• Rachel Connor

Festival finale: ‘Manifest Calling’

A call is a direct address, a challenge. It is also an act of naming, and a bringing-into-being. The final event in the Manifest Arts calendar did both these things, being simultaneously a making visible the breadth of visual arts across the North-West, and an invitation to an audience to witness it.

‘Manifest Calling’ - a series of talks that give a flavour of the work of a range of the region’s artists - has become an intrinsic part of the festival. This year, gathered in the lecture room of Manchester Art Gallery, there were presentations from ten practitioners, each with their distinctive medium, space, practice and process – from painting to performance art. Yet, despite the differences, some common themes emerged.

Collaborative practice

Collaboration is at the very core of Manifest Arts. So, it was apt that the first speaker, Rutaka Skudraite spoke about the vision and aims of the Europia Arts Collective. Initially made up of seven artists from different parts of Europe, Europia seeks to promote awareness of cultural difference and their riches at a time of political turbulence when national identity seems precarious, even threatened. Ruta spoke about the questions that prompted Europia’s inception. Some of the concerns of its members were: as a non-British national, will I be accepted? Will I find collaborators? The collective produced an installation of textile art, ‘Ornamentika’, which was showcased in the window of Fred Aldous using traditional folk ornaments from across Europe. They also put together ‘Kukuryku’ – a showcase of performance art (dance, music and visual installation) in the atmospheric, old, deconsecrated church. Leading the audience in a call and response Lithuanian song about beer, Ruta’s talk showcased the very collectivity and cultural diversity that Europia represents.

The base for Europia, and its birthplace, is Old Bank Residency – the old Co-operative Bank building on Hanover Street, in the heart of NoMa. Speaker Neil Greenhalgh is the director of the Old Bank residencies based there, and spoke of how the building has become a community resource. Deeply rooted in collaboration, Old Bank is the home of a coffee shop, artists’ spaces and residencies. It houses meetings of organisations, charities and Extinction Rebellion. An important hub for creativity in the city, it is a place to share stories and slow down and the pop-up cinema showing experimental film.

Overturning hierarchies

A striking feature of some of the work discussed during ‘Manifest Calling’ was the desire to challenge hierarchies of varying kinds. Amanda Sutton outlined the work of Hulme-based studio, Venture Arts, which empowers people with learning difficulties and disabilities.

Amanda spoke of the work of the artists in the studio; she also outlined the residencies supported by the Whitworth and Castlefield studios, as well as the ‘Conversations’ mentoring scheme they had run that interrogated the meaning of so-called ‘outsider art’ – in which those with disabilities and able-bodied artists were paired together on an equal footing.

In a different vein, Rachel Goodyear of Islington Mill spoke of her work as challenging ways of looking, of exploring the precarious balance of power in constructions of identity, of her aim to further women’s voices and identities.

The studio, for her, is a walking scrapbook in which she explores myth-making and collage, and ideas of the uncanny and the human psyche. Recurring motifs like obscured eyes suggest alternative vision rather than blindness – an altered state that combats the linear and the rationale that is often associated with the masculine.

Creative expression

Both Jude Wainwright and James Roper spoke about their art practice being a way to counter anxiety. For Wainwright, painting is a source of comfort and compulsion. Like Rachel Goodyear, she is also fascinated by eyes. For Wainwright, the experience of painting evokes strong emotions, and painting her family and friends is a way of writing things down, like diary entries. The self-portraiture of her harlequin figures is a means of therapy.

Like Wainwright, James Roper paints to combat depression and anxiety. For him, art works where CBT and drugs failed. His semi-abstract oil paintings take on exaggerated sculptural forms. He sees the internet as a manifestation of the collective unconscious, in work that is strongly influenced by Jungian theory. Sunsets and sunrises in his work represent heightened states at different stages of day and night.

Experimentation and play are often manifestations of creative expression, and this is an element of the work of Rogue Studio’s Lucy Ridges. Ridges’ love of analogue photography and desire to explore the female form come together in her work, which draws on the process of solarisation, in which light is introduced to the images.

This, and the technique of double exposure (in which photographic images are overlaid onto each other by shooting with the same film at different times) introduces an element of chance which she says is key to her artistic expression and process.

Interdisciplinary practice

Artists Emma Lloyd, Richard Shields and Mike Chavez Dawson all spoke about the interdisciplinary nature of their work, crossing over from the visual to the performative, or from the visual to text.

Emma Lloyd’s work, in the invitingly tactile yet fragile medium of paper, takes the content of books (the titles of which she has carefully selected) to create pieces that explore communication. It invites the viewer to ask what are the contents of the books and what is concealed.

Mike Chavez-Dawson’s practice is grounded in the intersection between performance, philosophy. His work shows a fascination with alter-egos and he spoke about his own alter ego Robin Nature-Bold) as being a commentary on the whimsical nature of contemporary art. Richard Shields draws together opera and performance with his visual work – including sculpture and mask-making. For both the latter, there are questions to be asked about contemporary culture – whether (in Shields’ case) the role of social media in our understanding of self and identity; or (for Chavez-Dawson) the importance of myths and histories of art discourse, and what he describes as ‘revealing the myth of the artist’s vision as against the audience’s reading.’

If ‘Manifest Calling’ was an event that invited the audience to engage with the multiple spaces and processes that take part in the city and beyond, it was also an opportunity to be present to Manifest Art’s own ‘calling’ it’s raison d’etre: the mission to weave, to bring together, to showcase and to celebrate.

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