Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Manchester Hermit

A hermit locks himself in a tower for a 40-day meditation on the fate of the Earth. And then he logs in to Twitter.

"First tweet from the tower: About to tackle the first job of any new tenant. Find a mop and bucket. The whole place needs a good scrub."

Crazy? Maybe. But Ansuman Biswas isn't one of your typical old-school hermits. And the tower in question isn't on a remote Himalayan mountainside, it's on Oxford Road. The Manchester Hermit is a living exhibition at the Manchester Museum. And he's both completely isolated and communicating freely with the outside world via two Twitter accounts and a blog, not to mention a very savvy marketing team.

Biswas is an artist, a Buddhist and something of a philosopher - read his fascinating account of how his background informs this project, and its ultimate aims:

"... My own hermetic training is in the Theravada Buddhist technique of vipassana... essentially an exhaustive cataloguing of every aspect of experience, up to and including the cessation of everything. The vipassana yogi, like the Victorian collector, is engaged in taxonomy – a taxonomy of things which are disappearing. Someone practicing vipassana trains his or her awareness on every minute detail of experience, and observes it while it burns away. At the completion of this enlightenment nothing is left. The literal meaning of the Sanskrit word nirvana is ‘extinguishing’, referring to the going out of a light.

This idea of extinction will be the main organizing principle for me. By my action I hope to sensitize us to the sorrow of loss. My aim is to engage emotionally with the fact of the massive loss of memes, genes and habitats which we ourselves are precipitating on a planetary scale ..."

Oh, and if you suspect he's sneakily using his retreat from human society to play Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, you can keep tabs on him via webcam.

The project is already well underway. On the Manchester Hermit's blog, Biswas outlines his intention to destroy an item from the museum's collection every day, unless someone steps forward to demonstrate that the item in question is cared for. A fairly drastic and thus effective way of focusing attention on the bigger questions behind the museum's holdings and its role. He says, in an earlier post:

"The museum itself is a library of Babel, a seed bank and an ark. It is Gaia’s memory. At the apex of this body of knowledge, perched in a tower as a brain is perched on a spine, the hermit might symbolise conscious agency. The hermit dramatises the dialectic between deliberate, mindful knowledge and the hidden, or forgotten unconscious. I will use his presence to focus questions of stewardship, storage, and conservation, of profligacy, amnesia, and extinction."

The first item is the skull pictured above and has attracted 11 comments so far. If you're interested, join the conversation. Kudos to Manchester Museum for having the chutzpah to mount such a visionary project.

Monday, June 22, 2009

New Blogs: The Tasty Art Edition

Loads to tell you about today, with some delicious new arts and culture offerings for le blogroll.

Hilary Jack is a Manchester-based artist and curator (half of the Apartment team) whose work is currently appearing in The Social Lives of Objects at Castlefield Gallery - above is one of her pieces from that show I really liked. Her blog is a great example of how artists can use the platform to showcase and promote their work.

Manchester/Glasgow-based artist Yuen Fong Ling
has a blog in which he writes about his practice and pictures of his work as well as other stuff.

This is cool. Soup o'th'Day is a blog with vodcasts/news of arts events in Manchester. It's linked to Stephen Cambpell's project which presents arts events in Manchester in visual form. Currently featured is work from Susie MacMurrays' exhibition Lost & Found at Islington Mill opening July 10 (private view Thursday 9th July, 6.30 - 8.30pm)

They're cooking up some crazy things over at the mill these days, as always. The latest wheeze is a series of artist-led meals. At the last one, artist and curator Kwong Lee prepared a feast of red and green dishes which had to be eaten with 3-D glases on. Whenever possible, I think art should be tasty. The Islington Mill Art Academy, its free, self-organised art school, looks to be going well, too. They now have a blog here.

Moving out of the art world, Chris Norwood wrote in to introduce the Forever Manchester blog. He says: The blog is linked to the charitable work of the Community Foundation for Greater Manchester and is part of their Forever Manchester initiative, which raises money to fund community groups and other activities in neighbourhoods across Greater Manchester.

