The Manchester international festivals art strand features cinematic misery and interactive tech but its Ibrahim Mahamas work that touches the heart

gimmicky high-tech art

I couldnt keep up with the number of repurposed shipping containers, the thousands of audio speakers, the nano-printed books on specks of gold, the projected, explosive litter of letters that swam in the indoor firmament of Rafael Lozano-Hemmers work at Manchesters Science and Industry Museum. The music of the Cocteau Twins was involved I dont know why. Computer pioneers Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace are also invoked in an attempt to capture lost voices from the trembling ether in the Mexican/Canadian artists show Atmospheric Memory.

The title isnt the only drudge here, in this fog of ideas wraithed in artificial mist and psychobabble. Atmospheric Memory has lots of wow, with its verbal miasmas, voice-activated exhibits, its projections and image-captures of ourselves, surveilled and tracked in our stunned wanderings around his mishmash of an installation.

There is too much going on. We are shown the worlds first 3D-printed version of a spoken word (it looks like a misshapen turd); filmed close-ups of vocal chords, opening and closing like weird bivalves and projected into the bottoms of empty oil drums. The actors all had endoscopes down their gullets. As much as this might remind you of Samuel Beckett, Lozano-Hemmers gimmicky high-tech art also recalls Mona Hatoum and Susan Hiller, but with more money and much less finesse. It is all overdone. Whisper into a mic and a wall of fog coalesces into the word youve just spoken, or a pool of water ripples with the soundwaves. Go towards the light! the artist commands as we are herded down a tunnel of amplified seagulls. I ran away.

Labours lost Rafael Lozano-Hemmers Cloud Display (2019), part of Atmospheric Memory. Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA


A different approach to language and knowledge is at the core of Tania Brugueras School of Integration at Manchester Art Gallery, where a whole floor has been turned into classrooms. Bruguera, quite rightly, insists that integration into a new culture shouldnt mean leaving your own one behind but using it to enrich the one youve entered. This is a call for a multiculturalism currently out of favour. I went to a talk on tea, and the different cultures of tea drinking around the world. There will be cooking, sewing, making things, talking. A haven for people to share experiences and knowledge. Unless they join in, there isnt much here for visitors. A forum for the pleasure of coming together, and using the gallery as a place in which everyone is a participant, Brugueras project is very much in line with Manchester City Art Gallery and the Whitworths director Alistair Hudsons ideas for a useful museum.

Ibrahim Mahamas Parliament of Ghosts at the Whitworth is also, in part, an invitation to participate. Beaten-up fibreglass railway carriage seats, sourced from Ghanas railways but fabricated in Manchester, are lined up in stepped rows. Around them old lockers and shelves are filled with mouldering records of Ghanaian parliamentary debates from the early post-colonial parliament, old schoolbooks, tattered photographs, tangles of lathe shearings, and much besides. There are archive drawers and vitrines. In one, we see a photo of a railway caboose wagon. This is not just for railway buffs. Most affecting is a series of photographs of forearms and hands: every arm tattooed with the name of the itinerant Ghanaian worker it belongs to. They tattooed themselves with their names in case they got injured or killed in their work far from home, so their families could be informed in case of accident. Nothing else here touches me as much.

Affecting artefacts Ibrahim Mahamas Parliament of Ghosts. Photograph: Michael Pollard


It is all very unheimlich at Home. Divided into five sections, or chapters, in appropriately low-lit galleries, David Lynchs paintings, prints, drawings and spooky sculpted lamps chart the same territories as his movies: nasty occurrences and creepy, damaged people for whom the world is both challenge and monstrous playground. Theres a young pyromaniac with impossibly long arms and a matchbook, Bob (you may know the name from Twin Peaks), lost in a world of which he has no understanding, as if he has found himself marooned in an Anselm Kiefer painting with weird writing hovering in the sky and between the trees. Around him are houses on fire, floating factories and heads coughing painted muck into the void, as if saying something.

There is no real development in Lynchs art, always the same sour atmosphere, the same writing on his mixed-media paintings, the same evil fun. A hanged girl is suspended from a branch. Another apologises for not knowing the gun was loaded. A photograph of dead flies, all pinned in neat rows, are appended with their names: Harry, Don, Eric, Sid. This is what passes for light relief beside Lynchs gruesome paintings, with their nasty lumpy inhabitants, their dangling, deformed, slithery, inside-out biologies and mentalities, their tiny dolls hands pushed into the paint, and the insistent handwritten voice bubbles and commentaries.

I like his simple stone lithographs best, with their wayward crayonings and dirty, greasy inks. And the tiny drawings he made on matchbook covers while hanging around on set when he was shooting Eraserhead. It is all of a piece, all-too-believably unbelievable. Lynch the artist might be taken for a character from the world he paints, the madman with the easel, cackling in the attic.





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