Manchester International Festival announces an ambitious city-wide arts and music programme for 2023

Everything you need to know about MIF23 – from thousands of coins to collect across the city, to cult dystopian adaptations, giant psychedelic installations, virtual realities, and world premieres.

By Sophia Crilly | 14 March 2023

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The festival flagship home, Factory International. Image: Factory International

Factory International has announced an ambitious international programme for the 2023 edition of Manchester International Festival (MIF23). Featuring new work from leading artists including Benji Reid, Ryan Gander, Yayoi Kusama, Maxine Peake, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Tino Sehgal collaborating with footballer Juan Mata, and music from Alison Goldfrapp, John Grant, Angélique Kidjo, and headliner Janelle Monáe. 

Working with local, regional, and global partners, the wide-ranging scope of original new works by artists from around the world will activate venues and spaces across the city, from the well-loved Whitworth Art Gallery to a behind-the-scenes tour at Islington Mill – a hotbed for nurturing homegrown talent. Factory International will also open its doors for the first time, and the much-loved Festival Square will relocate to the building’s outdoor spaces with free live music from over one hundred performers.

Art highlights include the return of curator Hans Ulrich Obrist launching The Trequartista – Art and Football United, a two-year project in collaboration with footballer Juan Mata, that explores the intersection of art and the beautiful game. Mata said “It’s fantastic to be returning to Manchester, the city I called home for more than eight years… […] bringing together two of my passions: the worlds of football and art.” Eleven contemporary artists and eleven footballers will work together to produce new works inspired by the Trequartista, a legendary position and style in football that is rapidly disappearing, to be showcased at MIF25. The long-term project kicks off this summer at MIF23 with a world premiere of This entry – a new choreographic work by artist Tino Sehgal featuring a footballer, violinist, cyclist and singing dancer. It will be presented at the National Football Museum 29 June to 5 July, and the Whitworth Art Gallery from 7 to 16 July to experience the piece in both a sport and art environment. 

Ryan Gander’s work The Find invites you to undertake a quest across the city to seek out collectable coins.

Internationally acclaimed artist Ryan Gander, who originally studied at Manchester Art School, will situate works in buildings and outdoor spaces, inviting you to undertake a quest across the city to seek them out. In one of his largest scale artworks to date The Find will see hundreds of thousands of collectable coins hidden in plain sight across Manchester. The coins will be spread across libraries and food halls, sit on park benches, walls, and steps, and join you to be discovered on your travels tucked away between Metrolink seats. Gander said: “In Britain at the moment, it feels to me like a sort of breaking point. Our obsession with the individual and not the collective and our need for attention and money all seems quite distracting. I wanted to make a project that would bring people together through a common goal or quest…a find.” Whilst possessing no monetary value, each coin will be embellished with words offering guidance on daily decisions and encouraging you to see the world around you differently. The Find will run from 29 June to 16 July.

A major exhibition of Yayoi Kusama’s inflatable sculptures, You, Me and the Balloons, is the centrepiece of MIF23.

You, Me and the Balloons, a major exhibition of Yayoi Kusama’s inflatable sculptures will sit at the centre of the festival, as the first work to be presented at Factory International from 30 June to 28 August. Collating over three decades worth of the renowned Japanese artist’s artworks for the first time, it will be Kusama’s largest ever installation, featuring works over 10 metres tall and immersing visitors in her psychedelic landscape of polka-dot constellations.

Locally based artist Benji Reid, who has become known for award-winning Afro-futurist photographs in which he appears to defy gravity, has a world premiere of Find Your Eyes at Manchester Academy. With a background as a choreographer and dancer Reid combines this talent with photography and theatre. Through a behind-the-scenes look at his life and practice, he will work with performers on a retelling of resonant moments from his life, creating live photography and turning the stage into his studio. Reid said “This performance is a culmination of all my practices, from popping to contemporary to physical theatre to directing to photography. This work is a dance between all forms framed as a meditation in the artist’s studio.”

At the Whitworth, Economics the Blockbuster: It’s Not Business as Usual will propose new ways of ‘doing business’ and merchandise with a purpose via art projects that each operate as real-world economic systems, from a community-led drinks company to a crypto-financed youth agency. And HOME’s gallery space will host the Balmy Army – art and activism combined – created over the past year by young people, artists, madpride organisers, radical dreamers and disability justice doers who have come together for mental health support that works. From sharing poetry to making placards, to social media takeovers and mass acts of civil disobedience Balmy Army brings a focus to community, care, and creativity as the greatest ways to heal our mental health.

A collaboration between collectives Blast Theory and Manchester Street Poem, will see some of our cities marginalised communities brought to the fore in We Cut Through Dust, a piece that will guide you via a sequence of mobile phone calls on a narrative walk through the city into the future. Whilst on the banks of the River Medlock in Mayfield Park, artist Risham Syed and director Angie Bual will draw on ancient practices and river rituals from South Asian culture, in Each Tiny Drop, a special restorative event honouring our connection to water and each another. Also celebrating South Asian culture is Sonics, stories, and scenes of the Diaspora (1 July), a day-long takeover presented by SEEN Magazine and Manchester Museum in the ground-breaking new South Asia Gallery, to showcase the sounds of diaspora artists.

Online, British artist and filmmaker Jenn Nkiru, has been commissioned to create a new work for Virtual Factory that weaves archive material of Manchester’s industrial history and new footage of modern-day architecture together in a meditative new film exploring parallels between architecture and the human body, to pay homage to the people and culture that make up a city. 

