Words by

Marina Ashioti

Is this the first major artistic response to life under the pandemic?

Manchester International Festival returns to the city, reflecting a broad spectrum of culture, visual arts and performance

Manchester International Festival (MIF), one of the most exciting and original artist-led festivals around, is back again this year from 1-18 July with a strong showcase of collaborations across artistic mediums. Staged every two years in venues across Greater Manchester, the MIF curatorial team take on the mantle of commissioning innovative and diverse work by world-renowned artists. Names have included: Björk to Philip Glass; David Lynch to Thomas Ostermeier; Yoko Ono to Marina Abramović; and Wayne McGregor to Zaha Hadid Architects.

MIF is getting a new year-round home in the coming years: The Factory, a major new arts space that’s currently under construction in the heart of the city. The Factory isn’t due for completion until 2022, but this extraordinary new space presents its first work during MIF21: Arcadia, a site-specific installation created especially for the construction site by director Deborah Warner. It features recorded contributions from leading actors and musicians including Simon Russell Beale, RoxXxan, Jane Horrocks, Brian Cox, Lioness, David Thewlis, and many others and runs through the night on Saturday 10 July.

As part of this year’s programme, six critically-acclaimed practitioners have formed a collaborative hybrid film titled All of This Unreal Time, which will premiere as an immersive surround sound installation at Manchester Central between 1 and 4 July. Max Porter’s lyrical writing is fused with the cerebral, genre-busting sound of Grammy-nominated Jon Hopkins and twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner, who come together to explore how language is transformed when it’s externalised and performed.

Porter himself describes All of This Unreal Time as, “a quite different, quite incredible poem-film-essay-song”, which follows a man walking through an abandoned industrial landscape and his subsequent journey to selfhood. Readings by Cillian Murphy heavily informed Porter’s writing, shifting the patterns of the piece to elucidate the difference between how language sounds in one’s head versus how it’s performed.

Veering between authenticity and surrealism, director Aoife McArdle’s imaginative visuals work together with Murphy’s performance to construct an intimate and confessional tone that is juxtaposed with moments of anger and frustration. This candid exploration of a man’s failings within the rainy, empty streets of London in lockdown, becomes a spatial experience – a unique hybrid of different artforms.

Meanwhile, Postcards from Now marks another riveting project which is a response to the purgatorial stasis engineered by the pandemic. Comprised of dance choreography, visual art, music, performance and animation, the work comes from several distinct perspectives commissioned at the height of global lockdown, and ultimately asks the question that’s been in our collective consciousness: what happens next?

Collaborations between leading artists Akram Khan and Naaman Azhari, Lucinda Childs and (LA)HORDE Collective, as well as films by Lola Arias and Ibrahim Maham explore notions of community, patriarchy and power through moving image.

Khan’s profoundly innovative storytelling as a dance artist is translated into live action footage, and then hand-drawn in Azhari’s rotoscope animation style. Breathless Puppets chronicles how a time of tragedy and isolation allowed the rekindling of a friendship that had been forced apart due to cultural expectations and the disapproval of fathers. Khan and Azhar’s mediums converge in the making of the project, where, “life is never clear, you recognise some parts of life, you think you are in control of some parts of life and really, you are not.”

Download and Run Zoom: Building Momentum in Lockdown is a playful short film that depicts the phenomenon of ‘post-internet dance’ through an ongoing digital collaboration between choreographer Lucinda Childs and (LA)HORDE collective (directors of Ballet national de Marseille). Exploring the transformation of creative workflows through the distances enforced by the pandemic, unexpected yet relatable possibilities come to the surface.

The work of Argentinian director Lola Arias lies at the overlap between the fictional and the real. Her latest film, Far Away from Russia, brings to light the deprivation of the elderly’s right to a social and political life, while looking at the entrapment and dependence brought on by the pandemic. The daily routine of an elderly person and their carer becomes a focal point, charting an unforeseen display of love and resistance: “Who is really taking care of whom?”

Finally, establishing a relationship between old airplanes and modern drones, Ibrahim Mahama’s (Parliament of Ghosts, M19) Love Campus ABCD, 2019-2021 prompts the birth of new imaginations. This year, the artist seeks to bring forth an era of reconceptualising life beyond the strict confines of the human experience. The film tells the story of Mahama’s pledge to create educational and cultural infrastructures such as the Savannah Centre for Contemporary Art (SCCA), and his pledge to educate and encourage the participation of young people from disenfranchised communities in Tamale.

Tickets for All of this Unreal Time: mif.co.uk/whats-on/all-of-this-unreal-time

Tickets for Postcards from Now (Free): mif.co.uk/whats-on/postcards-from-now

Find a comprehensive list of MIF21 events and more information on bookings at: mif.co.uk/whats-on

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Published 29 Jun 2021

Tags: Cillian Murphy Manchester International Festival

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