What Happens When Artists Take Over a City? See 5 Colossal and Urgently Relevant Artworks at the Manchester International Arts Festival

Jul 12, 2021

As the Manchester International Arts Festival continues into its final weeks, we decided to take a look at some of the best contemporary art interventions happening around the city.

From an installation by Forensic Architecture on the occasion of the group’s 10th anniversary, to the transformation of a Jewish synagogue into a meditation on community and history, here are five must-see works.

 

“Captioning the City” by Christine Sun Kim adorns Selfridges in Manchester as part of the Manchester International Arts Festival. Photo: Fabio De Paola/PA Wire.

The US-born, Berlin-based artist Christine Sun Kim has installed massive text-based works all around the city of Manchester. The phrases she’s chosen, like “The sound of searching for seating,” allude to her experience as a deaf person, navigating a world that is designed for non-disabled people.

“Captioning the City” by Christine Sun Kim adorns Selfridges in Manchester as part of the Manchester International Arts Festival. Photo: Lee Baxter.

“Captioning the City” by Christine Sun Kim adorns Selfridges in Manchester as part of the Manchester International Arts Festival. Photo: Lee Baxter.

 

Big Ben Lying Down with Political Books by Marta Minujin, part of Manchester International Arts Festival. Photo: Fabio De Paola/PA Wire.

Claire Govender adds the 20,000th book to “Ben Ben Lying Down with Political Books” by Marta Minujin, Photo: Fabio De Paola/PA Wire.

 

Yandass Ndlovu, a participant of “Portrait of Black Britain” at the installation. Photo Fabio De Paola/PA Wire.

“Portrait of Black Britain is me taking control of my narrative, asking other Black people to join me in the reintroduction of our presence and stories in the 21st century,” Cephas Williams wrote of his Manchester art installation.

In this massive undertaking, Williams has embarked on a mission to create the largest photographic trove of Black British people ever created. For the project, Williams asked ordinary individuals to share their stories, successful or not, and then presented the 116 portraits he took.

Cephas Williams’s installation “Portrait of Black Britain” part of Manchester International Arts Festival. Photo: Fabio De Paola/PA Wire.

 

Laure Prouvost, The long waited, weighted, gathering (2021). Photo: Michael Pollard.

Turner Prize-winner Laure Prouvost has transformed the Ladies Gallery in the newly renovated 1874 synagogue that houses the Manchester Jewish Museum into a time machine. The installation features textiles and a film that pays homage to the Jewish women who helped build Manchester into a modern city, and found comfort and safety within the walls of the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue. Prouvost worked with contemporary members of the Women’s Textile Group to create objects within the installation that reference themes of migration, community, femininity, and religion.

Laure Prouvost, The long waited, weighted, gathering (2021). Photo: Michael Pollard.

 

Still from Forensic Architecture Cloud Studies (2012–ongoing), courtesy Forensic Architecture.

Ten years ago, when the art and activist group Forensic Architecture was just forming, no one could predict the impact it would have on the art world. In an exhibition commemorating the group’s decade-long practice, a group of works from a variety of its past investigations come together in a wrenching exploration of how the air we breathe is co-opted to “suppress civilian protest, maintain and defend violent border regimes, and empower extractive industry.” The exhibition also features the first phase in Forensic Architecture’s new work exploring environmental racism in Louisiana, where an area deemed “Cancer Alley” has wreaked havoc on generations of Black residents.

Forensic Architecture with Forensic Oceanography, The Seizure of the luventa (2017), courtesy Forensic Architecture.

Forensic Architecture, Cloud Studies (2008-21). Photo: Michael Pollard.