25 October 2012

The Return of Manfester!

In October 2011, at almost exactly the same time of year, I told you about how Manchester explodes into autumn with festivals. 

This year is no different. The Manchester Weekender was, as usual, absolutely brilliant. Creative Tourist really know what they're doing!

On Saturday, I decided to finally get my bike's extremely squealing brakes sorted out. While the Bicycle Boutique worked on it, I thought I'd catch an exhibit devoted to one of my ridiculous passions: Artists' Books! The Manchester Artists' Book Fair was right near my local bike shop, on Oxford Road. Ahh, Oxford Road. A regular haunt during my MA, it's a street I (thankfully) almost never have to ride on these days. When I first moved to Manchester, the BBC was still running a lot of its northern operations from the 70s modernist monstrosity on Oxford Road. I remember gazing at it wistfully as I walked into town from school, wishing I worked there. Of course, by the time I started working at the Beeb, these offices were moved to Media City UK, over in Salford. Much prettier buildings!

One of the first stalls I saw was Big Jump Press, run by a lovely Sarah Bryant. She's a recent immigrant to the UK, by way of Alabama and upstate NY, so we had a lot to chat about. So much, in fact, that I forgot to take any pictures! But, if you look at her blog, she has many images of her work. Beautiful, delicate pieces.

This book by Mellie Lane blew me away. I love how the purple gets darker as you look further 'back' into the city. I love the precision of the cuts. I wanted to buy it, but I cannot spend £30 on a piece of art that I don't even have the bedroom space to display.

This flagged book, by Heather Prescott, did something that I think is truly amazing. It is an artists' book that is filled with meaning and politics, both personal and public. It examines how the word 'cuts' is used, in so many areas, and how nearly all of those usages hurt. From self-harm to austerity, cuts undercut our lives. (See what I did there?) Simultaneously, as a physical object, it is nearly impossible to touch without getting a papercut, and so it manifests its meaning on your fingertips. And the book also makes it clear that cuts caused by austerity do not currently have a treatment plan in place. 

And this book drew me in through its sheer physical cleverness. Created by Gemma Lacey, it's true brilliance is that this book is some sort of undercover mobile. To see this book's full form, it must be held up in the air.

It starts as a closed book, with some lovely ribbons. Nothing exceptional there.

You can see a yellow printed sun begin to break through the inky blue 'night' of the book. 

And then, once you fully open it, the covers can be tied together, and the pages form this 3 dimensional sculpture of night and day!

I still had time before I could pick up my bike, so I walked up to The Cornerhouse, which was another Weekender venue. On the way, I noticed a huge gap in the buildings that line Oxford Road. It's strange to see, because Oxford Road is probably the most developed road in Manchester, so a gap in the view, a place for the sun to get through... is unnerving. It turns out the BBC Manchester building was nearly gone. I was a bit sad about it, but I'm glad I'm working at the Beeb anyway now!

At the Cornerhouse, I intended to go to the Sketch-O-Matic, look at some artwork, and call it a day. What, in heaven's name, you ask, is a Sketch-O-Matic? Well, dear reader, the Sketch-O-Matic is a delightful take on the classic photobooth. With the Sketch-O-Matic, you sit in a booth, facing a one-way mirror, drop a £1 coin in the slot, and an artist on the other side draws your portrait in 5 minutes! 

Some of the portraitists did sketches and some did 'poem portraits.' I found the experience a little bizarre. Thanks to a fear of being vain and actually hating the way my face looks, I have not sat in front of a mirror for a full 5 minutes in about 17 years, I would roughly guess.
I kept looking around, and though I managed to not get on Twitter for the entire time, I couldn't help taking a photo of the coin slot and the indicator above the mirror.  

And this is the portrait I got! 

I absolutely love it. I think the reason it looks like someone else is 'portrait-bombing' me is that I was really fidgety and probably started out looking at the side of the booth. What I love, though, is that it reminds of how I looked when I had a mohawk-- so it's like a portrait of my past and my present. Also, the artist caught the moment when I was taking the photograph, so you can see my fingers splayed over my rectangular phone. 

My only wish? That the Sketch-O-Matic had a publicly available roster of artists, so I could know to whom to attribute this work of art!
I meant to just go home after that, but a friend came by and offered me a ticket to a Q&A with artist David Shrigley. I didn't know anything about Shrigley's work, except that he had an exhibit on at the Cornerhouse. I figured, "Free ticket!"I'm really glad I went along. David Shrigley is one of those very lucky characters who manages to make a living being an artist, while not having to bend his style to advertising, but rather gets to bend advertising to his style. He does goofy drawings with text, and generally his work seems rather pointless. 

But what I really liked about his talk was that he didn't take the "I get paid to do stupid childish drawings all day, it's the best! I can't believe people pay me to do dumb drawings!" route. If he had taken that route, I would probably take his drawings about as seriously as he did and think he was an overpaid wank who is taking the art out of art.
But I don't think that. Because he does take his work seriously. Yes, they are little cartoons. But they say something. He said he spends every day working at his drawings. That they look little throwaway doodles, but he throws out a bin bag of them a day. He works. Hard. It looks easy. But looks mean nothing. And he also doesn't take his work too seriously. I think he would acknowledge that they are goofy drawings. But goofy does not mean unimportant. I really enjoyed his talk, and I know I'll recognise his work in the future... and be excited about it! After his talk, I did have to rush to the bike shop to get Champion before closing time. Happily, his brake pads have been changed and he no longer screams at me every time I tell him to slow down, take it easy, stop now, we have all night.

A great day, well spent, and errands done, too. I might just be ok with the single life in Manchester, after all!

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