September 29, 2009

The Language Moment

Yesterday was the big day - the Language Moment was presented to the North West Panel of the Olympic Artists Taking the Lead Commission. I was accompanied in the presentation by Phil Davenport and Diana Hamilton from the Hamilton Project I haven't said much about the proposal here or anywhere else really - basically because I was working too hard on it to the last minute. But now it's in and we await the decision - it will be announced on 22 October.

The Language Moment is a festival of international language in art, recognising and creating a cross-artform dialogue from poetry to sound art, from sculpture to multimedia. The Commission would create new worldwide possibilities for art and communication. In so doing, it aspires to change the course and discourse of contemporary art and poetics establishing a new definition and a new field of international linguistic art practice and dialogue. It would locate Manchester at the centre of this breakthrough.

Its structure is envisaged in three interconnected parts:

Seeds. Truce. Legacy.

Seeds (2010-2012)

Building audiences in the North West and beyond, creating a sense of excitement, engagement and understanding about creative uses of language and the possibilities of dialogue between languages. Working with regional arts development agencies, Time to Read, North West libraries and local arts services, venues and artists, it will feature:

• Community and schools projects – integrated into the Olympic Get Set structure
• Taster performances and temporary installations
• Academic symposia engaging with theory & analysis of contemporary language art
• Global networking of text-based artists
• Pre-festival professional development workshops
• Negotiation with artists and partners in identifying sites/forms for new commissions
• Programme development and planning
• First phase marketing activities


Mirroring the Ancient Olympic truce, in which the Greeks stopped fighting so they could train and compete, the Language Moment would run for the same symbolic 60 day period – referred to as the Language Truce.

Through April-May 2012, the festival would celebrate and make accessible language in all art forms

• Exhibitions in most of Manchester’s major galleries & museums
• Public art commissions and world premiers of new performance works
• Temporary installations (sound, visual, multimedia, etc) in arts and non-arts locations
• Poetry and other language performances across multiple venues and in public spaces
• Community projects and workshops
• Broadcasts of community projects locally and across the Live Site Screens
• New publications and launch events
• Residencies & artist dialogues with artists from all over the world coming to Manchester


I think it is fairly obvious that the language moment is coming - looking at any artform shows artists engaging with language as a material and field of enquiry; though the understanding of the possibilities are clearly variable. There is an historic possibility to grasp. Fundamentally as the Commission concept focuses on the importance of the artist in celebration of the Olympics, it is also celebrates the pursuit of risk, of the artistic unknown, of innovation, of discoveries yet to be made – and the Language Moment by its very nature grasps for something new. Its ultimate legacy will be the legacy of the new.
In the insanely short time I was allowed to develop the idea I managed to confirm more than 100 artists from 24 countries - it could have been much bigger with more development time - supported by most of the galleries in greater Manchester plus various other partners such as Shisha (South Asian Arts Agency), Mid-Pennine Arts, the North West Libraries network, etc. To all the partners who helped and all the artists who trusted me to pull them into a conducive moment, I say thank you. In addition, I pulled together a delivery team, which in the words of Capt. Jean-Luc Picard in the last episode of Star Trek Next Generation, "I would trust with my life". To all of them who worked hard to develop their sections of the proposal, I would offer my thanks.

September 26, 2009

Discussing art collecting

Yesterday at the Buy Art Fair at Urbis I took part in the panel discussion of "Public/Private: Institutions and Developing a Market for Contemporary Art."

The others on the panel were Lewis Biggs (Liverpool Biennial), Mark Waugh (A Foundation), and Paul Moss (Workplace Gallery).

I quite enjoyed the discussion but think it was only just getting started when we ran out of time. My main position was that most UK public authority galleries have been driven by governmental non-cullture priorities for so long that curators have been artistically de-skilled and don't have curatorial confidence to be validating players in the art market; in this context, the Arts Council's ambition for more adventurous collecting policies is mostly a fantasy.

September 24, 2009

Angels of Anarchy

Last night, we attended the preview of Angels of Anarchy at Manchester Art Gallery.
There was a big crowd, which made looking at the show not so easy - previews generally are not the best time to actually see an exhibition. Rarely for the Gallery, this show made me think I would probably go back to see it without the crowd. I admit that my interest in surrealism has always been limited so my knowledge of women surrealists, who, as Jeanette Winterton pointed out in her opening remarks, are as marginalised as most women in avant-gardes. Therefore it was pretty much all new for me (except vaguely Lee Miller.) I found that the works which I most frequently looked at the label to see who had done pieces that stood out were consistently by Eileen Agar ( ), her self-portrait in pen & ink of 1928 was a beautiful drawing made somewhat poignant by the inscription "for peter". "Ladybird" is another worth seeking out and her collage "A Thousand Thanks. Letter to E.L.T. Mesens" is a great piece.

The photography of Emila Medkova was also a powerful discovery for me. I'll also recommend an exquisite still-life watercolour "Caballito Mexicana" by Frida Kahlo. One or two Dora Maar's stood out too.
The disappointing aspect of the show is in the curation. It goes for rather predictable thematic categories - "portrait/self-portrait", "still life", "interiors". In the latter section, I could only write "nil" in my note book, and again in the section "surreal objects" - nil.

