Manifest Arts Festival 2015

December 3, 2015

Manifest Poster

Manifest Poster

This July Roger Bygott, John Lynch, and I directed a city-wide (Manchester and Salford) visual arts festival:

Manifest is a visual arts festival, showcasing the talent of North West based artists in a series of exhibitions and events across Manchester and Salford.

It took place 10th-12th July 2015 and during the second weekend of the busy Manchester International Festival. The timing was deliberate so that the festival would give visitors a flavour of the creative activity going on across the two cities all year round.

The exhibitions and events in the Manifest programme were at some of Manchester’s most prestigious institutions, such as Manchester Craft and Design Centre, John Ryland’s Library, and the newly opened HOME. Artist studios across both cities were coordinated for the first time to have open studios during the festival weekend to give a closer look at the scope of art being created across the city.

This year was a pilot festival and run on the passion of its participants, and we’re so thankful for the enthusiasm and support in making it happen. We couldn’t have been more pleased by the reaction of visitors and participating artists.

Our reasons for setting up Manifest:

Roger Bygott: For me the inspiration and spirit of Manifest is about community association, trusting grassroots links and mutual encouragement. As artists practicing within this broad vibrant community we aim to help strengthen those connections and to share more widely and publicly the artistic fruits emerging from it.”

Elisa Artesero: “Many of the artists in Manifest exhibit nationally and internationally but remain based in the North West. We want to show the high standard of contemporary art being produced on our doorstop.”

John Lynch: “Artists want their work to be seen, we present the opportunity to see it.”

We even got a feature interview in a-n

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The festival was a huge success in more ways than we’d expected and we’re still receiving positive feedback about the impact it has had on participating artists’ careers. During the three days and nearly 30 different events/exhibitions artists: sold their work, had in-depth critiques with curators, they gained commissions and potential exhibitions, and were able to show their work to an audience that would not have had the opportunity to see their work otherwise.

Months down the line we got an email from Susan Gunn, one of the artists to present her work at ‘Manifest Calling’ a show and tell at HOME. She had been contacted by contemporary classical composer, Ailis Ni Riain, who was impressed by her work when she presented it at ‘Manifest Calling’, and asked if she would design the album cover for her album ‘Linger’.

The pilot festival gave us a chance to just give it a go, to test the idea of the festival and to see if it would be possible to run. The three of us had an incredibly busy weekend trying to document all the events and ensure they were running as planned. My pet project for the weekend was to try out live streaming the festival with the Periscope app to give online viewers a flavour of parts of the festival. I didn’t know how useful or popular this would be, but it turned out to be surprisingly popular, getting up to 70 live views at a time. Not bad for a fairly new piece of technology and first festival!

We ended with a closing party at media bar, Texture, which was a lovely celebration of the weekend. One of the joys for me (and I’m sure Roger and John, also) was to spend an entire weekend looking around the cities’ arts spaces, seeing fantastic contemporary artwork, having lively conversations about the artistic and cultural scene and the lives and exciting careers of those who are based here.

Although, admittedly, there was almost too much to be able to get around in one weekend, it was brilliant to have it all there to choose from, a snapshot of the kind of things that are going on (often behind closed doors of studios) all year round. To able to facilitate that in some way was an absolute pleasure, and I think we proved what we set out to do – which was to show that we live in a vibrant and thriving cultural space that needs to be showcased every so often.

As for the future of Manifest, well, watch this space.

Manifest Logo

Manifest Logo

 

All photos taken by John Lynch, and the logo and programme designed by the talented Stephanie Hamer. 

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Experience Needed Exhibition

November 19, 2013

Experience Needed

I am co-curating and also exhibiting in the art school graduates exhibition ‘Experience Needed’ at Piccadilly Place this Friday 22nd November – Thursday 28th November. The preview is this Friday 6-9pm and there will also be a series of live ‘experiences’ in the gallery throughout the week. Find out more at the blog.

Castlefield Gallery at the Manchester Contemporary

Castlefield Gallery at the Manchester Contemporary

I recently completed an internship with Castlefield Gallery. The gallery invited me to work with them at this year’s Manchester Contemporary, a large art fair which showcases numerous well-respected galleries. It was an opportunity too good to miss and I was delighted to be asked.

Castlefield Gallery is a vibrant cultural hub of Manchester, it has been going since the 1980s and prides itself on continuing to support emerging artists, as well as showcasing national and international artists. The gallery recently, and rather controversially, lost its Arts Council funding and was put in the difficult position of having to re-think its business model and way of working. The gallery faced the challenge and has come up with new plans, yet has maintained its cultural ethics and continues to support artists from the North West and beyond. It also raised an unprecedented £33,000 in an auction of artworks donated by artists it has supported, and bought by patrons of the arts who did not want to see such an important cultural centre in Manchester disappear. I think this demonstrates not only the robust nature of the organisation, but also the cultural sensibilities of the society in and around Manchester, one which recognises its assets and fights to save them.

