The Sunday Telegraph
160 ordinary heroes sum up the spirit of Manchester on a public catwalk
What Is The City But The People? Piccadilly Gardens Manchester
When Shakar first spied Shabnam on a Manchester bus and felt a fluttering in his heart, he’d have had no idea his story would be presented on a catwalk to hundreds of people 20 years later, or even, indeed, that there would be a story to tell. Shakar was living on a park bench in Piccadilly Gardens and surviving on biscuits while working at a nearby garment factory. Today he and Shabnam have three children and six nights a week run a soup kitchen in Manchester from the back of their car.
If Jeremy Deller needed an anthem to sum up the spirit of his opening ceremony for the Manchester International Festival, David Bowie’s Heroes would surely be that song. Here, during a chilly 60 minutes, 160 ordinary Mancunians, from dogwalkers to social activists, from transvestites to the chap who keeps the trams running, were heroes for one hour as they walked along an elevated catwalk in Piccadilly Gardens in front of their fellow city dwellers. Some had impressive life stories; some were everyday folk. For others, it was a miracle that they were there at all.
This is a beautifully simple idea from Deller – perhaps not as richly imagined as his nationwide Somme tribute We Are Here Because We’re Here, but still a piece tapping deep into the power of public spaces to generate fleeting human connections between strangers. For many participants, it was more than a parade: it was an act of self-affirmation. Admittedly, it all felt a bit haphazard. The big screens at either end of the catwalk announcing each individual occasionally failed to keep time. The indomitable Mickie had made it half way down with her walking stick before anyone was able to read that she was a Second World War veteran who had driven trucks across the Middle East and was soon to celebrate her 100th birthday. Some people opted to walk down the walkway for a second or third time, seemingly just for the hell of it.
This show was conceived 18 months ago, but, one month on from the Manchester terror attacks, it’s hard not to see it as a direct and defiant response to that night. Not just because it featured two taxi drivers who turned off their meters on the night of the attacks, but because it celebrated the universe in a grain of sand in the form of 160 people from Manchester. Corny? A little. Lump-inthe-throat moving? You bet.
MIF runs until July 16. Details and tickets: mif.co.uk