The Manchester Weekender returns as one of the greatest Northern cultural celebrations

By Nick Owen Published: 18 October 2011

Manchester Weekender

Standing in the shadows of Manchester’s magnificent Town Hall, deciding just what do during the city’s Weekender was a task as daunting as the great building is imposing.

Now in its second year, the Manchester Weekender is a three-day cultural celebration of more than 70 events, made up of exclusive talks, walks and exhibitions, even canal tours.

On top of that, the weekend sits comfortably in the middle of four of Manchester’s autumn festivals. So no matter what your preference, you’re guaranteed a good laugh, a good read, a good meal or a good idea.
With so much choice and so little time, the food fair outside the Town Hall seemed an appropriate place to start as the Manchester Food and Drink Festival readied to end its ten-day run. With every cuisine imaginable the fare perfectly reflected the diversity of multi-cultural Manchester and just how important, judging by the sea of contented smiles, that diversity is to the city.
Beating Wing Orchestra
Beating Wing Orchestra
Mulling over the programme with a pint of (not that great) bitter crafted by Elbow, Manchester’s favourite dads, two events for Saturday evening stood out immediately: one, a refugee orchestra in an imaginary VISA centre, the second an audio-visual response to one of the finest exhibitions currently on show in Manchester.

As well as the four festivals currently taking place in the city throughout October, Manchester is also the home to the UK’s only triennial. The Asia Triennial Manchester is one of Europe’s greatest celebrations of contemporary Asian art, and this year the theme explores one of the most salient issues of our time – the story of immigration.

No other show has embraced this to the extent of Life in the UK / Balance of Probabilities, a debut UK commission by Istanbul-based artists Osman Bozkurt and Didem Ozbek of PiST///.

Using the interior and exterior of the Castlefield Gallery, the Turkish collective have transformed the building into a temporary VISA application centre, exploring real life stories of freedom and travel, with a generous helping of theatre and fiction.

The venue could not have been more apt for a performance by the Beating Wing Orchestra, a genre-spanning collective of musicians from refugee and migrant backgrounds. Stepping into the gallery through its disorienting metal detectors and hearing the soaring vocals of Congolese Emmanuela Yogolelo is an experience not soon forgotten. For the next hour, those lucky enough to gain entry to this imagined land at the southern end of Deansgate were treated to a truly special performance.

With the show over it was time to head to Oxford Road for After Hours at the Whitworth, which saw BlackLab breathing new life into the gallery’s sterling Dark Matters exhibition. Exploring themes of shadow and darkness through a range of technologies, the show has also played an integral part in the triennial with stunning, newly commissioned works by Korean artist Ja-Young Ku and Japanese filmmaker Hiraki Sawa.

Work by Ford Maddox Brown
Ford Maddox Brown, Work (1852-63)
© Manchester Art Gallery
For fans of free jazz, drone and general sonic noise-scapes, the sounds of theBirchall/Cheetham Duo perfectly responded to the photographs of Julie Delhopital.

Elsewhere in the gallery, menacing projections of Margaret Thatcher’s skull loomed over visitors as cars burned on walls, poised to explode.

On Sunday, and with a train to catch at midday, it was decided to end where we began. With the critically acclaimed Ford Maddox Brown exhibition currently open at the nearby Manchester Art Gallery, we decided to take in some of the adopted Mancunian’s more resonant works linked to the city.

The Town Hall is home to 12 murals by the artist that give a fascinating insight into the obsessions of Victorian Manchester, and the stories they chose to tell of the city’s pioneering history.

Later that day the murals would form a backdrop to a talk given by Jarvis Cocker on what it means to be a ‘cultural provocateur’. Though we would have to miss this, as well as vegetable orchestras and garland processions, each visitor to Manchester this weekend took away a truly unique impression of the city, and that is why it rightly deserves to be considered the cultural hub of the north.           

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned: