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The perfect Festival for students, Sick! Festival, returns to Manchester this summer

  • How Manchester's students can explore social challenges of life and death with Sick! Festival
  • SICK! is a festival exploring the physical, mental and social challenges of life and death and how we survive them (or don’t).

If you are a student in Manchester, it has been hard to avoid the banners placed along Oxford Road promoting Sick! Festival. To most, a festival is a weekend full of booze, camping and music which lasts 12 hours a day. However, Sick! Festival is something slightly different and a lot more unique.

This festival is all about the anecdote to the physical, mental and social challenges of life and death and how we survive, cope or deal with them.

Sick comprises of an outstanding international arts programme that has come from academic research. It addresses issues that people have lived with and those of which may be able to relatable us in some way. It is the perfect space created to share experiences, reflect and connect.

The festival is in various different locations in Manchester throughout the month of March. One installation in particular which a lot of people can get involved with is Before I Die which is taking place in Merseryway shopping centre, Stockport until 26th March. The participatory art project invites people to contemplate death, something which generally a lot of us choose not to do. However, with an installation like this, it is has proved popular in Stockport. This installation in particular allows you to not only contemplate death but also your life, thinking about what you have already done and things you wish to achieve before you die.

The installation, which was created by an artist named Chang came about as a way to channel her grief and depression after losing someone she loved. It started in New Orleans where she covered an abandoned, crumbling house with chalkboard paint and wrote “Before I die I want to ______.” After this, the house quickly started filling with multiple responses. Some including before I die I want to see equality, be me, appreciate, live, get my wife back, eat all the candy and sushi.

Following the popularity of this project, it has now been created in over 70 different countries. It allows communities to explore their desires and struggles in life. For Stockport in particular, the installation has been placed outside Primark in Merseyway Shopping centre. Ella McDonald, resident is Stockport said: “I think this installation is a great way to express whatever you feel about things you wish to achieve in your life and share it with your community.

It isn’t often that we are encouraged to think about our life and what we want to do before we die because life is so fast paced all the time. We rarely take a moment to stop and reflect on things like that. I was so happy to see an art installation like this so close to where I live, it is definitely very unique for Stockport. It is really inspiring to read everything that people want to achieve before they die.”

Sick festival allows you to meet like minded people and share different life experiences with each other. It also allows you to explore things that we do not know anything about, but may have theories of and that is afterlife. Exhibited at Whitworth art gallery is two pieces from French & Mottershead’s series Afterlife.

The two audio works called Grey Granular Fist and Woodland allow you to process the contrast of how a human body decays and the effect it has on different environments during its transformation. An example of what is said from the Woodland audio is “The blood sinking to the back of your body is flooding your skin red, except where pressure points impress a delicate pale pattern onto your discoloured skin. Where the back of your head, shoulder blade, elbows, buttocks, calves and heels meet the ground.

Where fleshy parts are pressing into the twigs you lie on. Where the creases, seams and clothes you’re wearing marks your skin. The redness turns to purple as you pass through the night.” Surprisingly, the voice you hear almost sounds like a calming insight into what happens to our bodies, almost like a meditation.

The audio Grey Grandular Fist allows you to experience the exhibition sitting in listening chairs inside the Whitworth gallery. Whilst listening, you imagine the afterlife of your body and the natural process that happens with it. This, competing with the conservation measures which would have an impact on your body allow you to fully experience what happens to your body overtime after death. In comparison, you experience the Woodland audio via a smartphone App outside in Whitworth Park. This allows the listener to be deeply connected with their body and considers the biological and chemical processes that your body would encounter after consciousness.

Although the voice in these audios are a familiar sound from when you have meditated, you are never fully relaxed by the words spoken. The vivid picture you see when the voice says “a fly lands on your lip. It lays an egg. A maggot becomes a part of you” is likely to make you feel less at ease than your typical meditation. Both of these audio pieces allow you to explore a different side to what you may of thought afterlife could be and both pieces have the ability to describe what happens to our bodies when we die so vividly.

Sick festival won the prestigious EFFE Festival Award back in 2015. This reward goes to 12 of the most outstanding European festivals out of a total of 760 festivals in total. Sick! is the first festival in the UK to confront both the physical and mental challenges of both life and death. It fully explores the realities of our lives, highlighting issues that a lot of us misunderstand. It also includes a lot of taboo topics that are never usually explored fully in our day to day lives. A lot of the issues explored in this festival are deep rooted from personal experiences, making it very relatable to a lot of people.

People are encouraged to confront issues they are facing and share it with others. The festival brings together multiple voices from healthcare, charities, science, arts and just ordinary people who face these issues in their daily lives. All of these issues are explored through the use of performance, theatre, dance, literature, visual art, film and public debates. This award has brought international recognition to the festival within the arts community.

James Tiffany, Manchester student said: “I have been to a few exhibitions and talks so far during Sick! Festival and it is nothing like I imagined it would be. It is a great way to explore issues you didn’t even realise you had, but in a good way! You feel a release of tension and my favourite part so far has been going to Mental Illness and Community at living library. It showed me that everyone deals with ups and downs in life and I also learnt more about the struggles mental illnesses can have on people, which is something I didn’t know much about before I went.

For me, it is usually hard to talk openly about any issues I have with complete strangers or even to people I know, but this one-one-one experience gave me a chance to meet and talk to people and hear about their challenging stories and also share my own. The discussion only lasted 15 minutes where we would have an open conversation and to listen to other people and also ask questions which I wouldn’t have been brave enough to do otherwise.”

Sick! Festival includes various talks and exhibitions throughout the month of March at it is running from Wednesday 8th March -Saturday 25th March across Manchester.

Find out more about what is on during Sick! Festival on their official website.