Interdependence: We Need to Talk

Interdependence: We Need to Talk was a series of talks hosted at locations across Manchester as part of the MIF 2017 program. Each session covered various issues that face us in the 21st Century, including technology, community and heroes. Interdependence: Technology featured three discussions covering the relationship between body and technology, video games and memory, and the future of Artificial Intelligence.

The first of these discussions seemed to present a division between those who saw technology as a way of escaping the body and those who saw it as a way of reconnecting with and enhancing the physical experience. In the one camp was Laurie Anderson – an artist who creates virtual reality experiences in an attempt to make the participant “forget” that they have a body. In another was the choreographer Wayne McGregor, who uses digital technology to map the movements of the human body for his dancers to work with.

Anderson’s argument seemed to hint towards a Transhumanist future – one in which technology is used to free us from biological constraints. In the ‘San Junipero’ episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror there is an example of this kind of future, a world in which people’s consciousness can be uploaded into a digital retirement home, where anything is possible. Whilst we already have online communities in the form of social media, it will be a while before we can upload a human consciousness. There was some irony in the fact that, when asked to give an example of one of her virtual reality artworks, Anderson described one in which the participant is forced to undergo heart surgery – perhaps one of the most corporeal experiences a person could go through.

The third talk followed up on another branch of digital technology – the advent of Artificial Intelligences. The example given was Elsie (or L.C.) - a so called “Mirror Bot” designed to replicate the behaviour of an animal by responding to light and touch. This seemed more in line with McGregor’s stance on technology – that of technology imitating life. The first thing the other panellists did when they saw Elsie was to touch it and play with it as if it were a dog. Other AIs exist in digital forms- so called “neural networks” like Roborosewater or Inspirobot, which are designed to replicate thought. They do this by learning patterns and replicating them. Some have created artworks, and one has even written a film script.

However, the overarching concern of the technology talks was that it was not the AIs we have to fear but the humans designing and controlling them. At the moment, the majority of our online “meta-data” is being monitored and collected by vast tech companies. The internet until now has been a largely ungoverned space, but it is increasingly becoming a market place, and if recent history has taught us anything it is that unregulated markets may be a bigger threat to our future than Skynet ever could be. (CG)

- Ciaran Grace

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Interdependence: We Need to Talk - MIF 2017

Sunspring - Film Script Written by AI

Idea Channel - On Transhumanism, On AI

Can We Build AI Without Losing Control Over It? - TED Talk

Metadata and Consent

Cotton Panic!

The old Victorian market space works perfectly as a space for a gig or for an immersive theatre piece. Giant screens either side of the stage project ephemeral images interspersed with close ups of actress and activist Glenda Jackson and other storytellers. On stage is the tiny and feisty Jane Horrocks fizzing with passion and energy. Behind her is a translucent screen projecting more images and seemingly super-imposed behind that is the band Wrangler and their analogue synthesizers.

A mix of folk music and clog dancing blend into Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’ and Grace Jone’s ‘Slave to the Rhythm’, with synth music and story-telling of the poverty and political struggle weaving together to celebrate our working-class heritage in the North West.

Walking through the space feels exciting and quite special. The sense of urgency and energy is intoxicating and moving sporadically from the back of the space I soon find myself at the front of the stage. Watching Horrocks’ character descend into wretched poverty and dependency on the kindness of others is a sharp reminder of the problems inherent in misinformed aid and assistance. How often do we make assumptions about the needs of others? When we buy a homeless stranger a sandwich do we check first if they are vegetarian or gluten-intolerant or do we simply expect their gratitude? If we give money for aid do we want to meet a specific need or one which we feel is appropriate? 

This is the story of the cotton industry in Lancashire from riches to rags in the industrial carnage that arose from the American Civil War (1861-1865). It is a timely reminder of how any growing economy is intensely vulnerable to over dependency on a single commodity. The lack of cotton arriving in the 1870s crippled Lancashire and created mass unemployment and poverty. It would be good to think we have learned valuable lessons from our social and economic history yet sadly we continue to waste valuable resources and make poor electoral decisions like Brexit.

Emerging from this performance into the evening sunshine on Deansgate many of the crowd dispersed to nearby bars and restaurants. A lovely way to end a sociable evening. Perhaps the sobering thought being in a coffee or wine shortage would we be inconvenienced or potentially economically ruined? (AD)

- Amanda Dunlop

Links relevant to this diagnosis:


Lancashire Cotton Failure - W.O. Henderson

Manchester Austerity and Homelessness - Manchester Evening News

Ethics and Aid

Potential impact on Manchester of Brexit - Manchester Evening News


Cotton Panic!

Cotton Panic! explores the knock-on effects of the abolishment of slavery in the USA on the cotton industry in Manchester in the 1860s. The show began by focusing on the working conditions in the mills and moved through the struggle that resulted from the lack of raw materials after the slaves were freed from the cotton fields in the South of the USA. The growing movement for worker’s rights in the UK supported the abolition but the transition to more ethically sourced material was not easy.

Today, working conditions have vastly improved in both the UK and USA but 150 years after that tumultuous time there are still large numbers of exploited workers elsewhere in the world. NASA images from 2014 showed that the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan (formerly the world’s fourth largest lake) had completely dried up. The loss was attributed to intensive cotton farming which uses very large amounts of water. But the crop was also being harvested using forced labour, sanctioned by the Uzbek government, making this both an environmental and humanitarian disaster.

According to an article published in The Guardian at the time, the harvested cotton would most likely be shipped to Bangladesh and China who are key suppliers of European brands. Further down the supply chain, the conditions in some Bangladeshi clothing factories were widely criticized after the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza which cost 1,135 people their lives and injured a further 2,515. The collapse was blamed on the swampy unstable ground outside of the capital Dhaka and an additional four floors that were added to factory without permission.

The fight to end exploitation of workers in the cotton industry is far from over, but there are ways that both individuals and companies can bring about positive change. Organisations such as the Cotton Campaign aim to end the exploitation of cotton workers in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan by advocating to the governments in those countries and other governments, companies, investors and international institutions who may be able to influence them. They also aim to raise public awareness and support civil liberties to end both child labour and forced labour in the cotton fields.

Although these working conditions would be unimaginable in European businesses, the products produced using these methods often make it to European suppliers. This means that it’s also up to companies and consumers here to say no to unethically sourced clothing. Unsustainably cheap clothing comes with a hidden human cost measured in misery, but by choosing to shop ethically we can help to end this exploitation. (TP)

- Tom Patterson

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Cotton Campaign

The Aral Sea Basin - Guardian

The Rana Plaza Collapse - The Independent

Modern Cotton Production Facts

The Struggle for Worker's Rights


Party Skills for the End of the World

Nigel Barrett and Louise Mari, of immersive theatre group Shunt, were the two instigators of this event. It was a mixture of cocktail party, childhood simplicity, survival-skills and an apocalyptic office party. The party took place in the Centenary Building in Salford, a structure with the appearance of an abandoned office block: it was well suited to its subject matter with cages, internal glass-boxed rooms and tunnels. 

Mixology was on the menu in room one. Organisers ushered the crowd of people downstairs. Party hats were thrown from the balconies above and onto the floor below. Slightly confused, I picked one up, and just like every Christmas time it was too small for my head. The organisers performed a dance routine for the audience, then a song from a piece of paper – ‘S is for stay alive’! It was more fun than end of the world, and refreshing considering the usual dangerous visions for the end of civilisation.

Childhood Simplicity: Participants learned the guitar, made a lava lamp, blew darts down a straw at a melon (one that taken hits a few times too many). We sat on the floor, rather pleased to be hammering at spoons.

Survival-Skills: A series of activities in rooms that the audience explored. My first room was pitch black, with a galaxy of stars painted onto the floor. Did you know that there are constellations of fourteen men and women, nine birds, two insects and nineteen land animals represented in the night sky? We learned some practical tips regarding how to find north with your watch. Mobile GPS did not exist at this party. Then there was a meat-eaters section to learn the skills of capturing an animal and skinning the rabbit once you did, with a room of edible plants next (for seasoning). 

The psychology of the ‘survival instinct’, the preservation of survival, has been well documented.  There have been positive constructive behaviours reported such as in the sinking of the Costa Concordia in 2012; people used their mobile GPS to establish location, or made ladders out of sheets.  An extreme example of survival behaviour is the 1972 plane crash in the Andes where survivors ate flesh of their dead friends. After incidents of survival people can experience a range of emotions including ‘survivor guilt’ and behaviour such as looting shops.

Apocalyptic Office Party: ‘go, go, go’ was instigated by the organisers once more.  Down a tunnel with emergency lights and noises. Mesh wired cages and art installations gave a dream like quality. Tree branches came from the ceiling, office cabinets stood empty. Disco lights beamed, a band played, people danced.  Then a speech with a dark undercurrent, touching upon survival, was delivered by one of the performers at length. As we left, each person got a party bag which included a condom. I was surprised to read the amount of uses for this stretchy tool, and I walked out into the sun holding my new balloon. (DR)

- Dominic Rogers

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Survival Psychology - The Psychologist

Looting After a Disaster - Live Science

3 Ways to Find North

The Milky Way

Edible weeds in the UK


Party Skills for the End of the World

As part of MIF 2017, the Centenary Building in Salford plays host to Party Skills for the End of the World. This hands-on immersive experience showcased survival crafts in a post-apocalyptic setting. There was a greenhouse brimming with herbs, vegetables grown in wine glasses and old beakers, sessions on making lava lamps, and blow darts. Participants were also shown how to make martinis, dance and play the guitar (these are party skills after all). 

