• Rachel Connor

'Everything Starts From Something': Manchester School of Art degree show 2019

If everything starts from something, then Manifest Arts CIC started from a collaboration and connectivity forged at Manchester School of Art.

The three directors of Manifest Arts met as students on the BA Hons Interactive Arts course at MMU, graduating in 2013 (Elisa Artesero) and 2014 (Roger Bygott, John Lynch). As Elisa says, ‘there is a particular open and enterprising spirit from graduates of the course that you can easily recognise. Starting Manifest Arts Festival was a concept a lot of people said we couldn’t achieve, but John, Roger, and I all came through Interactive Arts, so our response was “why not?”…and here we are, three festivals in, curating #ManifestArts19!’

Two of the Manifest Arts Festival Directors: Elisa Artesero and Roger Bygott

This year’s Manifest Arts Festival is a celebration of the collaboration and connectivity that is at the heart of the Interactive Arts course. If you consult the Festival programme, you’ll see that - in addition to a multiplicity of open studios - there are performances and presentations, workshops, talks and a professional speed networking event.

This year, there’s also a Spotify playlist.

But the Interactive Arts course at MMU is closing, a fact which saddens the Manifest directors. It is poignant and fitting, then, that they attended its final offering as part of the School of Art’s degree show, 'Everything Starts From Something', earlier this month. It featured, as it always does, a range of media - from light sculpture, to paper, to board games, textiles, photography, manipulated sound and wearable objects.

Holly Bazley, 'Biotical'

The strengths of the Interactive Arts degree, says Elisa Artesero, have always been variety, adaptability and the capacity to take risks. There is an emphasis, too, on real-world significance and impact. This was demonstrated in this year’s show in Holly Bazley’s ‘Biotical’, an interactive boardgame that showcased the growing problem of our resistance to antiobiotics. Through the course of the game, players navigated a lifetime of experiences of illness and health that encouraged them to use the drugs correctly.

For Roger Bygott, MMU’s Interactive Arts course has always supported a multiplicity of creative identities. He says: ‘I’ve never really wanted to fix myself with a label - whether it be ‘artist’, ‘teacher’, ‘student’, ‘director’ or ‘organiser.’ This same fluidity was at the heart of their recent degree show, which engaged with identity both as a personal and a collective, public phenomenon. Sophie Wardle’s ‘Grief on Facebook’, for instance, explored the intersection of death, bereavement and our virtual identities through an installation - a ‘digital graveyard’ made up of mixed media pieces. How does an online profile change, this piece asked, when the person it represents is no longer living? As a writer, I’m fascinated by this concept too, and it underpins my own recent short story about a digital death manager, which is entitled ‘How To Curate A Life.’

Sophie Wardle, 'Grief on Facebook'

Equally eye-catching and thought-provoking was the light installation ‘Borrowed Words’ (Georgina Fox), which brought into focus the ‘unprecedented amount of text that we face in the digital age, to create our own meanings and forms and identities’. Drawing on literary critic Marjorie Perloff’s concept of ‘moving information’, the piece argued that, since we all continually manage and redistribute information, we are all, in the end, writers.

Georgina Fox, 'Borrowed Words'

The fusion of structured support and creative freedom offered by the B A Interactive Arts course has, over the years, nurtured many students in their exploration of their skills and passions. From Manchester, to Berlin, to Australia, Interactive Arts graduates have moved into contemporary curation, art studio management, painting, community gardening and audio-visual work for festivals. As John Lynch points out, the practice of these artists is as diverse as the locations to which they dispersed.

Yet, you could say that everything started in Manchester. The close parallels between the BA Interactive Arts course and the ethos of the Manchester-based Manifest Arts Festival are unsurprising. For Roger Bygott, both are 'a product of creative imagination interacting with the local arts scene.' And both examine how that scene 'embeds, modifies and morphs in relation to social change and city development.'

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