What Is the City But the People?




It has a good few names. Quite succinctly it is goosebumps. A frisson of fashion and fascination. Shudders of connectors and receptors. Born from changes and hormones.

Piccadilly Gardens grew a limb for MIF's opening ceremony. It was strong, white yellow and black, a suspended scaffolded catwalk bookended with gargantuan screens. Forcing us to face elevated people of hairs and muscles we wouldn't necessarily notice but need. 

Outcasts can find homes here and be heard. Happiness happens. Ageing graffiti is persistent proof on decayed tooth buildings. In love longing and loss, the people present made the same marks of defiance and delighted in difference. 

The community of Manchester is multicultural, multidimensional and multi-layered. Overhead city birds flew through bringing beats of Graham Massey, familiar yet distant and path-promising. The music drove the spirit. Instrumental expressions inspired individuality in absolute purity. Each person offered a preserved presence and prominent pride. Some were meditative and mindful. Moving with the same precision, simplicity, honesty and dignity of a Japanese Tea Ceremony. 

This misplaced MIF limb shone an examination light on the pulse of Manchester, linking lives and the humbling cure of courage people can bring. That's how the city sings its sounds. They echo against minimalist movement in a microcosm magnified. 

We are all blood cells moving through concrete capillaries, veins and arteries. The buildings house pains and electric brains. Without our power our city's complexion would wither to the wan of winter.  There would be no ideas. A computer not operated, not invented even.

We consider a baby's first breath. Nature and inherent beauty. A mother's love and another mother's duty.

Beautifully beaming brothers burst out. One romancing with adrenaline fuelled break-dancing. We all feel it. It happens again. We smile. We are related in bird skin. We rub our arms but we are not cold. In that collective moment we're reminding each other of our fragile mortality through silent screened stories and broken open emotion. Undoubtedly, those of us who were not elevated, were raised in other ways.  

A counterbalance of contemplation and cognition came curling round cogs of memory, giving mind to Maslow's hierarchy of needs. A medical tool based in subjectivity and judgement, stuck in me from my nursing history. The individuals we saw seemed to present in Maslow’s self-actualisation. It gave a great faith for fruitful futures in friendship. We surely shouldn't take our time or significant others for granted. That is a given. Each moment is a gift into learning about ourselves and others. Promoting our purpose. But entrenched medical models are archaic and here in Manchester we face forward. Or at least we try to. 

Ahead on my own path I look to a person lying on the floor. Amongst bags and cans and covers. Somewhere else on the scale of self-actualisation. I judge. I do not want to but I do. I've already assigned him a gender. I wonder about this life story. How he see's the city. How he saw the runway? I imagine his goosebumps are from other places. I hand him some money from a guilt-lined purse. 

- Clare McNulty


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Womanchester Poem - Ella Otomewo

Why Do We Get Goosebumps?

808 State – Pacific State

Baby Delivered Inside Amniotic Sac Takes First Breath

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs - Simply Psychology

What Is the City but the People? // Tom Patterson

The Manchester International Festival opened on Thursday 29th June with What Is the City but the People? 160 participants walked, biked, danced, jogged and ambled along a raised runway in Piccadilly Gardens. People who might not usually be together were given the same platform, each having the same experience and sharing the same applause, from a Big Issue seller to a dance group, a taxi driver to a university chancellor. Being outdoors by a transport hub meant that it was not only highly visible but easily accessible. And breaking a Manchester tradition it didn’t even rain.

Each participant was accompanied by a streamlined narrative, conveyed through photographs and text projected onto large screens, creating an effect like flash-fiction. The text summarised a choice moment from their lives, a struggle, event or experience that they had lived through. Many were survivors, and such personal and sometimes traumatic experiences gave an intensity to these micro-narratives. This in turn gave the impression that we were seeing the participants’ souls laid bare, that we could know them deeply in that short moment. There was choreography to the event, orchestrated to retain attention and fit into its narrative framework. Several participants had stories that converged, like the man who was joined by his blind date on the runway. These vignettes give an impression of a bigger story beyond the event, a choice that led here and a relationship continuing into the future.

But we were only observers. It was impossible to see everything, because it was all done in such quick succession. As one person walked along the runway, the next participant’s pictures and backstory flashed up, and too much time looking at the screens meant missing the person in front of you. Did they wave? Were they happy? Normally, we get to know people by talking and sharing experiences; it’s a two-way street. As the event drew to a close, audience members seemed to be turning to one another and asking themselves; “Who is this standing next to me, this stranger, and what is their story?”

We will never know everyone’s history and sometimes even our closest friends and family surprise us with a story we’ve never heard before or a viewpoint that we didn’t know they held. But every one of the thousands of people that stream past us every day has something meaningful that they could tell us, that would make us laugh or think. We live insular lives, always watching screens with our earphones plugged in and sometimes we need to unplug, to speak to the person at the bus stop or ask the shopkeeper how their day was. Even if we only pass through each other’s lives briefly we can still have a meaningful conversation. To break down the walls between people we need to ask each other questions and really listen to the answers. (TP)

-Tom Patterson


MIF - What Is the City but the People?

Always Talk to Strangers - The Atlantic

Adults and Digital Devices - Scientific American

Flash Fiction

Why You Should Talk to Strangers - TED