and Rainy City stories, which I read for the first time this evening. Somehow she manages to express all this far better than I can: The City is Leaving Me. Or perhaps, while I wasn’t noticing, it had already left…

Au Revoir Urbis

Just a few weeks after I wrote about the closure of Foundry in East London, another arts venue is closing its doors. This time it is Manchester’s Urbis, which will be closing tomorrow for the last time, before being transformed into its new incarnation as the National Football Museum.

Part centre for pop culture, part city museum, Urbis – which describes itself as “an exhibition centre about city life” focusing on “contemporary art and design, music, fashion, popular culture and the people who make our cities what they are” – will, for me at least, always be connected with Manchester’s renaissance. It was originally designed and built in the wake of the 1996 IRA bomb that completely reconfigured the Manchester of my childhood (complete with original dark satanic mills) to the infinitely sharper and shinier Manchester of the present day. The Urbis building was a key part of the transformative process: a gleaming contemporary architectural icon at the very heart of the new-look city, or as Iain Sinclair has rather more eloquently put it “an icon for the new theology of capital and regeneration”.

Like many of the others who have written about Urbis’s impending closure, over the years I have had mixed feelings about it as an exhibition venue. Perhaps that’s partly because of the building itself – a bold, shiny structure which always seems to have more in common with the nearby department stores and retail developments than the historic buildings that surround Cathedral Gardens, and which seems to imbue the very artworks themselves with a sense of all things corporate and commercial. Or perhaps it is something to do with the programme, or indeed with the very nature of trying to capture what Urbis CEO Vaughan Allan has described as the “still-living, still-developing expressions of popular activity… [that] can’t be captured and can’t be (literally) encased.”

Nevertheless, Manchester’s “glittering pop cultural palace” has given us some great moments in its short history, not least the excellent Best of Manchester awards, which had shown signs of becoming a genuine Manchester institution in their own right. Most importantly I think, Urbis provided an important space to explore and share ideas that we wouldn’t usually encounter in the average contemporary art space – be it hip hop, manga, guerilla gardening, punk or computer games. The final exhibition, Urbis Has Left the Building, brings together many of these highlights, in a celebratory retrospective of Urbis’s history, but ultimately leaves us wondering what will fill the gap.

That’s the funny thing about Manchester though: it always surprises you. It may look like the end of the road for Urbis now, but in a city that’s all about reinvention, you never really know what might happen next.

[Image by I-Know UK on Flickr via Creative Commons]

northern art?

The third Northern Art Prize, which the Guardian describes as “the north’s leading contemporary art award… attempting to become a northern version of the Turner Prize”, was recently awarded to Manchester-based artist Pavel Büchler at a ceremony at Leeds City Gallery.

In selecting Büchler from a shortlist that also included Matt Stokes, Rachel Goodyear and the partnership of Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson, the judges, who included the artist Richard Deacon, paid tribute to the important role he has played in the development of Manchester’s art scene, stating “Büchler has been consistently influential to a huge amount of people throughout his career, both as a practitioner and teacher.” “I love Manchester,” Büchler agreed on accepting the prize. “Of all the regional cities I know, it has the least “regional” attitude. Artists there are not chippy about the rest of the world.”

“The [Northern Art Prize] is galvanizing attention on a region that is really becoming very exciting in terms of the quality of artists working here,” said Simon Wallis, director of the Hepworth gallery which opens next year in Wakefield. Yet not all this attention has been positive: Alfred Hickling, writing about the prize in the Guardian, doesn’t seem to have been too impressed with the shorlisted works. Taking umbrage with a poorly-edited exhibition catalogue, he dismisses one of Büchler’s sculptures as looking like “something that fell from behind a janitor’s ear” and characterises Rachel Goodyear’s drawings as “small, competent self-portraits in pencil that depict her enacting fantasies such as concealing a baby rhino beneath her skirt or having her bottom fondled by a weasel.” His final verdict is that “if the Northern Art prize has aspirations to become a regional equivalent of the Turner, it still has some way to go.”

What all this coverage really left me wondering is why exactly the Northern Art prize should aspire to become a “regional equivalent” of the Turner. There seems to be a disquieting tacit acknowledgement here that the most important contemporary art in this country comes out of the south and especially out of London, and that even a supposedly “national” prize like the Turner is really all about London art and artists. Although drawing attention to the quality of contemporary art being made in the north can only be a good thing, there is also the possibility that in stressing the “regional” and “northern” identity of this work, it only cements the distinction between north and south, and the related notion that some kind of geographical hierarchy exists. Ultimately I’m left asking myself if there is any real, tangible difference between “regional” and “London” art works, other than the art market and institutions that surrounds them, and if so, what that difference might be.

So what is “Northern art”? If anyone has an answer, I’d be intrigued to hear what you think…

[Image: Eclipse (2009) Pavel Büchler via the Northern Art Prize]