Monday, 17 October 2011

The Manchester Weekender 2011: All Done For This Year ... Or Is It?

I love city festivals. I love that feeling of being on holiday in the place you live. I love disparate events with a collective purpose. I love tearing all over town and Tweeting about it. I love free wine and cheap tickets and good conversation with motivated people. A hectic calendar of Manchester festivals (International, Pride, Jazz, Science, Food and Drink, Literature, Asia Triennial, Comedy, and of course the Weekender) provides this in spades.

The savvy thing about the Manchester Weekender is that it mingles events that might already be happening with new and specially-commissioned work to create mutual enthusiasm and mass encouragement to get out there and see what your city has to offer.

At Castlefield Gallery, Istanbul artists blend ideas of vacation and immigration, utilising everything from suitcases to IKEA-style stills of visa application offices. Entry is through a metal-detecting airport security gate. On the inside, voices of authority are aired through video interviews with visa office employees while the voices of the disappointed and rejected literally envelop the entire gallery on the outside; the walls and windows are papered with correspondence from people denied entry into various countries. The exhibition forms part of the ongoing Asia Triennial Manchester.

Against this backdrop Beating Wing Orchestra give a musical performance with a global and mesmerising blend of influences; old European, pan-Asian, Congolese, hip-hop, Bhangra, all with astonishing vocal dexterity. ‘World music’, explains one of the singers simply. A terrific feeling of camaraderie between band members, and eventually between band and audience too, make this a special event.

Down at the Whitworth Gallery, After Hours present ‘BlackLab’, an amalgam of set pieces that complement the existing ‘Dark Matters’ exhibit. Both play with light, film, delay, transparency, print, music and motion. The slow-mo movie of burning oilfields is weirdly touching while next door live guitar and cello soundtrack short films of traditional paper silhouette stop-motion. Whether the man shouting ‘MARGARET THATCHER! KARL MARX!’ is an installation himself or someone with political Tourettes I’m still not sure. ‘Cosmodrome’, screened in the auditorium, pays melancholic testimony to the heroes of Soviet space travel.

‘Primitive Streak’ is fashion meets life science. Divided between the Royal Exchange mezzanine gallery and the windows of Debenhams, the clothes shown in photograph, sketches or their final stitched form are inspired by the cellular development of living humans, so we get designs for spinal couture, a ‘sperm’ dress and, my favourite, the ‘Anaphase Dress’ which surely should belong to Bjork by rights?

Time to hit the shoe leather for two Mancunian walks. The first sees Ed Glinert from New Manchester Walks take a group of booted and be-torched urban explorers through Manchester’s concealed subterranean history and its fascinating links with Nazi invasion, state secrecy and ambitious canal endeavours. It’s thrilling and unnerving to be metres beneath Deansgate and not hear a sound. Memories of people enduring uncomfortable, diseased hours in the expansive bomb shelters feel all-too tangible in that dank air.

Then it’s back into sunshine and air for a tour of Ancoats, incorporating old and new, alluring decrepitude and ambitious renovation. The ‘Ancoats Peeps’ are discrete viewing portals, historical fragments placed in oblique locations that preserve images of Anocats’ past even as the district develops around them. Beginning and ending at the beautifully designed Cutting Room Square, the tour brought us into renovated cotton mills and the breathtaking interior of St Peter’s Church, soon to provide rehearsal space to the Halle Orchestra no less. A book is available to chronicle and complement the ‘Ancoats Peeps’.

The weekend ends on a high with Dave Haslam’s ‘Close Up with Jarvis Cocker’ in the intricate Gothic majesty of the Town Hall’s Great Hall. Surrounded by Ford Madox Brown’s vivid and edifying murals, Jarvis and Dave talk music, lyrics, sex, Michael Jackson and recession Britain before a rapt audience. Wonderful fun.

Though the Manchester Weekender is officially over, it is in fact a gateway to an autumn/winter schedule packed with events like the ones above. Festival season continues across the city. Check links, get on mailers and Twitter feeds, see what’s afoot. After 48 hours of cultural input it becomes apparent you can make a Manchester Weekender for yourself whenever you like. Get going ...

(Big thanks to Holly Jennison at All Points North)

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