September 21, 2009

BBC interview

A very conducive interview for BBC north west by Steve Rawling about the Language Moment. Apparently the BBC are filming all 5 of the shortlisted candidates and will show them just before the public announcement.
He filmed me in front of Shaun Pickard's neon text "Darwin" and the video animation "Grin Variations" edited by Phil Davenport from his work with schools in Bury and the Hague.

September 18, 2009

I'm Back

Well except for the project in Finland, the last 6 weeks have been completely taken up with preparation of the final submission of the Language Moment. The process of drawing it together, as well as being exhausting, has been remarkable for the massive extension of my global contacts and the universal excitement it has generated from everyone I have been discussing it with. I don't want to say too much about the project yet, it seems a little like tempting fate when I still have the presentation to do to the Panel on 29 September. After that I'll describe it in more detail - suffice it to say that it will involve more than 100 artists and most of the main venues in Manchester. The team I have pulled together who will help deliver it could change the world given the chance - so let's hope we get it.
Anyway, normal service is resumed here now.

September 12, 2009


Tuire arrives at Ikko where we were staying.

Tuire did a remarkable job looking after our party, translating and sorting everything out with endless energy.

Older people from Bury and Tampere dancing together

Lunch with Karri Korro, who drove up from Helsinki

Project evaluation:

and finally:
Home and Barney with his Moomin brought from the Moomin Valley Museum

September 07, 2009

Back to Finland

From tomorrow, I am back in my favourite Finnish city, Tampere. Cultural mobility is the buzz phrase in most debates about globalisation, but usually this refers to artist mobility. My take on it is broader, including communities themselves. Bury had previously taken a group of older people to Stuttgart who were learning to write plays. I was presenting this experience to a European Museums seminar in Bertinoro, Italy after which the Finnish delegation approached me to do a similar project with them. So here we are. The group we are taking are older people who are participating in a dance project led by Ruth Tyson-Jones. The programme includes dance workshops, meeting Finnish older people to exchange experience, seeing museums, etc, etc. Personally, I'm looking forward to the Sara Hilden Art Museum opening on Friday
Saunas will be ubiquitious; but I draw the line at jumping into lakes - that degree of closeness to nature verges on psychosis.

I'll also be meeting Karri Kokko the poet-organiser of the Vispo Residency back in July. We'll be looking at Finnish involvement in the Language Moment. I've been too busy on it to say here much about progress with it. It has been and continues to be an intense piece of work. Whether it comes off or not, I guess that just this phase has tripled the size of my network - and at last time of counting I had nearly 100 artists confirmed from 23 countries.

September 04, 2009

If Not This and

If Not This opened as the audience entered the building with Helmut Lemke's "if not this...WHAT THEN & if not at this address...WHERE ELSE?" - a very witty durational configuration of Helmut sitting on a chair with a bucket on his head, a high up bottle of water slowly dripping down onto the bucket. Audience members were invited to drop written comments into another bucket beside him (my comment pictured above)

He picked up each written comment and mumbled it from inside the bucket and attempted blindly to scrawl on the outside of the bucket. A very amusing piece.

Up in the main gallery, I welcomed the audience and introduced the rest of the artists.

First up Ben Gwilliam: he performed molto semplice e cantabile. Prior to the gig, he had made a mould of a vinyl disc of Beethoven's Sonata No 32 and from this created casts in ice. Taking these from a specially brought in fridge, he placed them on turntables: abstract and swirling, the rhythm created by spinning discs was hypnotic and vaguely African, melting created an extraordinary counterpoint, with different pick-ups subtly altering the pace and nuances of sound. Suddenly the ice grooves would give up and the 'instrumentation' would become harsher, more mechanical, urban and then it slowly faded to a recording akin to applause like ice being swept away or paper torn, melting unevenly the discs undulated to become more like massive waves breaking. A new disc was added, a re-invigorated rhythm this time sounding more like series of explosions offered as variations.

Matt Wand began his untitled installation by locating and then turning on reprogrammed Nintendo Gameboys attached to equally sized amplifiers, the texture of sound built a futuristic industrial landscape; circulating in some pre-determined order, Matt then lowered the amps into various sized glass jars which had the effect of shifting the soundscape into a musical register more melancholy, reminiscent of the opening organ music sequence progression down the hotel corridors of Last Year At Marianbad. Adding lids to the jars dimmed the tone colours and altering the lid positions and a shift in the pre-programmes slowed the movement, became more melodic drifts, it shifted again to be up lifting and full of hope and after hope, the amps now on top of the jars so that they added resonance which with the contrapuntal threads moving, surpassing hope to celebration akin to bells ringing on a Dickensian Christmas Day happy ending.

Lee Patterson began his performance by dropping bicarbonate soda into amplified glasses of water, this initiated a collage of sound-cloud samples of underwater pre-recordings of a local canal, a local pond and a nearby wire fence, with live action of poured water from a kettle, amplified springs and assorted pieces of metal pinged - an overlaying, a gentle throbbing like a breeze in motion on the basilar membrane bends stereocilia. I was reminded of John Cage's experience when trying out a soundproof isolation tank - he reported listening to the boom of his heart and the rush of his blood.

(Ben and Lee preparing before the gig)