This leads me onto the internship experience. I learned much about about representing the gallery at the Manchester Contemporary (all of which was very useful to me), but instead of listing this here, I will merely offer an observation about the function of the galleries and cultural organisations that were represented. Each and every gallery I encountered, whether they were new or more established, were supportive to each other. They were open and interested in discussing their artists and the general cultural concerns facing arts’ organisations today. This was also supported by an interesting programme of talks by the galleries and organisations, well attended by those visiting the Contemporary.

Jumping forward a couple of months, I attended a panel discussion about the future of the arts in the North. This was held at the Whitworth Art Gallery and was in aid of the complete bound edition of Issue 3 of Corridor8, an extremely insightful journal currently focused on art in the North. Presentations were given by the Workplace Gallery in Gateshead, Project Space Leeds, Ian Rawlinson (artist and academic based in Manchester) and Maria Balshaw, the Director of the Whitworth and Manchester City Art Gallery.

Each of the presentations gave a view of the North as a thriving place for artistic development and the positive plans for now and well into the future. One thing which was addressed was the comparison to the art institutions in the South of England, and the differences and challenges faced by those in the North. What quite clearly came through was that not only is the North flourishing with the artistic talent it produces, but it is also fully connected with the ‘art world’ as a whole. This can be highlighted by the commercial success of the Workplace Gallery, and the critical acclaim reached on a world stage by the Manchester International Festival. Despite these achievements, Maria Balshaw made an interesting point about the flexible nature of working here, that it is possible to take huge risks which might not be conceivable elsewhere; and that the North should not focus on growing bigger, but only more interesting.

As this panel discussion went on in front of a packed audience, there were numerous other art openings and events around the city. These included Castlefield Gallery’s “Tatoo City” and the residency at the newly formed Lionel Dobie Project, a place which supports  emerging curators; along with many other events too extensive to list fully. It was not possible for me to get to all of these, but to be able to have the choice on a cold Thursday evening in late November, shows that there is a lot going on, and it certainly isn’t showing signs of slowing.

For more articles about events, exhibitions, talks etc. please browse the rest of my blog.

Light Night Leeds 2012

October 12, 2012

We made the short hop across into Yorkshire for the Leeds Light Night last week. An evening of activities, exhibitions, installations, films and general liveliness which took place well into the dark of night across the city. The map of events was full of things to see and do, far too many for us to get around them all, so we planned some activities and stumbled across others while en route.

I was keen to visit Leeds City Art Gallery‘s ‘Drawing Sculpture‘ exhibition, which displayed work which presented a link between the act of drawing and creating sculpture. It was an interesting exhibition, supported well by the accompanying essay by Anna Lovatt in the exhibition catalogue. However, before we even stepped foot into the grand gallery building we came across a group of Indian musicians and dancers playing outside the entrance, drawing a crowd of visitors keen to have a go. At one point, when there must have been at least 100 people dancing, it felt as if we had stepped into a peculiar new type of exercise class with everyone following the moves of the main dancers.

After an autumnal soup break in the decadent tiled cafe, we put our names down for some light painting with artist David Shearing. We timed it perfectly as it was particularly popular and they had to stop admitting visitors shortly after our turn. Armed with a plethora of glowing toys we created some light drawings via projection and computer software, which mimicked the action of light painting on a camera with the shutter left open for a few seconds. Our effort wasn’t the most artistically thought out, but it was fun nonetheless!

We exited through the inflatable dome, squeezing out of the tunnel like Ace Ventura out of the Rhino’s backside. Fun, yes. Flattering, no. There was no time for embarrassment however, as we ran (responsibly) through the gallery to the showing of ‘Turning at Right Angles to Midnight’ by Andi Noble and Matt Collins. It was a beautiful glimmering delight of sound and lights.

Other highlights of the evening were the video and animation projections strewn across the walls all over the Leeds College of Art building, showcasing some exquisite talent from the young artists. Ending the evening we came across some ladies dressed in some strange attire, looking rather like beautiful zombies who were on their way home. We stopped to ask what they had been doing that evening and they told us that they were singing as they are an a cappella quartet and offered to sing us a song! They did so, and by the end of it we found that a crowd had joined us in bopping about to their smooth, smooth sound. The perfect goodbye and end to the evening.

Lumiere Festival, Durham

November 25, 2011

Le Borgne 'Les Voyageurs'

I went to the Lumiere Festival in Durham in November 2011, and what a lovely experience it was! Light can be a wonderful spectacle that can bring joy just by looking at it, the works in this festival were able to do just this. The colours and luminescence of site specific works such as the illuminated waterfall ‘Splash’ by Peter Lewis (engineered by Water Sculptures UK), the ‘Durham bridges’ (Martin Warden) and ‘Rainbow’ (Deadgood Studios) highlighted the beauty of these bridges which would normally be in darkness at night and probably overlooked by passers by. It’s hard to say exactly why light like this is so enjoyed, perhaps it’s its ethereal nature, it’s there but you can’t grasp it and it will so quickly go away, or perhaps just the novelty of the spectacle. One piece which particularly captured my wonderment and managed to harness light into something tangible was ‘Les Voyageurs’ (The Travellers) by French artist Cédric Le Borgne; wire sculptures of people suspended as if flying above us on narrow streets, perched on buildings, their whole being illuminated. These figures were curious to look at, they were at once uplifting when considering yourself in their position of flight, gloriously lit up, but they were also sad, alone in their positions, untouchable and certainly not free or travelling. This is the conundrum of the existence of light and of ourselves; light needs a conduit to see it, just as our spirit needs one to live in, but this is both a liberating and restricting experience.

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‘Colouring Light’

October 26, 2011

Leeds Victoria Quarter by Flickr User jo-h

Leeds Victoria Quarter picture by Flickr User jo-h

I watched the brilliant BBC programme on painter and stained glass artist Brian Clarke called ‘Colouring Light’, currently available on iplayer here.

I was amazed by his beautiful stained glass, but even more impressed by his attitude to making art and how he functions in the art world. His insistence on working only on commissions he really wants to and only doing work he feels he has not compromised on is admirable.

In an interview in 1977 he said:

“I’m often being told by people that I ought to compromise. That these days you can’t afford to lose commissions, that you can’t afford to upset people. I think that you can’t afford to compromise. If you’re making a statement, artistically, then when you’re making that statement, as far as you’re concerned it’s absolute; and any variation, or dilution, or subtraction from an absolute, makes it less than absolute, and therefore makes it untrue. Therefore, by definition, a lie. And I am not a perpetrator of visual lies.”

I think this statement is as applicable today as it was then. The economic climate is such that the emphasis (I feel anyway) is on making money, or leading towards making money, at pretty much whatever cost artistically. I was speaking to an artist at some studios recently and asked him how he felt people functioned in the studios as artists; and he admitted it was often quiet during the day as most artists had day jobs and found it very difficult to make a living as a full-time artist. This, I didn’t find surprising and fully expected; however, what did make me think was when he said that if there was someone in the studios who had found a particular style or theme that was popular with the buying public, that everyone would bend their practice towards it in an attempt to sell.

I’m not so idealistic as to think that artists should not sell their work to make a living, of course not, we cannot live on air alone, and talents and skills should be rewarded financially. However, I found the suggestion that artists would readily bend their practice towards the market rather vulgar and anti-artistic. To bring it back to Brian Clarke, he made the point that as an artist he finds himself battling with clients as they often only really want to have something they’ve seen before, the banal, but it is up to artists to be the alternative and to fight it, both for themselves and to progress the artistic medium. I hope there are more artists with this attitude around.

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It’s not often that I feel compelled to quote an article on this blog, but I’ve been thinking about the funding cuts to the arts recently. I fervently believe in funding the arts, so many great things are made, opportunities created. I feel that good art is good for your health, I don’t always know why it is ‘good’ but if it brings me some sort of joy or makes me think about something which is hard to express in other ways, then I feel it is serving a purpose. It is often difficult to then argue for the arts when someone poses the rather crass either/or question of would you rather pay for NHS equipment or buy a painting for a gallery? Of course you would want to save a life; however I think that Grant Gibson‘s editorial in this May/June issue of Crafts Magazine is rather a succinct rebuttal to this question as he points towards the importance of cultural identity through art:

The truth of the matter is, set against the backdrop of human tragedy (both micro and macro), the arts may well appear insignificant, but they are more than mere frippery. For proof I generally point people in the direction of The Destruction of Memory: Architecture at War, the brilliant book by Robert Bevan that vividly illustrates how the eradication of architecture and culture has been used over history to gut a nation’s identity – from the Romans razing Carthage and Hitler’s burning of the synagogues to contemporary atrocities. As the Czech author Milan Kundera wrote: “The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then you have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long the nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was.”

I don’t intend to discuss the rights and wrongs of Arts Council England‘s funding strategy here, but merely to point out that the arts (and crafts) genuinely matter and must be nurtured like any other sector of society.

I know there are many facets to this argument, I just thought this was a valid point made and worth repeating.

I recommend giving Crafts Magazine a read to any contemporary artist. I have found many an inspiring piece of work within this publication, not only that, I have been informed of interesting new materials and technologies that the more traditional fine art magazines do not normally address.