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Abandon Normal Devices – Chris’s review

October 25, 2010

Abandon Normal Devices (AND) a festival of new film and digital culture, taking place across the Northwest and part of We Play, which is the cultural legacy project in the North West for the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, and a collaboration between Cornerhouse, Fact and Folly came to Manchester from 1- 7 October.

A catalyst for production and experimentation, AND invited us to consider

What are our normal devices and how might we abandon them?

We were invited to expect an eclectic array of screenings, installations, online projects, public realm interventions, workshops and live events, with a distinctive emphasis on ideas and discussion. ANDfest delivered this and more.

Interact logo and blog

Interact logo and blog

In challenging what makes us human and the behaviour and systems that define us, AND paradoxically also examined what connects us, what we hold in common and what we share, to be able to question differences and individual as well as collective identity. Was it this theme or the spirit of collaboration that made the festival so inclusive? I believe it was both.

See: about our [Full Circle Arts and our young disabled people’s] experience of collaboration with Livewire & Sancho Plan producing just one of the interactive exhibits Interact

Inclusion is about ALL of us it’s about learning to live together, about creating & sharing tools, resources, capacities, it is a process not a product. This was no tick box approach to inclusion and it showed. I am reminded of Miles Davies talking about Jazz in 1984 
“Jazz, it’s tough to define, but I know it when I hear it.”

ANDfest examined the process as much if not more than the product. Practically all the work was participative or interactive; we could touch, feel, see, hear, make, play, talk, share, laugh, worry, learn, create, question and celebrate. A few examples amongst many;

Artist Lawrence Malstaf shrink wrapped in a PVC cocoon, vertically suspended.

Shrink - Lawrence Malstaf

Lawrence Malstaff worked with volunteers to be shrink wrapped

Artist Xtine Burrough worked with communities in Manchester for Mechanical games

The Sancho Plan worked with Livewire and Full Circle Arts, young disabled people and young refugees on Interact

Phil Collins worked with young people at schools in Manchester for Marxism today

Peaches Christ recruited volunteers to be part of the performance at Midnight Mass; Audiences could make their costumes at Haute Couture workshops.

Workshops such as One Button Challenge, Body Hack Workshop, Interface Amnesty and Spelunk the forest invited people to take part, collaborate, imagine, explore and create.

From Geeks to Grans, everyone was involved.

I experienced and took part in far too many wonderful eclectic, inspirational, challenging, fun and thought provoking events to write about them all so just a small snippet to give you the flavour of my engagement with ANDfest:

Lawrence Malstaff’s Shrink was a spectacular but gentle and beautiful experience of humanity, showing the vulnerability of us all within his performance. The audience collectively took a deep breath as air was drawn from the plastic encasing Lawrence. The shrink wrap preserving yet threatening. Time slowed as Lawrence chorographed his body gently from foetal like positions to crucifixion. Within the glorious space of the Masonic Hall, Shrink was the literally breathtaking opening to ANDfest and enjoyed the accidental audience of Masons on route to a meeting. Malstaff worked with volunteers, to be shrink wrapped and suspended and the experience of one volunteer can be read in the Guardian here:

At Design Disorder the audience could experience lift off in an armchair which accurately

An image showing people dressed as astronauts

Designed Disorder at CUBE Gallery

reproduced the three stages of the 1966 Soyuz rocket launch – a piece by charismatic and enthusiastic designer/artist Nelly Ben Hayoun, who is probably the only person in the world to have a scale working model of a volcano in her living room, where at a moments notice she has to open all the windows to let the smoke escape as the volcano erupts without warning. We were challenged to taste whisky which artist /designer, James Gilpin revealed, later in the week, (at the captivating Tactical Biodesign: Design for Debate was not in fact, as we believed, distilled from the urine of elderly diabetic people. The tasting experience actually being a piece of theatre to engage us in a conversation about his work around diabetes. As someone whose impairment means I regularly experience proprioception I was also fascinated by a piece about phantom limbs. An exhibition of the design of human experience, the artists and designers engaged us in an uncomfortable questioning of ethics, human behaviour and consumption