The style of performance feels reminiscent of a new wave of interactive experiences that are growing in popularity. The first European escape rooms appeared in Budapest in 2011, a city which now has over 60 game-operating companies. These ideas have since spread widely throughout Europe, although the thrill of solving fiendish puzzles to a time limit with a team of friends has always been a winning formula. The Crystal Maze recently re-launched after a Kickstarter appeal and both Manchester and London now have live Crystal Maze experiences. They even share something in common with the classic murder-mystery night, where participants try to discover who killed the host while enjoying drinks and a hearty meal. These events are run by actors who stay strictly in character, speaking to participants to drop subtle hints about motives and give alibis. Pop-up cinemas like The Secret Cinema and The Jameson Cult Film Club also use atmospheric venues and live actors to enhance the experience of watching a film. 

Research from Cornell psychology professor Thomas Gilovich found that people generally value experience-based purchases over material ones. Positive anticipation is associated with experiences, and even when an experience doesn’t go as planned it can often still provide a funny story. Experiences are a move away from material goods and consumption. Given that in the UK alone we use an estimated 275,000 tonnes of plastic every year, such a move would undoubtedly benefit the environment as much as our general happiness. There are only so many gadgets that we need, many of which have already been amalgamated into smartphones. A radio, camera, music player and map can now all be contained within a small portable device. Of course, there are material costs involved in creating and hosting activities. Party Skills for the End of the World used a large amount of oranges, curved needles, paper hats, print-outs and craft props. 

Possessions are only as valuable as the positive experience that they give you, and living or working in cluttered spaces has been linked to increased stress. So, next time you have the choice between buying a new gimmick or choosing a new experience, something that challenges or excites you, choose the experience. You can never lose an experience or break it or upgrade it, you will always have the memory and that’s where its true value lies. (TP)

- Tom Patterson

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Hungary’s Escape Games Craze

The Masterpiece of a Simple Life

What do we truly need in our lives?

Does that object ‘spark joy’? The Japanese Art of Decluttering - Washington Post

Buy Experiences, Not Things - The Atlantic

UK Recycling and Rubbish Facts

Great Pacific Garbage Patch - Guardian

Party Skills for the End of the World

An apocalyptic party with dodgy cocktails but thankfully no rabbit vol-au-vents. This is party-planning overkill, with labryinths of classrooms teaching childish or frivolous arts and crafts alongside more sinister survival skills. This feels like being trapped in a Butlins holiday camp at the end of days, or a Freshers Week gone horribly wrong. 

Sirens and explosions are the soundscape as people stroll or lurch around the corridors and stairwells. There is a sense of confusion and nervous curiosity that might be only partly what the creators intended. Later, as we are herded into the dimly lit basement, a more authentic sense of urgency is evoked. The band are playing in a disused storeroom where plastic wrapped corpses are stored and tiny bottles of water cost £2. Our leader takes to the stage to give a speech as we sit obediently on the grubby floor. He talks of many of our worst fears and nightmares. It was depressing and bleak; as a psychotherapist, I was seriously concerned for anyone emotionally vulnerable who was present. 

Party Skills raises the question of what skills might we need to survive? Would we make that trap then kill and skin a rabbit? Would we revert to a child and make balloon animals, or turn up the volume and party? The event is cause for reflecting on what skills or knowledge we might actually need. Wandering around it was interesting to think what survival skills life has already given me.

I’ve been vegetarian for over 30 years, yet I suddenly recall how to catch a fish and wring a chicken’s neck from growing up in the country. Coming from Northern Ireland I know to open the windows wide in a bomb scare, and clean up a village shop if that bomb explodes. I know how to make tea and sandwiches if a platoon of soldiers land a helicopter at the bottom of the garden. As a parent I can always entertain bored children or mend cut knees with the contents of my handbag. As a psychotherapist I know the things to say to lessen suicidal thoughts. 

Part of the unfocused feel of Party Skills might be because it had been rapidly altered as a response to the Manchester Arena bombing. Perhaps the best testament we can give to those affected is to embrace our strengths and learn from all our past experiences. A celebration of our resilience in adversity is truly a cause for a party. (AD)

- Amanda Dunlop

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Party Skills for the End of the World - MIF

Survival Skills - Making a Trap

How to Skin a Rabbit

End of World Anxiety

The Northern Irish Border


Party Skills for the End of the World

What do we do when the end of the world arrives? Party Skills for the End of the World says that it’s coming, and that we need to prepare for it. The show makes the case that we ought to learn how to sing songs, pick locks, make paper flowers and gas masks, throw knives, punch, play records, and other sundry skills. Held in Salford’s Centenary Building in what amounted to a takeover of the entire space, Party Skills first overloads attendees with these skills by scattering lessons on them throughout the building. Then it bombards audiences with ways in which the possibilities of life may remain forever unfulfilled, through a ten-minute monologue that considers what people are afraid of. Without determining how to handle such fear, the show turns to the body and stages a dance party. Exhausting this option, a cast member then recalls the pied piper, improvising a moving trumpet solo that leads attendees to a hopeful coda.

