Saturday, July 9, 2011

Day Two and three of Burlington residency: all about MIF

Day Two of my residency at The Burlington Fine Arts Club involved using the research and planning from day one to negotiate the Manchester International Festival.
I changed my plan on the way, and decided to start with Audio Obscura, which made more sense since it was at Piccadilly Station. I decided on my final criteria for evaluating the events on the way to Manchester on the train. And also decided to give each event a mark for that criteria out of 10. This way I would be able to determine the top 4 scoring criteria per event, and with each criteria linking to a cocktail ingredient, would be able to design my evaluative cocktails.
So the final 12 criteria I marked each event from (out of 10 with 1 as low and ten as high): see below:
1. Gives you goosebumps.
2. includes/represents/is relevant to Manchester based artists
3. engages local communities
4. Free or affordable
5. engages with environmental issues
6. encourages conversation about art in a way which is accessible without becoming naff
7. sustainable
8. dynamic
9. is interactive or participatory
10. includes space for audience evaluation/therefore change and growth
11. original
12. has a legacy.
For each event I would fill in the homemade evaluation card (see below for blank one.)
I got to Piccadilly dead on 12pm. and by 5 past was wandering around the station with a pair of noise cancelling earphones on, immersed in Lavinia Greenlaw's amazingly affecting sound piece, described by the MIF as 'an aural version of the camera obscura: a framed and heightened reflection of the passing world.'The piece contained ambient train station sounds and fleeting thoughts and spoken reflections of passengers and passersby in the station. Standing still and looking about I found myself attributing the thoughts to the people around me. Some were lists of things to do or buy, while others were personal worries or preoccupations. It was a feeling of being in the station but not quite really there. It did not disorientate you, but it did disconnect you from the situation. I wandered around, sometimes standing still, sometimes walking. I felt isolated, alone, but then would see other people with the same headphones, wandering in a semi dreamlike state, or standing and staring into the crowd, like living sculptures. Just as the piece ended a train came in on platform 11 and made the ground rumble...'step, step, step...'
In order to take part in the piece you had to leave a credit card, or something else of value at the depot. I asked them, what if you have no credit card?' and they said that it could be arranged for you to still take part in the piece anyway, which I thought was good.So this was my first evaluation. This tells me that the 4 highest scoring points for Audio Obscura were:1. gives you goosebumps. 4. is free or affordable. 6. encourages conversation about art in a way which is accessible without becoming naff and 8. is dynamic. Audio Obscura lasted for just 30 minutes, but the effect was one of timelessness, I wasn't sure if it had felt like a much longer time, or no time at all by the end.
At the train station there was also an information point for the MIF, so I went there to get my hands on one of the official guides, to help orientate me around Manchester and the events. There was one on the table, so I pointed and asked 'Can I have one of those?' 'No, sorry.' The man said, 'We have run out and that is our last one.' He told me I would get one from the Festival Square, so that would be my next point of call.
On arrival at the square I asked one of the volunteers for a guide, and was told again that they had run out. Oh well, I would need to try and find things without the aid of a map or guidebook.
Luckily there was a sign pointing to the next piece to visit John Gerrards' Infinite Freedom Exercise on Brazennose Street.It was very close by to the Festival Square, which is actually Albert Square (something I was a bit confused about.) The large screen showed a computer generated man standing on a runway in a desert. From the literature I knew that the figure was acting out choreographed movements of soldiers sheltering or reacting to shells. From where I sat I could hear some Japanese style music from Festival Square, which somehow made the figures movements seem like tai chi. I like the situation of the piece, and the way that it would be continually changing 24 hours a day. Some people gathered to watch the piece for a while, but many more simply walked along by, vaguely interested. I heard from a friend later that when he was watching a group of people stood in front of the screen and replicated the soldiers movements. I did not see any such interaction with the piece while I was there, but I am glad that it happened.My evaluation shows that the 4 most relevant criteria were: 4. free or affordable. 6. encourages conversation... 8. dynamic. and 11. original.
There is no criteria for how much I liked the piece, but for me this piece was not as immersive or fascinating as the Audio Obscura piece, which was still in my mind while watching this.
One of the few things I had decided to pay for during my planning session was one of the selection of walks which were advertised in the Festival City brochure. There were differently themed walks for each day, these included: Manchester Music Tour, a hidden Manchester Tour (which sounded intriguing) and the Manchester Architecture tour. Having been a 'tour guide' as part of a number of different projects, I thought it would be really interesting to see how a professional might do it. So at 3pm I went back to the Festival Square to take part in the £7 tour. The brochure said wait at the meeting point, but by 3.05 noone had appeared, and though there seemed to be a confused few people wandering around, no tour guide. I walked around a bit, and then noticed a man orating from a plinth, with a crowd around him. This must be it, so I joined the group. The tour stuck mainly to the streets around Festival Square, looking at the Town Hall and it's extension, the Friend's Meeting House and the Free Trade Hall. The guide gave specific histories of buildings, but also provided some very interesting (but I think basic) pointers of how to recognise certain types of Architecture. I found this useful, but the most interesting revelation about the tour was in the fact that almost all of the grand buildings are no older than 200 years old. The guide explained that up until 200 years ago (and before 1828, when the Friend's Meeting House was built, Manchester had no culture, no history and no identity. It was with the successes of the Industrial Revolution and the wealth that poured into the city, from the mills that companies and businesses started to invest in the architecture of Manchester. He said that they wanted to buy in the look of history and culture, and so stole architectural design from around Europe. Young Architects would go on their 'gran tours' to Italy, Greece and beyond with their sketchbooks, and would pinch design from all over the place.My impression of Manchester has always been that it looks like an incredibly grand and historic city, and I am strangely pleased to hear that this is, to some extent, a facade. In particular, looking at how many of the buildings (The Meeting house, The Britannia Hotel etc) have incredibly ornate frontages, but that the back of the buildings are like factory mill buildings, as the guide said, these may be just as interesting or beautiful to some as the Baroque or Gothic swirls and swags, the backs reveal the true age of the buildings. I was pleased to note that though the Guide was very fluent, and really knew his stuff, he had notes with him as a prompt; something which I also do when giving tours.
Overall I really enjoyed the Architecture Tour, and would have liked to go on more tours during the MIF.My evaluation found that the criteria most relevant to the tour was: 7. sustainable (being self sufficient - people pay the guide on the day) 8. dynamic. 9. interactive or participatory (having the living guide there meant we could ask questions or get more information. and 12. Has a legacy (in my mind at least.)
Next stop was The Whitworth where I hoped to see 1395 (I really like Anri Sala's work) and I was also looking forward to seeing the Artangel projections show.
By this stage it was after 5 o clock, and having slipped on seaweed during last week's Margate Art Trip my torn ligaments in my knee were starting to play up. I guess I could have got a bus from the Cornerhouse to the Whitworth, but I walked it. That road always starts off feeling short, and then seems to get longer and longer the further down it you walk, so I got to the Whitworth at 5.30. I stopped outside to eat some crackers, as also the itinerary had not included lunch (!?) and went in. I soon discovered that the Anri Sala piece is scheduled for specific times (something I would have known if I had managed to get my hands on a Festival Guide, and that it had started at 5.30 - by this time I would have missed the first 15 minutes. I had missed it! Oh well, there was still the Artangel exhibition to enjoy.
The Tony Oursler projection can only be viewed between 10.30 and 11.30 during the two weeks of the festival, and only then when the weather permits. Unfortunately, the last train back to Stoke is around 10pm, so this is not viable for me. There are some Oursler works on display inside the Whitworth, and though i found the talking lightbulb to be entertaining, I was not drawn to spend much time looking at the 2d works. My eyes and interest were immediately drawn through into the room where Francis Alys' work was on display. The first thing we came to was the Night Watchmen, which I have seen photographs of before, but this piece was wonderful. The wall of screens showing an urban fox, trapped inside the National Portrait Gallery, playing on those ideas of the magic of spaces at night, and the hidden lives they lead when noone is watching. But here, someone is watching. CCTV is a recurring theme in Alys' work. The Francis Alys room contained a number of video works and walks by the artist, in fact the Seven Walks commission by Artangel - what was so fascinating, if a little overwhelming was the inclusion of the artist's research when working on a piece. Maps, notes, sketches, desk based and book based research were all present. Evidence of negotiation with people and groups in order to see the works realised show that these are not quick and easy interventions or endeavours (if anyone could have possibly thought they were) but each piece is carefully and painstakingly orchestrated, organised and realised. Even down to the correct way to tap the railings in his walk through Chelsea in London, the artist has researched how to use a drumstick. My feeling in this room was, 'Every art student should be made to see this!' Then they will know that work does not appear or materialise from nowhere, but comes about through a process of intelligent but hard work.Also on display was the impressive High Wire by Catherine Yass which was filmed at the Red Road in Glasgow, an area of 1960's high rises which I visited last year. And finally the Atom Egoyan piece, which on entry to the room made me let out an involuntary 'wow.'
Yes, these other pieces were wonderful to see, but for me, the show was stolen by Francis Alys. I would like to go back and have another proper look through the folders and folders of back up work. My evaluation sheet:
I have found there to be: 4. free or affordable (except for th fact that in order to see the Oursler projection you need to live in Manchester or have a car, or have the money to stay in a hotel) so maybe I should revise that? 5. engages with environmental issues - both the Yass piece and the Alys piece seems to. 8 is dynamic and 11 is original. Disregarding the 4 which I now feel I should do, leaves me with a 1 instead of a 4 - which is gives you goose bumps.
By the time I had walked back to Piccadilly it was gone 8, meaning I had missed the Burlington opening hours for the day, so I hopped back on the train, knowing that in the morning I would be back for more MIF and periphery events and a meeting with Tracey, my co-collaborator during the Burlington Residency.
First stop the Burlington to meet Tracey. Crossing the Piccadilly bridge I could see Tracey working through the window.I told Tracey about my marathon day of art and showed the evaluation cards, and Tracey talked about her plans and what she had been doing. We decided to just get back out into the MIF and see what might happen. Not simply focusing on the MIF but also on some of the other events and spaces which had works on to coincide with the festival we decided to go to The Cornerhouse to see the Constellations exhibition, and to CUBE.Tracey and I arrived at the Cornerhouse just as the first few drops of what was to be a torrential downpour were dripping. Throughout my week in manchester I had hoped to collect imagery and textual content to use as source material for the zine that Tracey and I had agreed to make alongside the Opening at the Burlington. So while at the Cornerhouse I got a few shots of the people hurrying through the rain, and also managed to note down some interesting snippets of conversation overheard around the building.I also documented mine and Tracey's conversation about the residency, Manchester and our own art experiences. I have used this material within the pages of the zine, for example a conversation overheard in the toilet, and Tracey's description of Takahiro Iwasaki's delicate installation pieces have been put together for a page.While at the Cornerhouse Tracey created one of her time-based collage pieces, where detritus from the space is quickly collected, and then a collage is made very fast, and documented like a performance. Only what is to hand can be used, and I noticed that Tracey would not accept any of the content which I tried to offer, but seemed to have a rule where it had to be obviously discarded or periphery, and had to have been found by her.The show at the Cornerhouse was great, I loved the Iwasaki piece, and Katie Patersons Earth-Moon-Earth is a piece which keeps coming back into my mind.Tracey asked if she could do this evlauation with me. So over a cup of tea we deliberated over the criteria.Our averaged results show that 1. gives you goosebumps. 4. is free or affordable. 8. is dynamic and 11. is original are the most relevant criteria for the Constellations show.
We also went across to CUBE where Tracey did another collage.With me documenting, we used the play installation piece by Nils Norman.
Next I made my way to the Manchester City Art Gallery to meet up with some of the AirSpace artists, who were meeting me there to see 11 rooms. This was possibly one of the parts of the MIF that I was most looking forward to. I was lucky enough to have got tickets to Marina Abramovic Presents at the Whitowrth at the previous festival (see my write up here.) And it had a lasting and major impact about my thinking around my practice, and has I believe influenced the way that I work - the methodology or 'deprogramming' and 'slowing down' introduced by Abramovic in particular resonated with me.
I was advised that I should not take pictures inside.
First room: Roman Ondak's SWAP.
At first I thought the old guy at the table with the thick Yorkshire accent must be the artist. But actually, as with all of the performance pieces within 11 rooms, these were hired in volunteers, and not the artists themselves.I noted down the swaps that took place while I was in the room.
Next room a naked lady looking at her body in a mirror, next room a man standing in the corner - not engaging with the audience in any way, next room, a tiny girl - a manga character come to life, next room a proposal for a corpse to be shown in the gallery, which never came to fruition, next room a man lies in the space between floor and ceiling in a room which is just a foot high, staring out, next room an actor masturbating in a big bed while the audience peer at him, next room a human revolving door, next room a self-playing piano, next room a woman naked, almost crucified on the wall on a bicyle seat with arms painfully hed out to the sides, next room a man about to hit the ground after falling, but somehow caught in that momentary second before impact.
Maybe it was because it was a Sunday afternoon? and the place was very busy, but I was very disappointed by 11 rooms. The amazing event at the last MIF had been so amazing, that I had tried to temper my expectations of this, but ultimately the experience of viewing Performance work of this nature requires a particular approach. Last time, before even gaining entry to the exhibition Marina Abramovic had spent an hour with the audience, briefing us, preparing us, changing us in readiness for the works. She explained that durational works require time, and engagement from teh viewer, and cannot be consumed like popcorn, one piece after the next.
11 rooms was packed with people, families on a Sunday afternoon jaunt, yawning bohos and Grannys rubbed shoulders with the usual art audience. There were too many people in the rooms. The entire experience reminded me of the freak show at the circus. We had booked tickets for the 4 o clock slot, but were asked to leave at 5 to 5 - meaning the expectation here was that the entire show should be viewable in less than an hour, I wonder what Marina Abramovic would think about that after all the work she did to slow us down in 2009?After 11 rooms the AirSpace folks came across to the Burlington, to see the Suites, sign up for membership and help me in my final Evaluation for the weekend.This means that the 11 rooms most relevant criteria according to AirSpace was 4. free or affordable. 8. dynamic. 9. interactive or participatory and 12 has a legacy.Liz came and joined everyone for a drink and brought out some hospitality in the form of tortillas and dips, and explained the thinking, ethos and hoped for objectives of the Burlington, and then everyone signed up to be members.
What a crazy, action packed weekend.
Finally, once home I decided that the final cocktail would be a Burlington Cocktail - and the ingredients should be decided by the Burlington Fine Arts Club Members. So I designed a survey and posted a link to it on the facebook page. People have now been taking the survey for three days, and I can reveal that the 4 most relevant criteria for Burlington are:
2. includes/represents/is relevant to Manchester based artists. 7. is a sustainable model. 8. is dynamic. 9. is interactive or participatory.
Click here to take survey
I now know the relevant criteria for each of the events which I will make cocktails for. I will be making 5 cocktails tomorrow, so need to decide which ones to discard.
But I know that
Audio Obscura will be ingredients numbers:
1, 4, 6, 8
John Gerrard will be ingredients numbers:
4, 6, 8, 11
Architecture Tour will be ingredients numbers:
7, 8, 9, 12
Projections will be ingredients numbers:
1, 5, 8, 11
Constellations will be ingredients numbers:
1, 4, 8, 11
11 rooms will be ingredients numbers:
4, 8, 9, 12
and The Burlington will be ingredients numbers:
2, 7, 8, 9

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