peaches christ on stage

Peaches Christ on stage

We had a brilliant, bizarre, funny, scary and outlandish night including gore & lap dancing librarians at Peaches Christ’s Midnight Mass, which was a performance, audience participation, film screening event with a cult following in San Francisco, brought to us in Manchester as part of ANDfest. More than living up to its hype, it was the international premier of Joshu Granell’s (Peaches alter ego) feature-length film debut, All About Evil. The performance began out on the streets with a crowd of drag queen librarians, protesting ‘Down with Peaches’ as a long queue of gore couture clad audience snaked around the block, The accidental audience being 3 police vans arriving to the ‘disturbance’, rugby league fans on route to the train station and the variety of passers by on a Saturday night out in Manchester. The audience participation may have begun with dressing to ‘take part’ but as part of the live show erupted into lap dancing librarians literally in our faces this wasn’t just audience engagement it was a marriage.

Chris all dressed up at Peaches Christ

Chris all dressed up at Peaches Christ

We all participated with the ‘4D’ part of the show, Peaches singing ‘I’m a gore gore girl’ accompanied by dancing from the cast of the movie. A best dressed competition and being engaged with the wonderful Peaches Christ and her real passion for the survival of independent cinema as a social destination for dressing up and going out and being more than a lonely passive audience.

Cleverly during the film it became apparent that in fact we were a part of the film, too much so for some. As blood, gore and even a dead body fell from the ceiling in the movie. I wasn’t alone in nervously looking up at the ceiling of cinema 1 at Cornerhouse.

Mechanical Games Award Ceremony

This was the Gold Award ceremony, complete with flags, medals, and bouquets for winners of Mechanical Games, which invited participants from the community to create and contribute a thirty-second film of their selves performing one of five sports. For a taste of the films click here  The films were inventive and often hilarious interpretations of Olympic sporting events made with members of the community from older people’s residential and day centre’s such as Marianah House to workers from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Each short film was put on You Tube for the public vote for winners.

The audience singing 'God Save The Queen' at the Mechanical Games Awards

The Mechanical Games Awards

Following on from the bizarreness of Peaches Christ the previous night the award ceremony was a joyous start to my Sunday. We shared in the hilarity of the films and the pride of mainly older residents (who rightly swept the awards) as they collected their Gold medals to a full house in Cinema 2 at Cornerhouse. Feeling proud to be British, as where else could you celebrate the wonderful idiosyncrasies and collective fun of performances of elderly ladies fencing with fly swatters as they argued over their rooms, or elderly swimmers wearing armbands doing breast stroke from their armchairs.

Like Peaches Christ, you just had to be there to appreciate the sense of community and pride, created by celebration of the eccentric and bizarre, as all the medal winners took to the stage and everyone stood to sing more verses than I knew existed of the National Anthem.

Brief Blue Electric Bloom was one of the closing events of the festival. Led by a hauntingly beautiful contemporary classical score by composer, Ailís Ní Ríain, Brief Blue Electric Bloom was a unique blended performance of poetry, projection, music and British Sign Language.

The BSL was beautifully choreographed, as a voice would be trained for song, to be an integral moving part of the performance, which displayed the beauty of the language. Not being a BSL user I can only liken it to the highlighted beauty of the Italian language when listening to Puccini. Absence of the BSL performance would have removed an essential part of the whole performance for me as a hearing audience member. I would be very interested to hear the views of the Deaf members of the audience.

Rich and rhythmic sentences could begin with a projected sign and run through spoken voice, BSL performance and finish in music. The often dark piece explored the theme of communication and the breakdown of communication within relationships. The misunderstanding and breakdown of communication was explored as universal to us all, yet also provided a unique insight into communication barriers experienced by Deaf and hearing impaired people. Sharing our commonality to understand and embrace difference and deviation is a powerful tool in human understanding. Allis used this with excellence.

Other ANDfest delights we [FCA] experienced were:

Phil Collins Marxism today


MP3 Experiment (In the rain!)

Plan C



#media 2012


AND salons

Interface Anmesty

The Kazimier

Far from a passive experience, ANDfest was inclusive, engaging, participative and interactive.

Abandon Normal Devices was great art with everyone.

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