Big, Bold and Sublime: London 2012 Festival weekend

My weekend of London 2012 festival events was a pretty out of the ordinary affair. My experience made the journey up to the games more than worthwhile. Why we play with ideas and the value of artistic experimentation was more than verified and transparent to me this weekend.

Diversity is a very good thing when it comes to the arts and this weekend I saw events designed for a crowd of 10000 people and groups of five.Both offerings were part of the festival putting paid to the idea that major events only serve the spectacle of big gigs. Wrong. They serve lots of worlds in one world, big, small, bold and intimate and they place art inside and  alongside entertainment. Witnessed.

The opening night of the festival on 21 june was a proud moment for the northwest, cumbria and lakes alive who pulled off a spectacular new show. Despite the appauling weather conditions, the show went on and 9500 people remained for the duration,  illustrating just how good this show was and how courageous artists and the public can all be. On the nighshift was a stunning display of artistic dexterity blending fireworks, dance and music into a magical and otherworldly show that sent shivers down the  spine. I admittedly missed the feral freedom and chaos of les commandos perucs precious work but I imagine the spirit of this production was tamed by the weather conditions not its artistic intent.  Superbly executed and wonderfully viseral, it was a great way to kick off the festival and it will be a fine way to end the olympiad in Preston. Dripping wet and put in front of a video camera at the end of gig by Mike Todd, wanting a post show response for his film, Why we Play, I went home to bed smiling and proud of all that Lakes Alive have achieved. It is hard to remember this is only their fourth year. Impressive.

The following day I went to liverpool to see the second day of The Humble Market Trade Secrets exhibition at fact. Like On The Nightshift it was a new artistic and international collaboration and also coming to Preston at the end of the games to close the Cultural Olympiad programme. Rough around the edges still at the beginning of a four year project and a live performance in progress, Trade Secrets does stands up and alone as an exhibition well worth giving some serious time too. The exhibition for groups of five people invites the public to enter into a conceptual marketplace which questions our validity for a more Brazillian world. Participants are placed in intimate connection and side by side inside a carnival taxi, then taken on a journey to a place called Philosophy Hill and to the Intimatron. Political, personal and provocative, it explores our relationship to mass consumerism and beliefs as products. This exhibition will develop into a performance event at preston for 25 people and will involve real time exchange with characters from brazil.I am coming back for more. And more…..

Afterwards I took the AND mini bus to Manchester which was full of journalists and went to the Abandon Normal Devices Festival launch. We arrived late but in time to see the exhibition by US artist Stanya Kahn and world premiere of Swandown by filmmaker Andrew Kotting with Ian Sinclair. With experimentation as its core concern, the AND festival programme twisted my view of art and film once again and pulled off the feat of delivering two major exhibitions in Manchester at Cornerhouse and at FACT in Liverpool across the same weekend. Who says Manchester and Liverpool cant collaborate!

Art that makes you think is the AND Festival’s speciality and for Olympic Year, the festival has been bold and commissioned works which respond to the theme of success and the olympics critically _ if you are anti The Games, go see Swandown and Trade Secrets and poetic justice awaits you. After screening Swandown, AND  organised a delightful moment _ an inpromtu swan pedolo sailing down the rochdale canal with an opera singer wearing a white gown. Of course the pedalo was open source controlling the sound and lighting from within its structure courtesy of the brilliance of local artist collective Redock based in Liverpool.

The next day was about all about the Torch and I watched the flame wind its way around the city of manchester and Sir Chris Hoy take the flame down Deansgate. The London 2012 relay shows that the Olympic torch is not about gold medals but about communities coming together and supporting people who have made a difference to them. People were very excited and happy and there were lots of people lining the streets. Manchester was indeed one big party on Saturday.

The Torch Relay also visited Manchester’s statue of mathematician and computer pioneer Alan Turing on the centenary of his birth and I must admit, I gave the evening torch celebration a miss in favour of going to see the UK premiere of the AL and AL  film, The Creator. commisisoned by the AND festival and about the life of Alan Turing. Yet another extraordinary Cultural 0lympiad commission, this long form short  film  is quite remarkable in its vision, intelligence, story telling and craft. If Alan Turing was alive today he would be AL and AL. Errie! 

One of the other Cultural Olympiad events I also managed to fit in was Atelier Zero – our very own Olympic village and public play space in the heart of Manchester at Piccadilly Basin, made by CUBE and the Office of Subversive Architecture. Lots to do and play with here and it was nice to see that the Swan Pedolo had found its way to the site through a collboration between AND and CUBE. I got the chance to pedal the swan and set of an explosive – going from seeing thousands of them at On the Nightshift to letting off one little one all by myself. Grand.

I did return  to the torch party at Manchester Town Hall and to see thousands of people waving the sponsors branding about and dancing and singing along to  local band, The Courteeners which were superb. Then I went off to a free party with some of Africa’s finest musicians bringing the 2012 Cultural Olympiad to Manchester’s streets. My weekend was well and truly capped by Seckou Keita live at The Printworks, sharing lots of good vibes and bringing the warmth of the African soul to Manchester.

This weekend the Northwest celebrated world class artistry from France, Brazil, West Africa, USA and uk. The festival weekend was  a truly international affair of super good artists doing what they do best _ making us feel.  Damp and exhausting but hey, illuminating, inspiring, thought provoking and so much fun!

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~ by Debbi Lander on June 27, 2012.

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