Sunday, July 13, 2014

Who needs an International Festival anyway?

Every two years Manchester doesn't have an international festival. I mention this because we're in one of those years and cultural Manchester must surely wonder what to do with itself? It doesn't have a problem of course - for blink, and you'd almost think this was a festival year. We've got a new Ryan Gander exhibition on at Manchester Art Gallery, a career retrospective of a still developing artist who studied on the interactive arts course at MMU. A "head to head" exhibition in parallel with this has just opened at Castlefield where newer emerging artists engage with Gander's work. I'll try and give a proper overview of both of these shows another time. On Friday, the latest show in the gem that is MMU's Holden Gallery opened - "Urban Psychosis" is a finely curated exhibition of works that consider the madness and oppression of the city. Rather than see the city as "smart" or a place that adds 15% to GDP, here the city is seen as a place where its inhabitants are captured citizens. It was great to see Gillian Wearing's early work "Dancing in Peckham" if only to smile at the slightly hazy definition of mid-90s video tape technology; whilst I was pretty blown away by the urban abstracts in Catherine Yass's work, and seeing one of Sophie Calle's urban instruction works here reminded me of the great retrospective of hers I saw last year. Well worth a visit - and I'll be back in a fortnight where (obviously) Will Self will be in conversation about the show and the theme.

If music is more your bag, then you might have found your way down to Castlefield Bowl for an exemplary 90 minutes by Pixies, or, the following evening by James. The previous week, I bumped into friends who were going to see some Steve Reich pieces performed at the Bridgewater Hall. Any of these would have been surely a highlight of an MIF year! With both the Manchester Jazz Festival and 247 Festival of new theatre due to start this month there is plenty - too much - going on every night almost. This week alone, I'm trying to fit in a Video Jam at Manchester Art Gallery as part of the Gander  programme on Thursday, with the Manchester Digital barbecue, and a drop in day of digital stuff at central library; whilst literary stuff in the city continues unabated - I missed "The Other Room" which clashed with the Gander opening; and last week's short story slam; last night's "Paradox" and will no doubt also miss this weeks Tales of Whatever.

We had a nice debate last summer about whether we were OD-ing on festivals and biennials (Liverpool's biennial opened a couple of weeks ago) and generally the artists in the room felt these things were a good thing for the city, both as audience and often providing some useful work or volunteering experiences. Yet we also felt that its near impossible to compete with the big shows - unlike London where everything is so spread out, and audiences might well be as well - in Manchester there is a bit of a finite audience, or rather that one audience might only rarely slip over and try something else. One problem with DIY culture is that it becomes just that - every little thing becoming its own mini-ecosystem. I don't think this is any more of a bad thing than having some of the international superstars and original new shows that MIF will bring us next year; but I wonder if there might be something more that could be done to bring it all together? Maybe a regular arts show or magazine.... just a thought. For now you have my blog, and the other ones in my sidebar.

If I'm not at any of these things don't worry, because in twitterspeak #amwriting. Being such an art scenester I do have to occasionally remind people that I sometimes have to disappear off to create some stuff. I've been finishing a couple of things off for submission, ploughing on with a longer piece which six months in has now got a structure and a direction of sorts, and after a bit of a drought, writing a number of poems.

(And by the way, in case you're wondering who needs an international festival? We do - but I'm glad that in the year's its not going on, there's no longer the summer art drought that we used to have. With both the Whitworth and Home opening in the next year, I suspect our next year without a festival will be even bigger.)

No comments: