Dark Days, Luminous NightsManchester Collective @ The White Hotel, Salford
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Upon first entering Dark Days, Luminous Nights, we are presented with a world once familiar to us. Known for their musical endeavours, over lockdown Manchester Collective turned their hands to the visual medium, building an exhibition in The White Hotel that consists of recognisable places and spaces that are now submerged in darkness.
Presented as a tapestry of visual media, images of urban residential areas, streets, back alleys and skylines we are all familiar with are now a mystery as they are documented from a perspective wholly unknown. Instead of seeing people, we see their absence. Instead of seeing sunlight, these images come encased in night. When all sense of familiarity is stripped from these settings, what remains?
A short film is the main event of tonight’s entertainment, with a projector centred in the middle of the room. But first, a chance to see various photographs of Manchester in the early hours. Images of corner shops, new residential areas and the ancient River Irwell are dotted around the room to be taken in before the viewing. With all sense of community taken from these once bustling spaces they come alive of their own volition, inhabiting a world completely distant from us. It’s a transformation that surprises you with its dramatic nature, and the emotion that it conjures. A range of feelings emerge – beauty, intimacy and fear, as if we are invading a moment we do not belong to.
These images go hand-in-hand with the neighbourhood’s history, which yet again transforms the art. Sitting in Angel Meadow, a former slum and cemetery close to River Irk, and the area where most of the images were taken, lie 40,000 bodies, a looming, yet partially forgotten bit of the city’s past. Seeing modernised images of the area now desolate, this underbelly of urban history resonates, as the solitude of these settings points us to what we have lost, and once again prompts a feeling of distance. While we may think we dominate our surroundings, we are gently reminded these spaces once belonged to others who lay beneath, still a part of the scenery.
The closing 30-minute film continues this feeling of displacement, as we see three figures, one played by the lead violinist Rakhi Singh, chased by an unknown figure portrayed by legendary artist Blackhaine. Set against an engrossing score made up of pieces such as Wojciech Kilar’s Orawa and The Centre is Everywhere by Edmund Finnis – a piece commissioned by Manchester Collective – the ambiguous figure twists and disrupts the space through improvised movement, melding into each backdrop and becoming part of its majesty. We never truly find who he represents. The film leaves you with only your response to this disrupted tranquillity.
Dark Days, Luminous Nights reminds us that our own perspective twists our settings as much as history or daylight does. When all elements of our own comfort are taken out of such familiar sights, we realise that they are not ours, nor the collectives who stretch from the origins of the city’s history to the very moment we are in now – instead existing only as immovable pillars of time. All that remains, then, are our own reactions to the spaces we find ourselves in. That, and the knowledge that these surroundings will outlive us, forever changing alongside its onlookers.