A new personal blog: Bethan Townsend's Plastic Rosaries.

Gareth Hacking describes his site as a photoblog, though artwork and other stuff appear from time to time.

Citizen Badham is a blog by comics fanatic and freelance writer Matt Badham, who is currently running a series called 100 days, 100 cartoonists.

Sean Gregson is writing a blog about the process of writing and producing a play as part of the upcoming 24:7 Theatre Festival. Said play, Donal Fleet: A Confessional is on July 20.

Finally, The Culture Cheese and Pineapple is an interesting idea. Organisers Plashing Vole and Ben from Cynical Ben describe it as a "place where you can force your favourite books, records, films, art, theatre, and the like on unsuspecting members of the public and they in return can make you sit through theirs. It is a bit like a book club but with no limits on what media you suggest." They explain how it works here. Very early days but they want to get things going in August, there are email details on the site if you'd like to get involved.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

I love a parade

All this buildup to Jeremy Deller's Procession (which looks to be amazing) has renewed my appreciation for the humble parade. And sent me searching for a half-remembered Maurice Sendak (?) book I had when I was little about a parade featuring all kinds of unusual groups of people - people with moustaches and/or people who slurped soup, among others? Anyway, I can't remember what it's called, so if it rings a bell for anyone let me know because I'm going crazy here. Maybe I should ask Jeremy Deller.

And if you'd like to whet your appetite for Procession by checking out another unconventional parade, head over to Hebden Bridge Saturday at 2pm for the Handmade Parade. As you'd expect from a town "internationally known for its funkiness" and indeed for the seriousness with which it takes its role as right-on capital of Albion, this is a parade with rules: No written words or logos, and no motorised vehicles.

They are good rules, though, so we can't poke too much fun at them, and the parade sounds terrific, with puppets (which look a lot like the ones at my beloved Bread and Puppet in VT), dancers, handcrafted floats and a samba band. There are workshops if you'd like to make something yourself and march in the parade, which is followed by a pageant and a big picnic in Calder Holmes park. This year's events have a Glorious Garden Party theme, so expect to see lots of adorable wee trustafarians cavorting in handmade butterfly costumes.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Best of Manchester : The Remix

The people who run the Best of Manchester Awards are looking for the mysterious person or persons who did these spoof BOMA posters (The poster on the left is the real thing, the one on the right the spoof).

They swear up and down that this is not a clever publicity stunt, they genuinely have no idea who made 'em, but they'd like to include the spoof posters in the exhibition later this summer. So they are asking the blogging community to help track down whoever's responsible for this clever bit of culturejamming. And I just noticed as I was typing this that Chris has put a similar post up at Mancubist.

They promise that anyone who helps them with a bit of detective work will get two free invites to the BOMA awards party. Email marketing at urbis dot org dot uk.

Now I'm curious. Any idears?

As it happens, BOMA announced the shortlist earlier this week, which makes for interesting reading. Some familiar names on there, some surprises. But mainly it's nice to see folks who have been labouring quietly away for years get some recognition for all the all-nighters they've pulled in the service of art/music/fashion. And no, I'm not going to say who I want to win. That would spoil it. Winners announced at Urbis on 23 July.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Contemporary Art Manchester

Unlike other cities', Manchester's independent art scene has long been a splintered, rather disorganised thing. You hear about exhibitions, sometimes in advance, sometimes after the fact. You go to private views and you see all the same people, mainly artists, designers and curatorial bods - it's a fairly small circle given the city's size. But considering that these artists' PR often consists of personally handing out flyers and - maybe - trying to spread the word on Facebook, it's not surprising that it can be hard to reach new audiences.

But that looks to be changing. Finally, the independent artists of Manchester have come together under one banner. Contemporary Art Manchester has been bubbling away quietly for a long time, and with the huge number of cooks involved I can only imagine how long those meetings must have gone on. But the group's website launches today, (they're already on Twitter and Flickr) and I'm pretty excited about what this means for Manchester's art scene.