Attendee reactions have been mixed. Perhaps that’s because Party Skills sought to combine two different forms of dystopia - an Orwellian one in which our lives are run by fear, and an Huxleyan one in which our lives are run by desire. As social critic Neil Postman writes, while “Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information”, Huxley “feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism”. Party Skills toys with these two dystopian registers. Echoing Orwell in its form, Party Skills offers attendees no information about what skills can be learned and how to negotiate the building, except when led around or directed by the cast. Echoing Huxley in its content, the show overwhelms attendees by the choice of skills, impossibility of mastering each one, and extensive listing of fears, leading to the dance party that recalls Postman’s characterization of the result of Huxleyan dystopia: “some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy”.

Perhaps this ambiguity has led to some of the more confused reactions of audiences and critics. Immersive approaches to work often contradict the idea of a unified storyline, and shows that experiment with this form may seek to challenge expected notions of what theatre is. This oscillation between theatre and performance, Orwell and Huxley, pain and pleasure, is precisely the negotiation that Party Skills attempted. It may have been imperfect, but it's likely that the end of the world will be as well. (AM) 

- Asif Majid

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Party Skills for the End of the World - MIF 

Huxley Vs Orwell - Webcomic

Neil Postman's Predictions - Guardian

Preparing for the End of the World - The Independent


What If Women Ruled the World?

Imagine a theatrical parallelogram. The back of the stage - its only wall - leans in. Opposite - though not quite equally opposite  - the audience seating leans back at a soft incline. The floor between these two slopes is the stage, a likeness of the war room in Kubrick’s war satire, Dr Strangelove: a large circular table surrounded by chairs for all manner of decision makers. All around is the dark openness of Piccadilly Station’s pallid kindred building, Mayfield Station. It’s a spot where you might not otherwise wish to find yourself on a Thursday night near the watershed. Though the 1960s Beeching Axe was not a direct cause for this site falling into disuse, its blow to numerous other railway lines across the UK in the early 60s comes to mind, a blow struck incidentally at around the same time that the Cold War-inspired film was released (1964). Paying men large sums of money to make decisions with ill-calculated social repercussions is fitting to think about, given that the performance promises to deride and unpick the very same sort of situation.

Bar one, all the actors tonight appear to be women, who play both exasperating men for our amusement, and peaceable women of reason and cooperation for our intrigue. As men, they exhibit obstinate behaviour leading to a world’s end scenario that climaxes as the characters descend into a childish rendition of war. From here, the performance takes off from the situation posited at the end of Dr Strangelove, a 10:1 women to men population dealing with survival in a post-apocalyptic subterranean world. The actors now assume roles as women, accompanied by an impressive medley of non-thespian women whose expertise is indispensable. Their range spans the dangers of artificial intelligence, manipulation of/disrespect for personal data (or lack of internet freedom), borders and asylum seeking discrimination, environmental degradation, and lack of empathy in the context of human rights law. Kate Raworth is one of the five women, presenting her 'doughnut' model of economics that shows how, as we might have guessed, investing in our ecosystem is linked with improvements in other areas of social welfare (a model advocated by George Monbiot; whilst Carol Adams’ text on the relationship between meat-eating and patriarchy also resonates).

As the discussion about reshaping our world ensues, the wall appears to loom over us. We are made conscious of time pressing on at a rate of unwelcome knots. The physical space is exciting and comes into its own when the performance is interspersed with a televised chronology of historical conflict and the Doomsday clock.

The topic of the show is flagrantly clear from its title, and with this in mind it might have drawn the very same audience had Bartana simply promised to deliver a curated panel of superwomen. The non-rehearsed performances of the panel - complete with reflective pauses, and points of indecision - maintain a performative quality; a mimetic display of the inevitable communication gaps that accompany an attempt to solve a dangerous and nebulous state of global affairs. The converging of art and non-art formats makes for interesting pensive moments, with the slicker dramatic elements used as a contrast against the more fragmented process required when contemplating real world threats. The deepening, bassy pulses which end this evening in a derelict, former public haunt nonetheless form a strong sensory experience at the close, making you think of all kinds of power, their distribution and their effects on shared space as you exit. (HR)

- Hannah Ross


Beeching Axe and Its Effects

Kate Raworth - The Doughnut

George Monibot on Kate Raworth

Carol J. Adams The Sexual Politics of Meat’

Radical, post-war, “inexistant” nightlife architecture http://www.theberlage.nl/events/details/2017_04_21_italy_s_radical_discos_and_nightclubs_as_inexistant_architecture


What If Women Ruled the World?

"Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it" - George Santayana

Ant people river through a concrete cadaver. To listen to and observe a panel of perfection and ideals.

Forgetting the sizzle of summer outside, we walk up steps into a world reeking of regret. Were it not for the men in the audience, I could have believed that women had indeed waged a nuclear winter in a retaliatory rasp.

The people present were moved between solutions to the world’s problems through rehearsed performance, unscripted speeches and silences and a recreation of the Dr Strangelove set.

Occasional comedy.

"No fighting in the war room".
Nobody laughed. The message was already imprinted.

In today's UK, a population census shows women outnumber men. New York shares the same social symptoms. Here we consider what a world would look like in which men were found in a major minority of 10:1.

In a time where news about bombs, is sent, through space, before watershed, as standard. We meet mention of drones derelict of conscience killing to cracked calls. Our humanity, even death, allegedly, functions uncensored, yet women's nipples, somehow can't. This is decided by a virtual society we have no vote in. The production places that premise in our laps.

Algorithms and science identify a momentum towards disaster. But we've pressed snooze on the alarm. And now we're late.

What if women ruled the world?
What if nobody did?
What if we shared?

What if we rid ourselves of the Machiavellian, neutering language we've come to accept? What if we stop seeing men and women as alien entities? What if we ignore this Freudian foolery for what it is? Archaic logic. Simply a theory based in divisional language. Daring us to destruction.

Surely, there are other genders that must also accelerate to acceptance? Our society, sadly, sees mainly male and female. Blinkered to most intersex or non-binary identities. Shaking hands with trans is not necessarily affirming an acceptance. Especially when the other hand is prescribing a diagnosis, devoid of empathy, yet promising that principle. 

A suggestion came from a human rights barrister: "Empathy screening for people in power" and struck a resonating string. People clapped. I did too until my neighbour opined "Nobody with autism could assume such roles in this future then".

Do we not have empathy for those without? That's a paradox. Screening tests make a medical model of society. Medical models, despite degrees of insight, are not future focused. They are one size. And our future (if we don't personally propel ourselves to extinction) needs to be inclusive. Not exclusive.

Positive change start with us. Regardless of gender or geography. It can happen microscopically. But the important thing is it happens. What we mustn't do is scapegoat and scandalise people to promote power. This is our collective future and we who steer the handles.

We must be wise. We have one world only. (CM)

- Clare McNulty

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Fog Of War - Eleven Lessons From The Life Of Robert S. Mcnamara

List of Countries by Sex Ratio

15 Things You Might Not Know About Dr. Strangelove

Apocalypse 30 seconds Closer - Doomsday Clock

Gender Identity Research and Education Society - http://www.gires.org.uk/

People with Autism Can Read Emotions, Feel Empathy - https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/people-with-autism-can-read-emotions-feel-empathy1/


What If Women Ruled the World?

A surrealist segue from Yael Bartana’s performance piece might ask, how would the audience design a war room from scratch? The product designer Ayse Birsel says you can deconstruct and reconstruct anything and in this production’s reconstruction of a war room, female leadership lies front and centre.  

The performance is structured through an opening re-enactment of the end of Stanley Kubrick’s film Dr Strangelove; a performative re-imagining of a future where – as in the film – women outnumber men 10 to 1, though in Bartana’s scenario this ratio has granted the women de facto leadership. The large circular table, central to the design of the film’s war room, is replicated here, though now it’s furnished by adroitly hanging ferns. World-renowned female thinkers and doers discuss the structure and governance of this new world order in the second half.

There are numerous precedents where female leadership has provided a rebalance on proceedings.  Companies with women on their board significantly outperformed those with male only boards when the global downturn came through in 2008. Angela Merkel took action where no male counterpart would, opening the borders to 1 million refugees fleeing war and displacement,

The five female experts each chose a point of contention for structural change in the new world order:

  • Irena Sabic, human rights lawyer, emphasizes empathy screening and training for people in power
  • Kate Raworth, economist, wants a new focus to and implementation of climate change recommendations
  • Lisa Ling, security expert, advocates stopping drone warfare which disassociates the killing of innocent bystanders from the people dropping bombs
  • Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf, refugee campaigner, encourages borderless countries
  • Holly Kilroy, internet specialist, leads on Information Freedom

They also challenge the status quo. The minority male population is represented by Carl, a buff man in the skimpiest of outfits asked to bring the tea.  Given ultimate power, some of the women in the room start to question why he has been put into that position, and go on to question the empathy of the women who would do so, before asking him to sit in on the conversation whilst they broach the topic of having no male signatories to the convention.

In the 20th century, it could be argued that a key innovation in conflict transformation was to elevate nonviolent resistance into mass action through the work of Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr.  In the 21st century, might female leadership present another opportunity for mass action and innovation in the sphere of governance? What implications are there for the prevention of global emergencies if the governance of nations and companies had 50-60% female leadership?

The performance ends with a doomsday countdown as threatening as what is at stake. If the war room is not reconstructed then global emergencies, war/disaster, continue. Another unknown soldier is tragically lost in a foreign land, another young woman is raped by people who have killed her friends and family and millions more displaced people will face a future they had no part in creating. 

How would you reconstruct the war room? (RY)

- Reina Yaidoo


What If Women Ruled the World? - MIF

“Our lives are our biggest projects” - Creating Your Own Original Life


Shares of Companies with Women Directors Outperform Men-Only Boards

If All the Avengers Posed Like Black Widow

The Refugee Project



A family production not for the family!

Ushered into a waterless goldfish bowl theatre for what was to be much more than a Royal Exchange, we sat still and tiny on tall chairs. Later what felt like giants flicked the glass, as we in the audience were unable to ask them, ‘Please stop’.

The production came punching with promise and parental protection. Evoking deeply diverse, sometimes dark paternal practices, presented proudly in culture and cuts.

The questions from the men who mused them in melancholy melodies and minimalist music, resounded with relevancy and relatable rhetoric: ‘What is your earliest memory of your father?’

Fear spoke from shadows and stories of men melting into a rising damp rust. A gas fire death for a man that cooked. Graphically gruesome and violent, with naturally raw spatters of songs, beating as blood would. 

Dad dancing is not supposed to look like this. Slothful and sinister. 

There were firemen fathers. Flying fatherhood. Fearful fathers. Fathers of pride. Fathers who say "fuck off". The death of innocence, with paternity by your side.

The scripting and sonorous sounds sync to wrap around those there. We walked into something sounding like prayers. We fell through ska and string to find ourselves amongst acapella courage mixed with corrosive customs of Fatherhood.

There was an emotional dissonance that those who identify as men are sometimes known to recede with.

There was reference to thought translators. Pointless for monkeys but essential for shining paternal light on emotional intelligence.

We don't know how to say I love you. We just try our best.

Fatherland was without women in presence or reference. Incongruous considering without women, fathers could not claim that name.

I was saddened by the places and acceptance this play did not go. But simultaneously I was left wounded by the places and vehement hostility that it did. Left tripped out on testosterone, I felt the dread. The fight or flight fury. The cold of the dead. (CM)

- Clare McNulty


What does being a dad mean? - Guardian

The Dark Side of Emotional Intelligence - The Atlantic

Ape Translator - Cloudy with A Chance of Meatballs


The all-male cast in a strangely intense musical ode to fatherhood has no baritone. More’s the pity as who doesn’t love a good baritone?

The bread and butter of Fatherland involves stories from a range of fathers, young fathers, grandfathers and single fathers. ‘It wasn’t fashionable back then’, one father says in relation to his status as a single father during the 80s shortly after his wife apparently took most of the family funds, went off on holiday and finally left him with the kids. He brings them up; having to explain periods and all.

One of the more joyful scenes involves a father being alone for the first time with his new-born. Just the two of them in the early morning and he literally takes flight to call out to all and sundry and maybe Mother Nature herself, ‘THIS IS MY SON!’

Many studies do, of course, highlight the fact that kids with involved fathers benefit. They’re less likely to be criminals, more likely to delay sex, do better in school, stay at their job longer and are less likely to gender stereotype. These benefits are there whatever form the father figure takes i.e. grandfather, stepfather and presumably 2 fathers.  In contrast, when kids feel rejected by parents, they’re more likely to be hostile, emotionally unstable or have low self-esteem.

Research is also a theme within the performance. The stories are gathered by Frantic Assembly, a team of 3 performer/researchers, whose role is explicitly challenged throughout the performance by the constant questioning of one of the interviewees (played by an actor). What will you do with the stories? Will you make money out of this? Are we going to see any of this money? Why are you doing this anyway? Though a plot device which sees the interviewee finally rejecting to take part at all, the question resonates. What will happen to these stories after Manchester International Festival? Where are those fathers now? Can their stories be used for even greater benefit i.e. comparisons with fatherhood in its present form or as an introductory text to fatherhood for high schoolers? The show covered key themes which might benefit young people especially. Each tale beginning somewhat wistfully with the question, ‘What is your first memory of your father?’  

One tale queries how fathers speak to their children with the father telling a young child to f-off in a moment of anger. Even when forgiven, he takes the time to tell his daughter that no one, not even he, has a right to speak to her in that way ever. An unseen father does not respond well to his son’s mental breakdown at university.

All of these stories broker the path that many men, young or old, will take over time so perhaps the most stimulating query that Fatherland engenders is simply this. With all the evidence in support of involved fathers, why are there still so few occasions and creative performances/plays etc that explore, celebrate or focus on fatherhood singularly? Like single fatherhood in the 80s, is discussing fathers and fatherhood somehow not seen as fashionable today? (RY)

- Reina Yaidoo

Links Relevant to this diagnosis:

Fatherland - MIF 2017

The Science of Dad: Engaged Fathers Help Kids Flourish

Why Dads Matter According to Science - USA Today

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What Is the City but the People? // Hannah Ross

How to take a city, slice 100 people from the prism and get a cross-section suitable to be walked down a suspended catwalk whilst having their image displayed on towering screens in its centre? How to defend against those who are keen to whip out accusations of tokenism (as if representation is distasteful), without creating pastiched narratives about citizens as though they’re part of a saccharine version of Propp’s character theory? Post-election - mayoral and general - it feels apt to put a lens on at least a handful of local folk who make up the electorate, not only upon the renowned figures who feature in the festival.

