August is drawing to a close and to my horror I realise that I haven’t done much blogging this summer. I have a good excuse: I was away, on a working holiday trip to Europe. So to lessen my guilt of not producing much content for Art of Festivals, here’s a summary of what I’ve seen, heard and done this past month. I’ll start here with my encounters with free music and art in unusual settings.
(All photos by @artoffestivals, click on images to view a larger version in a new tab).
Part 1: Art Everywhere
I started my trip with 10 days of live contemporary jazz at the 18th annual Manchester Jazz Festival, allowing me to reunite with old friends and discover new and unexpected gems. There were lots of free gigs on offer, at the rate of 3 or 4 a day, and the paying gigs are usually priced at no more than £15. The festival uses a variety of venues and spaces throughout the city centre, from the “Festival Teepee”, a huge tent originally commissioned by Manchester International Festival, to the 300-year-old St Ann’s Church, the recently renovated Band on the Wall (which eventful 200-year history as a pub, then cinema, then live music venue can be found here) and the Grade-II listed Midland Hotel, where Rolls is rumoured to have met Royce.
Attending the festival – and not working it, as I had done for 3 years – was a great reminder of what it’s like to be on the other side. The festival team might be solving a crisis backstage – the next band is stuck in traffic, some volunteers haven’t showed up, or the horrendous weather is threatening to ruin the show – but nothing transpires stage-side: the gig starts bang on time, the sound is perfectly balanced, the performers are highly skilled and engaging, and the only real question remaining is whether or not to have that second glass of Pimm’s.
My festival highlight: spending lots of time with the great guys from Trio Journal Intime (Sylvain Bardiau – trumpet, Matthias Mahler – trombone, Frederic Gastard – bass saxophone), rescuing said bass saxophone from airline mismanagement hell and being completely blown away by their ‘Lips on Fire’ Jimmy Hendrix-inspired gig. Here’s a live performance video for further proof:
After my favourite festival, I went to my favourite sculpture park – not that I know that many others, but I can’t imagine that they can come any finer than this: 500 acres of landscaped park in the heart of Yorkshire, with a huge collection of works (featuring Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Anthony Caro, Andy Goldsworthy, James Turrell, Richard Long, Antony Gormley, Helen Escobedo – and so many more that it’s probably best to check the full list here), dotted here and there in the meadows, woods and formal gardens. The indoor galleries host infallibly exceptional temporary exhibitions: this time Yinka Shonibare MBE, on my previous visit Jaume Plensa. As for most cultural institutions in the UK, entrance is free, you only pay for parking; and there are many events, workshops and guided visits on offer for all ages.
Panopticon (noun): structure, space or device providing a comprehensive or panoramic view
The following day, I set off with friends in the other direction for more outdoor sculpture fun. The Panopticons are a major public art commissioning project, meant to create new landmarks in the rural setting of East Lancashire. All four structures were designed by different architects and/or artists, working both as focal points and viewpoints and drawing from the local heritage. They were completed in 2006-2007. I have already written about the Panopticon project in my post about the research project Why Art Works, so I wanted to see them for myself.
Travelling in style in a red, white and chrome Triumph 2000, we created a public Google Map and followed the route suggested in this article by Nick Hunt, Director of Mid-Pennine Arts, the commissioning agency behind this cultural regeneration effort. We only managed to score 2 ½ out of 4, mainly because we spent so much time chatting about our impressions, taking photos, getting lost, and thoroughly enjoying ourselves.
The two structures we experienced close-up are Colourfields, a converted cannon battery site set in the very Victorian Corporation Park, and Atom, perched on top of the hill in Wycoller Country Park. In both instances, we walked in beautiful landscaped settings, taking in the sights, enjoying the fresh air and reflecting on the shaping of nature by culture.
While we were determined that we would make it to Singing Ringing Tree, we had to give it a miss when we realised that we were only a few miles away from Bronte Country (i.e. the likelihood of a good pub). And the remaining half Panopticon? That’s Halo, which we spotted from the motorway on the way back to Manchester.
Mid-Pennine Arts’ website states that the Panopticons “were designed to attract visitors into the countryside to enjoy the stunning landscapes that this delightful area has to offer”. This cunning plan clearly worked, as there are very few other reasons that could have influenced us to head to Blackburn and Burnley, and I’m immensely glad that we did!
I was lucky to be in England just in time for Art Everywhere – self-described as “A Very Big, Big Art show”. It’s a nationwide initiative swapping billboard ads for art posters, using the collections of the Tate (Modern and Britain) and other museums and galleries.
The exhibition ran from 12 to 25 August, featuring 57 different British works of art across 22,000 poster sites. I spotted quite a few in train stations in Sheffield and Manchester and all over London.
It’s public art in more than one way: it was part-funded by the public, through a crowdfunding campaign raising over £30,000, with rewards such as badges, bags, T-shirts and framed prints; the works were chosen by public voting, out of a longlist of over 100 artworks; and interaction was encouraged via a photography competition. It is estimated that 90% of the UK population will see at least one of these billboards during the course of the campaign.
The interactive map helps getting a sense of the huge scale of this project, and this video shows a few works in their newly found context.