A Tale of Two Cities: BCNMCR

BCNMCR exhibition, Manchester

What do Barcelona and Manchester have in common? Excellent graphic design, discovers Maja Lorkowska…

What do Barcelona and Manchester have in common? There is of course, the Manchester Bar somewhere in the maze of Barcelona’s backstreets, and Catalan Square in Manchester. More importantly, both cities are lively centres of graphic art, and this mutual creative potential has been recognised by Dave Sedgwick; a north-west-based freelance designer, and now founder of BCNMCR (Barcelona:Manchester).

In its second year, this small but perfectly formed festival (including an exhibition and popular talk series) is showcasing internationally renowned talent in graphic design and illustration, and right on our doorstep.

Located in the Northern Quarter’s TwentyTwentyTwo, the exhibition brings together the work of 11 design, illustration and typography studios from the Catalan capital. With the intention of going to visit a gallery, entering the dark basement bar-space seems somewhat unusual. But once you’re in, it becomes clear that this is not work created for pristine white walls; this is design in its natural habitat.

“The show itself is elegant, varied and (thankfully!) humorous”

The show itself is elegant, varied and (thankfully!) humorous. Whether you are determined to keep up to date with Spanish design, or accidentally stumble upon the work whilst having a few drinks on Saturday night, you won’t be disappointed. From slick prints to watercolour illustrations, it provides an overview of the range of practices and expertise prominent in Barcelona today.

My personal highlights start with Toormix Studio; the posters on show are brilliantly… messy. Breaking every rule of the usually immaculate and refined design template, Toormix are showing their playful side with a series of works created especially for BCNMCR. Entitled Memories of Barcelona, they show strange animal prints layered upon sepia photographs of the city from decades ago, and although it’s unclear as to what they mean, it simply doesn’t matter when they look this good. In fact, it’s quite likely that they’re all sold out by now.

Toormix Studio

Studio Atipus is the complete opposite. Also commissioned especially for BCNMCR, it is a collection inspired by the ‘Madchester’ of the late 1980s and early ’90s. With references to city-based 808 State and, well, the letter ‘M’ itself, these guys have done their research. Resulting in incredibly polished designs, the studio managed to translate Mancunian influences into their signature, minimal style.

The colourful letter-work of typographer Laura Meseguer makes for another exhibition highlight. Her six posters spelling out BNC MCR were directly influenced by both cities – each letter taken from a different location, including the John Rylands Library (‘R’) and Bodegas Mallorquí (‘B’) — inspiring reactions of, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?!’

Alex Trochut‘s binary prints, meanwhile, will (I dare say) be the focal point of any design event this year. The large-scale photographic portraits printed in pale half-tone are impressive, but it isn’t necessarily love at first sight. That is, until you reluctantly turn off the lights. In the dark, the prints ‘wake up’, or more literally, light up, revealing the alter egos of those portrayed. Trochut is interested in the idea of duality, and worked with leading electronic musicians to show “the artists emerging into their nocturnal personas, bringing them into focus, from a anonymous being to an icon of music and sound.” They are, quite simply, amazing.

These are just a few highlights of the show, with a lot more brilliant work to see for yourself. So how did it all happen? Organiser Dave Sedgwick’s answer is relaxed.

“In terms of what inspired the exhibition, it came a bit out of the blue, really. I was over talking to some studios a few years back, and I started to realise I had very little to say! So, we began a dialogue and the idea of an exhibition came up.”

Alex Trochut

Like the designs on show, he makes it all sound very easy. But there is a lot more to setting up an international festival. “By working with Spanish designers and studios, I had to make sure I was collaborating with them to provide me with work. It means a lot of organisation and a lot of hard work pulling it all together.”

All the hard work has clearly paid off; after last year’s debut success, it seemed natural to make it a more regular event. “I just loved the work of these guys and I guess I loved Barcelona. After the relative success of the first one, I’d learnt a lot about how it might improve, so I decided to do one more and this time make it bigger, up for longer and generally make some changes to the format.”

When asked about the most important aspects of the Manchester-Barcelona relationship, he points out the difficulty of being in a creatively flourishing city away from the country’s capital. “In terms of a relationship between the cities, I’ve often talked a lot about the whole Manchester/London thing and the Barcelona/Madrid equivalent.

“Being in the shadows of the capitals makes us, as cities, try to push boundaries, be more creative and work closer with each other.”

“Being in the shadows of the capitals makes us, as cities, try to push boundaries, be more creative and work closer with each other.” Indeed, although none of the cities are in direct competition with each other, Sedgwick recognises the importance of such events to avoid having great north-west-based work eclipsed by London’s achievements.

Thanks to the virtual world, it is easier than ever before to transcend borders and exchange ideas. Sedgwick is an active user of Twitter and Instagram, and recognises that it is essential to communicate creatively on an international level.

“We no longer look to our designer neighbours and studio friends for advice and ideas, but look beyond immediate relationships. Through social media and the internet, we often find ourselves working with and sharing ideas with people from all over the world.”

So what plans for the future? “I think for me, BCNMCR was about bringing these two cities closer together, but the idea doesn’t just restrict itself to Barcelona and Manchester. For me, the concept in the future will be to work closely with other cities, such as Berlin, Amsterdam and New York. I hope in the future that events such as this can continue, and that through what I have done alone, people can appreciate that you can do anything you want if you set your mind to it.”

With intentions to expand his design network even further, Sedgwick is a bit of an inspiration. Starting with a spontaneous idea, resulting in a successful international design conference, it’s easy to sense the passion and enthusiasm behind the project. Providing us with a great chance to admire the recent developments on Barcelona’s design scene, this is one creative relationship which will certainly last and we’re loving it.

See you in Manchester!/¡Nos vemos en Manchester!

Maja Lorkowska

BCNMCR continues at TwentyTwentyTwo until 26 April 2014, free entry. Open Tues to Thurs 4pm-12am, and Fri & Sat 4pm-3am


Posted on 07/04/2014 by thedoublenegative