Basically, CAM brings together Manchester and Salford's independent artists, small collectives and artist-led initiatives in a consortium that will give them a new platform to support what they're already doing, work together more effectively and increase their visibility.

The members of the consortium include Twenty+3 Projects, 100th Monkey, Bureau, Castlefield Gallery, Contents May Vary, BMCA, Exocet, FutureEverything, Gymnasium, Interval, Islington Mill Art Academy, Harfleet and Jack, The Salford Restoration Office and Rogue Project Space. Many of those will be familiar names if you read this blog regularly, because they're the folks who are doing really interesting and engaging visual art that, some might say, runs counter to the bigger art venues' tendency to play it safe.

Their first project is 'Trade City', a large group show in the new CHIPS building in Ancoats, and includes Antifreeze, an art car boot fair and exhibition about the high end art market delivered within the format of low end trade. That's on Saturday, July 4 (dates for the exhibition were not on the CAM website, but I'm assuming it will be open then.)

Interestingly, Trade City coincides with the Manchester International Festival, but is not on the festival's programme, as far as I can tell. Which makes it a kind of visual art fringe festival. So while you're enjoying the many amazing artists and performers visiting the city this summer, take some time out to appreciate the talent that lives here all year long.

(Image of Chips building courtesy of Paul Harfleet via Gymnasium)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I'm coming out

Some of the more observant of you might have noticed that I changed the name on my profile this week. I've been writing this blog since 2005, and since 2005 it's had the name Yankunian on it.

At the time I thought that it was the sensible thing to do. Blogging under an anonymous handle would give me the freedom to write whatever I wanted without having to worry about untidy consequences of either the personal or professional variety. And the freedom to have fun with my writing and maybe be a bit shit but not worry to much about it. Plus, pseudonyms are cool and they make you feel important, like one of the cats in the Federalist Papers.

What happened then was that my blog kind of grew into a whole other thing I wasn't really expecting. I started doing blogging workshops and organising blogmeets and the blog awards and before long everyone knew who wrote The Manchizzle. It has became part of my professional life, for better or worse. So I've decided it's just silly not to put my name on it since it only takes about five seconds to figure out who writes it on google.

If this sounds familiar, maybe it's because I've blogged about this before, but have resisted reading that post for fear of learning how boneachingly repetitive I can be without even trying. There was an interesting discussion around this "should you use real names/how much about your personal life should you divulge on your blog" dilemma that jumped between Emily and Jenn and Max's blogs awhile back, if anyone wants to check it out. Much more of an issue for personal bloggers than us dry informative types but still a toughie that most bloggers have to confront at some point or another. Anyone have any thoughts?

Just don't tell me I've made a huge mistake because there are no do-overs with the internet.

Overlooked Manchester

"We are not architects, preservationists, activists, though we do know a number of each of these. We are not radicals, Situationists, academics or psychogeographers, though we are lucky to count a few of these mythical creatures as our friends..."
The newly-formed Manchester Modernist Society cannily introduces itself by telling us what it is not. So what is it? Well, the MMS manifesto makes for great reading, here's an excerpt:

"We believe that the recent past and its rich variety of grand and ordinary, cherished and neglected buildings continue to play a part in our shared consciousness and sense of identity ...We are keen to foster and help develop a greater public awareness of the rich and complex relationship between architecture, art and design and public space, and draw attention to the precarious nature of much of the 20th century backdrop that we often mistakenly take for granted.

We aim to create a real space for discussing, engaging and enjoying perhaps occasionally even campaigning for the multilayered complexities of a city that is comfortable to wear its carbuncled heart on its sleeve. Not for us the smooth uniformity of a relentlessly brand new city that is too intimidating to use."

