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Manchester International Festival
Olafur Eliasson - Echo House
Il Tempo Del Postino at the Opera House
Richard Perry (show: 12/07/07)
Il Tempo Del Postino is the flagship commission of the Manchester International Festival, in which 14 artists respond to a question - what if an exhibition was not a way to occupy space, but a way to occupy time?
A meritoriously bold idea and one which created a near-tangible sense of event; with no obvious frame of reference, even those on first name terms with the participants would struggle to conjure an idea of exactly what to expect.
Carsten Holler - Upside Down People 2007
As the assembled became so, the first piece was underway - a mechanical ghost-piano recital under synthetic snowfall comprising Liam Gillick's Factories in the Snow - a sombre counter-point to the evening’s other recurring work, Pierre Huyghe’s Hello Zombie. His contribution seemed to be a faux-naive call for harmony. However, due to the Jim Henson costumes, some viewers deemed it hilarious.
The best work was that which was at home in these surroundings and showed an awareness of the challenge presented, most succinctly expressed by Tino Sehgal, who made the dusty, underused red velvet curtains dance to an orchestral Daft Punk number. Similarly playful was the nostalgic channelling of smell-o-vision by Koo Jeong-A for the exquisite Spy Tree.
Befittingly for the Opera House, music was key to many of the pieces, from Anri Sala's 4 Butterflies, which arrayed four sopranos around the auditorium, to the primal bass-drum-pounding by Trisha Donnelly for The Second Saint.
Not that it was all good. Disappointingly, Douglas Gordon's contribution to the evening consisted of paying June Tabor to sing Love Will Tear Us Apart with the lights off, while Tacita Dean’s decision to screen a film in a show which promised no use of recorded media was not exactly right-on.
Anri Sala - 4 Butterflies
But back to the successful, and Olafur Eliasson’s Echo House was the clear highlight. His wall of mirrors and an orchestra trained to mimic any noise made by the audience was a radical deconstruction of performer-audience boundaries, though my own enjoyment was curtailed by the person behind me thinking he was the only person who understood as he proceeded to shout out constantly.
An enforced change of running order meant some confusion as to when the interval would occur and many people had left their seats for Rikrit Tiravanija and Arto Lindsay's triplet-ventriloquist socio-cabaret chorus, something which will hopefully be rectified for future performances.
That running order review was largely down to the ostentation of Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler's Guardian of the Veil - a full-on production involving militia-style musicians, nude contortionists, a live bull, cyber-punk shamanism and heavy post-apocalyptic vibes. So far, so Matthew Barney.
Again, music was key and Bepler justified his equal billing by providing a score that was equally powerful and restrained, contemporary and classical, emotive and cerebral.
Barney and Bepler - Guardian of the Veil
Barney has said of his earlier Drawing Restraint series that "resistance is a prerequisite to creativity" and indeed his work found some resistance here. Upon leaving, I overheard the following summation of events: "the first half was really good but the second half was just... toss." Whether the bull would agree is another matter.
So Il Tempo Del Postino was not a unanimous artistic triumph but surely was a success just by the very fact it happened. For such respected artists to create new work for an undocumented live show in Manchester is a totally positive thing. If only such free-wheeling invention could happen weekly and without the corporate sponsors tax-deductible financing. Oh well, maybe next year.
Il Tempo del Postino is a co-production by Manchester International Festival, Theatre du Chatelet, Paris and Holland Festival and is running at the Opera House, Manchester until 14 July.
Pics: 4 Butterflies, Upside Down People and Echo House by Joel Fildes
last updated: 13/07/07
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