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It’s not a pie

Submitted by on July 5, 2011 – 3:24 pmNo Comment

By Navajo (at the Manchester International Festival)

Bassoon player in a public baths, talking trees, a deserted art gallery, fox-trotting in a swimming pool, just some of the things you can do on a Friday night in this wonderful city of ours. Manchester has exploded into a crazy world of extraordinary art.

Like you I saw the poster but thought, “18 extraordinary days? My arse”. But you know if the first day is anything to go by the next few weeks are going to be great fun and much of it is free. There are singers in Mosques, singers in Synagogues, faces in undividable mist, bands under bridges and art on platform 3.

Artangels gave me headphones, told me to turn off my phone which I dutifully did. I roamed around Piccadilly Station, the headphones spoke to me, the ambient sound replaced by similar but synthetic sounds of public life. At first I thought it was a collection of random unconnected words and phases. So I looked for the abstract and disparate connection between my immediate environment and the seemingly unrelated sentences penetrating my skull.

The pylons holding up the roof all-of-a-sudden appeared to have a beauty and significance I’d not seen before. The symmetry between the rows of columns and the handsome curve of the dome. A perfect balance, a lightness, a grandiosity to the overall design. Art retelling, restating, reciting the obvious, showing us the genius of human endeavour.

Trying to make sense of the stochastic forced me to realise that the sounds I was hearing in my head were somehow related, in a disjointed, scattered way. A story of disappointment, failure, relationship break-down and make-up. Inner turmoil, self-loathing, degradation, a tale told while I strolled among the day-travellers, job-goers and other headphone-wearing art consumers.

Were they hearing what I was hearing? Were they a page ahead of me in the narrative? Was the story triggered by the location of the headphone-wearing wanderer?

Being immersed in people doing relatively mundane, ordinary, everyday things made the subject matter all the more poignant. The cry for love seen everywhere I looked, on the face of a 50 year old, carrying his shoulder bag while handing a Virgin rail ticket to an uninterested distracted women in a thick cotton blue uniform. Trying desperately not to sweat too much, hoping that the antiperspirant does what it says it can do on the tin.

The uniqueness of having a narration told to you while you push past train station loiterers is that the story will always be specifically individual. No set route, saunter wherever you wish. This is uncommoditised art. Art that can be bought and sold is not art, it’s a commodity, no better than a sausage or a Ford car. Oh sure, you can appreciate the time and skill taken to produce the particular piece, but you can do that for a nice sausage. For art to be art it has to be something that is beyond exchange. And my experience of the Manchester International Festival did exactly that.

Whitworth Park’s brilliant art installation starts at 10.30 pm. When you go you’ll see why. I entered this particular piece of artistic geniusy by the way of Whitworth Art Gallery having been seduced into encountering a man walking backwards on a tight-rope about six million feet in the air. It made me feel physically sick. Gigantic projections of this foolhardy occurrence from various perspectives and geographically accurate sound made me want to get down on my hands and knees and crawl to the exit. Vertigo is a powerful self-preservation instinct, it’s hard to ignore.

o For event listings, including the free ones, visit mif.co.uk

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