Last week, we attended the first 2 days of the Manchester International Festival as guests of our dear friend Richard Thomas. He happens to be the chairman of the commissioning circle (meaning one of the fantastic men who financiallavishly supported the festival).
MIF is basically a biannual arts festival. Even though we're pretty sure this festival did not catch the attention of the cool kids of London, us and our minds are still busy discussing the events we attended. The reason we experienced it so intensely is because Manchester's topographical scale can be compared to a palm of a hand, making everything quite dense. We're used to seeing one mind blowing gig a week/month. This time it was one after the other, something so compact and so well planned, in exceptional venues, no queuing, hallelujah.
We have been informed that everything started with the rebranding commission of the city 10 years ago. Peter Saville, who is originally from Manchester, came up with the winning proposal of transforming the home of the industrial revolution, instead of pimping a new logo. MIF initiated within the Manchester-rebooth master plan, making him the local boy turned good.
In less than 48 hours, we saw 3 shows forming a true hybrid eclectic, electric combination. A trans-political collective hallucination, then, an exhibition featuring A-list art celebs instructions and a religious opera performed by a bass baritone acting as the cleaner of the church, together with the lord of the organs dressed like an ice-dancer Skrillex. And as a bonus, we got the honour of meeting the mayor of Manchester and his golden necklace, with its 365 diamonds.
Thursday 4th July, 9pm. Captivated in the darkness of an abandoned Edwardian building, while our vision was being overwhelmed by the 360 surrounding giant screening of Adam Curtis' signature footage video collages. We surrender to the eerie obscure bass of Massive Attack.
Together with a lot of other people, Massive Attack holds a very special place for me. I travelled next to it, slept thanks to it and made love listening to it. Seeing them perform behind the screens – as a live soundtrack for Adam Curtis' documentary – has proven to me how massively self-confident Massive Attack is.
The documentary jumped from Jane Fonda to Osama Bin Laden, from Taliban to Goldman Sachs and from Putin to Bambi, showing how our perception of reality is modified over the years. The experience was beyond words. We saw this act as a new suggested for the territory of entertainment, while freeing the tainted word from its superficial ancestors.
Massive Attack holds a very special place for me. I travelled next to it, slept thanks to it and made love listening to it.
Do it is an initiative by Hans Ulrich Obrist, Christian Boltanski and Bertrand Lavier. Curated by Obrist, the exhibition staged instructions by art celebs varying from Ai Wei Wei, Tracey Emin, Mike Kelley to Ryan Trecartin, making the public create the artwork themselves. D.I.Y. The group show made us hold meteorites, climb stairs, see a live vulture, squeeze lemon with a bike seat, spray-paint surveillance cameras, start rumours etc.
While doing it you not only feel like you succeed, it also makes you become part of the artwork. Now-a-days, when art makes the headlines for its seven figure cost, it is more associated with oligarchs and investors than with the public. Do It reminded us that a good artwork is not only about making exclusive objects of desire.
Do It finds a way to democratize art, a fracture in the established system of gallery art, a way for the public to interact with the A-Listers of the modern/contemporary art world, which is often seen as an elitist, arrogant club by the ones who are not part of it.
The cherry on the cake, or rather, the butterfly on the cotton mill (à la Manchester) was the last show we attended. A religious opera and cantarto directed by Peter Sellars, performed and sung by bass baritone Eric Owens and sophisticatedly violated by the organ wizard Cameron Carpenter. Because of our profession, we can only make a commentary on the visual part of the concert which was clever, brilliant and a complete paradox. By turning the singer into the church cleaner, Peter Sellars got away with turning a story from the 1500's into a contemporary piece. While Michelangelo's dream was sung, the organ was played by a young talent having the looks of a Die Antwoord softy, and the photographs of the cleaner/singer's Mannerist body was projected on to a large screen like a Michelangelo painting.
The public who is used to associating the bass baritone with a frock, was surprised to see the bare chest of the singer. For someone who is known to have a shorter-than-short attention span, Peter Sellars could make me enjoy a two hour long session of 500 year old words in Latin. Still, I must admit, I wouldn't have minded if the concert was an hour shorter.
You should never underestimate the power of the cities who are under the radar
Even though we are the kids of the internet, we can say that we have been to numerous music, arts and design festivals. However, this was the first time we have seen such an adult, and if you don't mind me saying, an old artist lineup. After being bewildered by the quality of the three consecutive shows and confused by the age average of the participating artists in this festival, we spoke to Alex Poots, the artistic director of MIF and The Armory Show. At the after-party of Macbeth in the townhouse, a Harry Potter castle turned into a disco, he told us that MIF is for anyone with a curious mind. He also added that MIF supports major artists who are on the top of their game by commissioning them to make world premieres. This validates the jaw dropping quality content of the Manchester Festival, the age average of its performers, and Peter Saville's compact definition of the festival: Adult Pop.
Kids of the world metropolises, always considering the trips outside of NY/LA/LNDN/Paris as a waste of time, we must admit that we learned something from Manchester. You should never underestimate the power of the cities who are under the radar.
The only criticism we have is that MIF is still a boys club. On the other hand, we also have a hard time associating Manchester with feminine grace and elegance. We are totally pro using the existing props like abandoned factories, dusty, torn and broken; never-the-less, Manchester Festival could use a little more glamour for their upcoming editions.
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