Organisers Jack Hale and Maureen Ward have also enlisted the support of EP Niblock, who wrote the introduction to their website. The Society's first get together is a trip across the Pennines today in Leeds. But, closer to home, they also recommend this talk on The Future of Architecture tonight at The Circle Club. Look out for more events in future on their website or Facebook page.

There's more to a city than buildings, and Green Badge Guide Anne Beswick wrote to tell me about her new tour which focuses on some of quietest and possibly most neglected Mancunians - Manchester's trees. Loyal readers know I am a friend of the trees and wish there were more of them around here. Having grown up in a place that looks like this, I'm never really comfortable too far away from a forest. But it turns out I'm not far at all: The Red Rose Forest encompasses a big chunk of the parks, trees and woodlands in Greater Manchester. Who knew?

Anne says: "Did you know that alder makes the best charcoal for gunpowder manufacture, that birch trees are known as the 'ladies of the woods' or that the old name for oak was 'ac' from which we get acorn and Accrington?" More information and a schedule of the tree tour here on the Tour Manchester site. The next one is June 23.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

New Blogs: The short and rushed edition

A short, highball glass full of new blogs for you to knock back as I rush out the door:

Falling and Laughing is Alistair Beech's blog about music, film and media.
Mithering Times is a new personal blog.

Thoughts of Nigel
is a media commentary blog written by Nigel Barlow.

Another media addition: Katie Moffat's PR nowandthen.

A new artist/illustrator blog: Stephen Marshall Also on the art tip: ArtYarn is a collaborative fibre arts project coordinated by visual artists Rachael Elwell and Sarah Hardacre. If you want to know what yarn bombing is, check it out.

Charismatic Information Technology
is written by Simon Carter for those folks who know the difference between VPN and VPL, unlike myself, to whom they are just a random arrangement of meaningless letters.

Send me some more new blogs, will you? Stocks are getting dangerously low.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Manchester arts venues dig social media

Increasingly, arts organisations and cultural institutions in Manchester are getting all mixed up with social media. It's not just about reaching younger and more tech-savvy audiences - though it will certainly help them do that - but taking part in the wider cultural conversation that is taking place in Manchester.

The Bolton Octagon has an excellent blog which provides behind-the-scenes peeks at their productions. Because I follow Bury Met on Twitter, I've been reminded about gigs I would have otherwise missed. The Library Theatre is on Twitter. So is Contact., Urbis and The Oldham Coliseum, which also uses a link sharing account on delicious to track coverage of their current production.

And that's just the heavy hitters. Really, one of the best things about social media is how it allows small underfunded collectives and artist groups to get the word out about their work without paying through the nose for PR. I've written about this phenomena in the Manc literature scene loads, but for a glimpse of similar things happening on the visual art side check out Exocet and Interval.

Sure, social media is another channel on which to promote your stuff, but savvy arts orgs understand that it's a tool that works both ways. It can also allow punters to participate in their work, from deciding what band should play a festival to getting involved in creating artistic content online. So the relationship becomes less one-sided and (hopefully) engenders a broader sense of ownership around these institutions.

Cornerhouse has embraced an interesting new "open source" approach which aims to engage the public more in programming, and abandon the traditional model of a head curator/programmer determining cultural output. The ensuing staff reshuffle which saw longtime film honcho Linda Pariser and Visual Art Director Kathy Rae Huffman depart caused a bit of a kerfuffle on the Manc arts scene.

Cornerhouse's new world order is laid out for your persual in The Art of With - an essay, seminar and a conversation that will potentially shape what the institution does in the future. The C-house commissioned We-Think author Charles Leadbeater to write an essay on how arts orgs can successfully incorporate this approach. And it's all just as collaborative as you'd expect: you can comment on the essay at the wiki here, and get involved in the seminar June 24.

And in July, Manchester Museums Consortium are launching a Wordpress-based online magazine to promote their activities and the city as a cultural destination. I'll be helping MMC involve the city's cultural bloggers in creating content for the site, so if you're doing reviews or criticism on your blog, drop me a line.