• Rachel Connor

In praise of multimodal creativity

Updated: Jul 31, 2019

A woman playing cello in a deconsecrated church; dancers moving in the space where an altar would have been; writers in a refurbished cotton mill, sitting in a semi-circle and performing a scripted reading of work in progress. The Manifest Arts festival, this year, has expanded its offer to include more than just the visual. William Blake once said: ‘I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's…my business is to create.’  This year’s festival witnessed a celebration of multimodal creativity - with writing, music, movement and performance all woven into the rich seam of Manifest’s programme.

William Blake was a feature of much of the work-in-progress exhibition ‘Resilience’ at Pool ArtsAW (13 and 14 July).

Photo: John Lynch

Blake's creativity was itself multifaceted and - ahead of an exhibition planned for later in the year - the residents at Pool have been undertaking research on his life and reflecting on how it feeds into their own creative concerns. Blake's biography, as well as his artistry, is featured in some of the studio work, including images inspired by his poetry, like 'Tyger, Tyger'.

Across the city, at Hope Mill, the home of AWOL studios there is also a a breadth of businesses and practices: photographers, clothes designers and makers, writers’ groups (including Manchester Playwright Forum, who performed the scripted reading) and Comma Press – one of the most successful and established independent publishers in the north of England.

Photo: Roger Bygott

Photo: John Lynch

Manchester itself, of course, has long witnessed creativity in a range of modes: inventors, artists, activists, politicians, musicians and writers. AWOL’s exhibition ‘New Icons’ (Saturday 13 July) was located on the fifth floor of Hope Mill, which, with its long corridors, wooden floors and exposed brickwork remains a direct link to the tradition of manufacture and making.

Photo: John Lynch

But the symbols of bees, cotton and industry feel, perhaps, outdated now and 'New Icons' was curated in response to the question: what are the symbols of modern Manchester? There was a range responses, from Chris Clements' representation of Pomona, Jude Wainwright's ironic, sharp-figured harlequins and Felicity Meachem's large and colourful abstracts.

The nature of what it is to be an artist was the foundation for Richard Shields’ piece 'You Have to Laugh to Keep from Crying', which was performed on 18 July in the Baronial Hall at the historical gem of Chetham’s School. Shields’ piece showcased his multidisciplinary talent. The show was performance and exhibition in one, a highly engaging, tragi-comic, ‘multifaceted odyssey’ as the programme notes suggest, which wove together drawing, painting, sculpture, opera and - with a nod to the contemporary - an Instagram account.

Photo: John Lynch

Exploring the trials of an artist selling himself and his art, 'You Have to Laugh to Keep from Crying' was one of a number of performance pieces that were commissioned by Manifest for the festival with funding from The Granada Foundation. Others included Rowland Hill’s 'Interjectional Exercises' (15 July) that fused together British Sign Language, gesture and spoken word, and Sarah Macias’ 'Amarme' (16 July), an interactive piece that involved body art and incorporated the Japanese theatre dance Butoh.

The inclusion of the Europia Collective in Manifest’s programme itself demonstrates an extension of boundaries, both creative and geographical. Europia is a group of European expat artists now living and working in Manchester. In addition to their piece ‘Ornamentika', which was displayed in the window of Fred Aldous for the duration of the festival - they put together ‘Kukuryuku’, a show to celebrate artistic talent of all modes from Europe. The title is taken from the sound made by a Polish rooster and the evening was indeed hosted by a rooster (one of the collective in costume), presenting a range of performance artists from the collective: hauntingly beautiful Lithuanian cello music from Kotryna Siugzdinyte; dance pieces from Matrafisc Dance; folk tale-infused electronica blended with digital technology from Romanian-born Paltin; and a digitally-based audiovisual project 'Otomatt' (from artists Aleksandar Brayanov, Federico d’Emilia and David Pani). With a secret location revealed only the day before, the audience gathered at St Wilfrid's, a former Catholic church in Hulme, which formed an atmospheric and sacred backdrop.

Photo: John Lynch

Europia’s aim is to promote cross-cultural understanding in its celebration of artistic endeavour across all forms, incorporating sight, sound and movement. In these times of turbulent political and social climate in the UK, Europia Art Collective is a resoundingly positive voice that – like Manifest itself - seeks to articulate the positive qualities of integration, growth and connection.

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