In a world premiere, award-winning musician, and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto and Tin Drum have come together to create Kagami – a unique collaboration mixed reality presentation that will be the first of its kind. Spanning electronic to classical composition and performance, you will be able to view the virtual Sakamoto performing on a piano alongside dimensional art aligned with the music, via optically transparent devices, whilst being free to explore the environment during an hour-long event at Versa Manchester Studios. 

Maxine Peak stars in a chilling play at the John Rylands Library. Image: Paul Husband.

Theatre and performance are further represented with 50 Hours of Freedom, a fifty-hour lock-in at Contact with three local non-binary artists working with Danez Smith, and composer Philip Venables and director Ted Huffman’s world premiere musical adaptation of The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions, at HOME. Drawing on Larry Mitchell and Ned Asta’s cult 1977 book the work reimagines the history of the world through a queer lens with a cast of actors, singers, and musicians. Also inspired by a 1977 cult classic text is the new production from Maxine Peake, Sarah Frankcom and Imogen Knight, adapting They – Kay Dick’s dystopian masterpiece – into a chilling live, afterhours performance by Peake inside the depths of the iconic John Rylands Library. Peake states “In a climate of escalating culture wars, the erosion of Arts in education and a continuing political disregard for the value of creativity in building a fair society, They speaks truth to power. It celebrates the importance of making art as a means of survival and resistance and rich inspiration to make something for the times we find ourselves in right now.”

All right. Good night., a powerful meditation on disappearance, loss and how to deal with uncertainty will have its UK premiere at HOME, directed by Helgard Haug, and accompanied by a haunting contemporary score from Barbara Morgenstern and arranger Davor Vincze. Across the city The Royal Exchange will stage the world premiere of Kimber Lee’s untitled f*ck m*ss s**gon play, directed by Roy Alexander Weise and designed by Moi Tran. Co-produced with the Young Vic and Headlong, the play jumps through time, exploding narratives and lifetimes of repeating Asian stereotypes, wrestling history for the right to control your own narrative in a world that thinks it can tell you who you are.

Janelle Monae headlines the festival’s music offering this year. Image: Jheyda McGarrell.

Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Janelle Monáe will take up residency in the city performing for three nights over the opening weekend and headlining a music programme that spans a wide range of genres. Other music highlights include performances from Grammy-award winning Angélique Kidjo with her first show in Manchester in ten years, new music from Alison Goldfrapp, revered Sufi singer Sanam Marvi celebrating the rich culture and sound of Pakistan, and a world premiere by John Luther Adams inspired by arctic landscapes and performed by the BBC Philharmonic. Alongside this there’s a premiere of a new show from John Grant and the Richard Hawley band that celebrates pop and country legend Patsy Cline. John Grant said “Very excited to be playing MIF as Manchester is the home of Piccadilly Records and many of the folks I work with. I’m doubly excited to be singing the songs of Patsy Cline whose music and voice I’ve been a big fan of since the mid 80s when the movie Sweet Dreams came out.”

AFRODEUTSCHE premiere a new composition with the innovative Manchester Camerata, and Anna Meredith partners with Royal Northern College of Music for a performance of her Mercury Prize-shortlisted album FIBS. Manchester Collective and theatre company Slung Low will present a vibrant staging of Benjamin Britten’s community opera, Noah’s Flood (9 July) featuring Lemn Sissay, live as the voice of God, alongside 180 schoolchildren supported by a professional cast. 

The Comet Is Coming present cosmic sounds backed with filmmaker Daisy Dickinson’s transcendent visuals in Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam (12 July), and there are new commissions by Ailís Ní Ríain and Alissa Firsova as part of Sonic Geography (7 July), inspired by the climate crisis.

R.O.S.E will see the artistry of dance company L-E-V and record label Young combine to celebrate dance and music at the iconic New Century Hall night club.

For one night only, Justin Vivian Bond (6 July) – a living legend of cabaret – will headline a night of trans excellence from TransCreative with a raucous and seductive evening of songs, stories, and some very special guests. And in a moment of pure celebration R.O.S.E will see the artistry of dance company L-E-V and record label Young combine to highlight the freedom, energy and intimacy that runs through club culture in a night of dance and music in Manchester’s iconic New Century Hall night club. 

The closing weekend of MIF23, will see Factory Sounds alumni Sam Malik present Desi Factory (15 July), a night with some of the best in the British South Asian new music scene – headlined by Zack Knight and featuring Ezu, Bambi Bains and BBC Asian Network’s Bobby Friction. 

Alongside the artists presenting new work at MIF23, a group of international artists will take up residency in communities in Greater Manchester to soak up the festival and plan projects for the future, including El Conde de Torrefiel, The Nest Collective, Shilpa Gupta and FAFSWAG.

Artistic Director and Chief Executive, Factory International & Manchester International Festival John McGrath told us “As always MIF is rooted in its home – in the spaces and places of Greater Manchester. So, at the same time as we take up residency in our flagship new venue with our centrepiece exhibition of Yayoi Kusama’s incredible inflatable sculptures, the festival will extend its reach throughout the city: finding unexpected locations to show its work in and working with local artists and residents to perform and take part. MIF23 will be a true celebration of the city and its cultural offerings.”

The festival will take place from 29 June to 16 July. Tickets for MIF23 are on sale to Factory International members from 28 March and on general sale from 30 March. £10 tickets are available for all shows.