A Postcard from Manchester
Do It, Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester International Festival
A vulture flies overhead. The floor is sticky with lemon juice. That’s because people are squeezing lemons on a bike seat – obviously. An aroma of spices fills the room and a lump of meteor hangs on the wall, begging to be touched. It feels heavy and otherworldly, yet strangely ergonomic.
There’s a Mardi Gras atmosphere on this sweltering afternoon. Do It is an exhibition made up of instructions from over 150 artists, and work is to be found in every nook and cranny of Manchester Art Gallery. Audience participation completes these artworks in a very tangible way. We realise that this exhibition completely changes the way we behave in a gallery when we catch ourselves leaning casually on a plinth displaying a sculpture by Douglas Coupland (it’s aptly titled “When in Rome”, and contains a very funny anecdote about a bungled interview with Morrissey).
A uniformed guard stands to attention outside a closed door. He will only let you into the room if you hum a tune. A child fights his way out of a strait-jacket that’s shaped like a Möbius strip. Many of the works play on notions of authority, order and control. The result is a noisy, messy, bustling atmosphere that redefines the art gallery as a place of freedom, in an increasingly constrained world. This is perhaps best articulated by Ai Weiwei’s instructions on how to disable a CCTV Camera.
Do It, curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, is a travelling exhibition that is growing all the time. It’s now in its 20th year and is the longest-running open exhibition ever to take place. It does now feel that this type of participatory show is a dominant branch of contemporary art, which may not have been the case in 1993. There is synergy between the many and wildly varying artworks here, resulting in a show that tickles the senses, and plays on the mind far longer than you’d expect.
Tino Sehgal, This Variation.
In a disused depot near Piccadilly Station, we are ushered into a dark warehouse. This place really is pitch black. There is no way of telling the size of the space, and we keep bumping into people. It’s disorientating and a bit disturbing. Voices emerge from different parts of the room: murmuring, buzzing, beatboxing, singing and speaking. As our eyes begin to adjust, we can make out movement and patches of white. There are dancers twisting and flailing, invading our space. We have to move around to keep out of their way. It feels on the brink of something tribal, and makes us want to join in. The performance toes a perfectly-choreographed line and nobody breaks the spell by getting out their camera. “This Variation” is both mischievous and disarming, and leads us willingly out of our comfort zone. When we re-emerge into the daylight, colours seem brighter, the sun beats down, and it feels like we’ve tumbled out of (or into) a strange parallel universe.
Images: Ai Weiwei’s “How to Disable a CCTV Camera” and Mayfield Depot after Tino Sehgal’s “This Variation”