Manchester International Festival Picks 2019

Priding itself on bringing the best in innovative international art and performance to Manchester, cutting-edge biennial festival MIF is upon us once again. Here, our editors talk you through their top choices of 2019…

Invisible Cities (Tue 02 July – Sun 14 July) @ Mayfield – £10–£35 

“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.” Taking its cue – and title – from Italo Calvino’s much referred to Invisible Cities, this mix of theatre, choreography, music, architectural design and projection mapping seeks to reimagine “what is possible in live performance”. Calvino’s work has inspired countless artworks, exhibitions and cover versions of sorts but, it seems, there is always room for one more and it will be fascinating to see how this latest one fares.

Parliament of Ghosts (Fri 05 July – Sun 21 July) @ the Whitworth – FREE

From imaginary cities to half-forgotten histories of a real one, in Ibrahim Mahama’s Parliament of Ghosts. At the Whitworth gallery, Ghanaian artist Mahama combines painting, sculpture, photography and film; reclaimed train seats and railway sleepers, school furniture and retrieved archival documents to reflect upon and bring focus to the unfolding history of his home country. Overlooked documents of post-colonialism made visible, Parliament of Ghosts gives voice to a country negotiating and stating its independence.

MIF_ParliamentofGhosts(c)Michael Pollard_LRG

David Lynch (Sat 06 July  Sun 21 July, film programme continues until Sun 29 Sept) @ HOME Manchester – Prices Vary

Intrigued by Twin Peaks as a kid, but unable to catch it often enough (it definitely was not on my folks’ watchlist), my first proper encounter with the work of David Lynch was Lost Highway. It’s still one of my favourite films of his and, thankfully, forms part of the Lynch cinema strand at HOME that continues on well after MIF ends. In addition to the film screenings, though (and perhaps more intriguing) is My Head Is Disconnected, the first major UK exhibition of paintings, drawings and sculpture no doubt darkly complementary in tone to his on-screen output.

The Nico Project (Wed 10 July – Sun 21 July) @ The Stoller Hall – £10–£35 

Parachuted into The Velvet Underground by Andy Warhol to add glamour to the Factory house band, her debut solo album, Chelsea Girl, proved there was more to Nico than her striking voice and features. Sadly, and somewhat criminally, neither prevented the chanteuse and former model from being little more than a footnote in rock history (she died a mere two decades later). Recent biopic Nico, 1988 helped right that wrong, and now co-creators Maxine Peake and Sarah Frankcom are looking to complete the artist’s rehabilitation with The Nico Project, “a stirring theatrical immersion into her sound, her identity and the world in which she fought to be heard”. Gonna be good.


Queens of the Electric Underground (Sat 20 July) @ O2 Ritz – £10–22

This international, all-female electronic concert from BBC Radio 6 Music radio host Mary Anne Hobbs is here to show us what the future looks like. Expect artists Holly Herndon and Jlin, who recently collaborated on an AI programme called Spawn, featured in terrifying collaborative track Godmother; experimental producer Klara Lewis, whose disorientating, found field recordings symphony, Care, was released last year in collaboration with composer Simon Fisher Turner; sound designer Katie Gately, who incorporates street noises – banging pipes, trollies, creaking floorboards – which she says turn “songs four-dimensional”; and Aïsha Devi ft. MFO, who combined are likely to deliver a surreal, spiritual and hallucinatory set.

To The Moon (Fri 12 July – Sat 20 July) @ Royal Exchange Theatre – £5 

Float in low gravity across a dreamy moonscape, dodging moon rocks and earth trash; ride a space donkey; stretch your long astronaut arms; consider the age of the planets and how tiny we really are. We’ve been ridiculously excited to see Laurie Anderson and Hsin-Chien Huang’s new VR artwork ever since reading about its debut in Copenhagen last year. Collaborators since 1994 (combining Anderson’s skills as a lyricist and musician, and Huang’s expertise in games development and filmmaking), the artists present their 360 degrees film in a special installation for MIF, commemorating the 50-year anniversary of Apollo 11, and at the same time, heralding next year’s The Factory launch.


Songs of the Lost (Available to Download Now) – FREE

Available to download from today (4 July), magic-realist video game Songs of the Lost injects the virtual world into MIF, and asks: will our trust in technology be our downfall? A common enough question, of course, but exploring it in a digital landscape rather than as a thought experiment feels like something new. And, perhaps, therein lies the answer. With details thin on the ground prior to launch, it might be helpful – and unsettling – to know that previous work from Paloma Dawkins (who provided concept and direction here) includes Gardenarium, a game inspired by Franz Kafka’s The Castle. Consider yourself duly warned!

Utopolis Manchester (Wed 10 July – Sat 13 July) @ Across the City – £10–20

Yet another work using the city as its canvas and inspiration, Utopolis asks: can a group of disparate individuals come together to forge a utopian state? And how large can this system grow before it falls apart? Weaving together sounds and voices, and taking place in multiple locations around Manchester, there’s a lot going on here. But for those after an immersive artwork that poses questions around the formation of cities, society and democracy itself, Utopolis should make for a rich experience. Comfy footwear and lots of getting around the city a given.


Future Myths (Sat 13 July) @ Albert Hall – £8

The second of three Interdependence Saturday Summits, day-long conference Future Myths asks the fairly hefty question: what are the new stories we need and who should tell them? Luckily, among the panellists on hand to answer the call is brilliant Icelandic writer and poet, Sjón, as well as this year’s PEN Pinter prize winner, Lemn Sissay MBE. Elsewhere, Hans Ulrich Obrist is joined by Patrick Chamoiseau, Adania Shibli and Alejandro Zambra, who will debate the relationship between literature and politics. The afternoon session sees gal-dem getting to grips with themes as varied as race, identity, gender and inclusion, picking at the scab, no doubt, of the related question: who gets to tell their story, and who gets to choose?

Mike Pinnington and Laura Robertson

Manchester International Festival takes place in venues across the city until 21 July 2019. Check for more details

Images, from top: Ibrahim Mahama’s Parliament of Ghosts; Aïsha Devi, courtesy Emile Barret; Laurie Anderson, courtesy Tarnish Vision; Lemn Sissay, courtesy Hamish Brown

Posted on 04/07/2019 by thedoublenegative