Deller’s design is like a live art remodelling of Lowry’s 1954 ‘Piccadilly Gardens’, which hangs only a stone’s throw away on Manchester Art Gallery’s ground floor and similarly depicts a procession of people with an adjacent fountain in the very same location. Deller’s motifs of ordinariness and public space were, too, to be found in his 2009 MIF piece ‘Procession’. He must have maintained the same interest that he previously had in showcasing ‘The Big Issue sellers’ for, in the 2017 work, one such seller opens the work before us. It is static but for the flow of chosen ones along the elevated catwalk, oscillating between two screens that show pre-prepared shots of each person, plus snippets of candid biographies to boot. As the screens face each other, there's a sense of mise en abyme, mirrored further as people watch not only the procession but also the reactions and anticipations of one another in the Very Ordinary crowd. A foot before me stands Mancunian screen legend Julie Hesmondhalgh, later to be hugged by Boltonian wonder Maxine Peake in a Corbynista lock (a micro-spectacle of its own). The stage provides the expected unexpected - there's Bez, gently gyrating! There's that lovely woman who whizzed me around Bury North as we canvassed, and look, she’s got a baby with her!

There is one man in a wheelchair, a lady nearly a centenarian who has a walking aid. Walking, lingering, parading, protesting - as you ambulate through the vocabulary, words like these can become politically charged. What is it to march, or to stand up, and who can do this? What is ‘a movement’ in essence? The Manchester Activist Group take the spotlight and call protest ‘an expression of desire’. But when we think of a city full of people, celebrating a glorious exposure of variegated humans - can we talk about how this could remain inaccessible to some, with certain people’s experiences inexpressible (though, granted, the piece makes efforts to speak of homelessness, and MIF’s Festival in My House has gone some way to bringing events to a greater variety of areas)? About a recent public endorsement of forced institutionalisation, and the people whose city is often barred to them? Even with the inevitable and forgivable partiality that comes when trying to represent a large metropolis through a comparatively small set of individuals, we ought to keep stoking this discussion. The square flickers with pop-colour electronic posters asking the rhetorical title question of the show. May it be a city of people in their full variety, where resistance and optimism equitably uphold all. (HR)

- Hannah Ross


MIF - What Is the City but the People?

Propp’s Character Theory

LS Lowry - Picadilly Gardens 

Jeremy Deller - Procession

Mise en Abyme - A Gallery curated by Fedebrique

MIF - Festival in my House

Election 2017 - Tory disability minister endorses forced institutionalisation

What Is the City but the People? // Amanda Dunlop

Piccadilly Gardens is sunny and crowded. Friends bump into each other and strangers talk for the first time. Above us is an 80-metre raised walkway, two giant projection screens and a stage. MIF17 opens with a single figure parading down the runway to the pounding beat of DJ Graham Massey and assorted local buskers and musicians. The same man closes the show. He is homeless and sells The Big Issue. 

In between, 149 other city dwellers strut their stuff. Dog walkers, lovers, drag artists, protesters and famous Mancunians. The taxi drivers who turned off their meters on the night of the recent bomb in the city. A brand-new baby and a Mancunian in her 100th year. Different cultures, creeds and social stratas. Manchester. This is an artistic statement that celebrates diversity and community.

Manchester is one of the most ethnically diverse districts in the country, and the only authority outside London with residents from each of the 90 detailed ethnic groups listed in the census. The city is growing rapidly, with the population is expected to exceed 550,000 by 2021. It is a city which prides itself on welcoming new people, but it is also a city with rapidly increasing numbers of rough sleepers, up 41% in the last year. Some of our newer residents struggle to find a home and have to be creative with hidden, disused spaces. Organisations such as Coffee for Craig, The Booth Centre and The Brick Project are all doing great work to address the problem. Andy Burnham recently pledged 15% of his salary as Lord Mayor to an appeal intended to end homelessness by 2020.

After the attack on 22nd May the city feels kinder and more empathetic. Manchester values call us to focus on what we have in common and how we all contribute to Manchester– those who are newly arrived and those who have always lived here. We should remember that taxi drivers of all religions turned their meters off and homeless men cradled injured children and carried them to safety.

Let’s hope that Deller’s vision on the walkway remind us all to be a little kinder and practice empathy. The walkway took several weeks to build but overnight it was removed after the ceremony. It could have been a great temporary roof for Manchester’s rough sleepers to rest under as well as walk over. (AD)

- Amanda Dunlop

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

MIF - What Is the City but the People?

Homelessness - Manchester Evening News

Coffee for Craig

The Booth Centre

The Brick Project

Andy Burnham Salary Donation - Guardian

What Is the City but the People? // Reina Yaidoo

A catwalk was set up right in the middle of Piccadilly Gardens and out strut Manchester’s finest. Ranging from a new born baby to a centenarian, taxi drivers, former Lord Mayors, artists and revellers all strode out to a driving beat. If the city aimed to proclaim itself through its people then there we stood. No rain, much applause.

Each dweller was framed with a story, individual to them giving meaning to the person behind the face.

  • ‘Kate chose her own name. She was christened Andrew.’
  • ‘Chris stood on the rooftop of the empty Ducie Bridge Pub. He wanted to say people could live here. Instead he got two months bread and breakfast in Strangeways.’
  • ‘The big tower that howls. Ian designed that and much more of Manchester after the IRA bomb.’

Midway during the event a question is asked - Are the stories of the people of Manchester one of resistance or resilience? It would seem both words reference attitudes at the soul of what it means to be Mancunian but which would the people of Manchester most value: their resistance to the challenges they face or, their resilience, their ability to recover from these same obstacles?

Manchester is a city of two halves. It has nearly half a dozen universities, yet is also ranked the 5th most deprived local authority area in England. Two hundred languages are spoken in Manchester yet statistics from the National Literacy Trust show low levels of reading affecting literacy. Manchester boasts one of the most expansive digital and creative sectors covering computer programming, film and broadcasting yet the population continually shows higher rates of mental ill health than the national average. 

Maybe a more resonant question is how can these two halves work together in a dual display of resistance and resilience?

The parade continues and we see old and new lovers greet each other, the common electrifying day to day harmony of neighbours looking after one another and the ease of everyday stories. It becomes easier and easier to forget this notion of separation and instead consider solutions.

The World Health Organisation and Mental Health Foundation state that communities with high levels of social capital, indicated by norms of trust, reciprocity, and participation are more resilient and better able to resist the effect of material deprivation. Perhaps, then, every year we should leave a space in Manchester’s calendar for a catwalk of the cities’ residents, with background stories set up to remind us to trust in the primacy of goodwill and cooperation, to resist inequality of opportunity and build up some good old fashioned social capital. (RY)

- Reina Yaidoo

Links Relevant to this diagnosis:

Multilingual Manchester - A Fact Sheet

The National Literary Trust Manchester 

Greater Manchester Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy

World Health Organisation - Mental Health, Resilience and Inequalities

Mental Health Foundation - Commentary 

Social capital and the power of relationships - Al Condeluci at TEDxGrandviewAve

Building social capital | Joseph Cabrera | TEDxScranton


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


What Is the City but the People? // Asif Majid

What is a city? The opening event of the 2017 Manchester International Festival (MIF) put forth an answer: its people. That the city is not the space those people inhabit, as much as it is the people who inhabit it. Paying tribute to Manchester, MIF’s What Is the City but the People? compelled audiences to see the city as more than a static collection of buildings and concrete. This is not a new idea, but rather one that draws heavily on social geographer Doreen Massey’s decades-old notion that spaces have multiple identities, are embedded in power dynamics, and rely on networks of social relations. What Is the City made its claim by parading dozens of Mancunians down a 100-meter catwalk in the heart of Manchester, Piccadilly Gardens. Dogwalkers, children, cyclists, refugees, taxi drivers, and lovers all appeared. It was a beautiful collection of people.

But Manchester is many things, both what was seen on the catwalk on June 29th, its opposite, and a range of lives in between. The event presented experiences of hope, strength, and community, but the city is also more than that, for better and for worse. Alongside the positive, the event might have also acknowledged the spice epidemic plaguing those experiencing homelessness in Piccadilly, an area inundated by the drug. Or it might have gestured to the major cuts to university staff at two Manchester universities (The University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University), disproportionately effecting social and artistic fields, that are being fought by students and faculty alike. It might also have considered the spike in hate crime against those who are visibly Muslim that occurred in the month after the attack on Manchester Arena, reinforcing continued tensions and fears. Perhaps, then, the evening was more about highlighting what Manchester sees as the best parts of itself rather than reflecting all its complexities.

With Manchester still healing after the violence of May 22nd, What Is the City became an unintended commentary on the city’s resilience: anything other than celebration would have been inappropriate. At the same time, however, it is important to bear in mind another of Massey’s ideas, that space is no more than “a cut through the myriad stories in which we are all living at any one moment.” This runway-inspired slice of Manchester is only one drop of honey taken from a much larger pot, one boll of cotton drawn from a much wider field. It is a particular selection of people, reflecting a particular artist’s intention, at a particular moment in the life of the city. It should not be taken as universally or even totally Manchester, but rather as an invitation to deepen our relationship with the urban. For if a city is its people, to celebrate it is to take its good with its bad together. (AM)

- Asif Majid

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

MIF - What Is the City but the People?

Doreen Massey and Theories of Space

The Spice Epidemic

Cuts to Manchester Universities - Guardian and Manchester Evening News

Spike in Hate Crime after Manchester Attack