A contemporary dance performance directed by filmmaker Danny Boyle and designed by British artist Es Devlin will officially open Factory International, the long-awaited arts hub in Manchester, England.
The new space, which cost a total of £186million and is designed by firm Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), will serve as the permanent home of the Manchester International Festival, which runs next year from June 29 to July 16.
The opening of the festival will be marked by an immersive exhibition at Factory International by Japanese conceptual artist Yayoi Kusama, titled You, me and the balloons (June 29, 2023-August 28, 2023), showing three decades of his inflatable artwork. The cultural space will then officially open to the public in October with Boyle’s show, titled free your mind (October 18, 2023-November 5, 2023).
In an interview with The Journal of the Arts, Oscar-winning filmmaker Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionairewho was born in Radcliffe, Greater Manchester, said free your mind “will liberate the building”.
“We will offer the building to the people of Manchester,” Boyle said. “We will literally be giving the keys to the building to the people of Manchester.”
free your mind is inspired by the 1999 action movie The matrix, and will bring together a selection of artists with whom Boyle collaborated for the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games in London. In addition to Devlin’s creations, Boyle has collaborated with playwright Sabrina Mahfouz, choreographer Kenrick Sandy and composer Michael Asante. Together they will choose and direct hundreds of volunteer performers from across Manchester. The first 5,000 tickets to the show will also be available for £10 or less. “The show will belong to everyone,” Boyle says.
Contemporary dance performance is inspired, Boyle adds, by a lingering sense that modern reality is not what it seems. “I often have this feeling these days where I’m just like, ‘What the fuck is going on?’ When you look at politics and economics right now, and you look at all these geographical structures, you honestly think, “What the fuck is going on? The matrix the film addressed that. It was a warning. It was popular entertainment that responded to today’s warnings.”
Speaking of the design, Devlin says, “We’re going to respect every aspect of the space. Space is a huge gift for a designer. It’s an absolute invitation to culture, so my job is to respect that.
Factory International is named after the historic Factory Records label, founded by the late Tony Wilson and responsible for discovering Manchester bands such as Joy Division, New Order, Happy Mondays and James. Factory Records also ran Manchester’s Haçienda nightclub throughout the 1980s and became synonymous with the early “Madchester” movement.
Factory International will seek to continue this legacy. It is located close to the city’s Old Granada studios and on the banks of the River Irwell in the post-industrial area of St John’s. The center will span 144,000 square feet, with a roof 60 feet above the ground. The fully soundproofed storage space will have a standing capacity of 5,000 people and an adjoining theater will have a seating capacity of 1,600. The center will be used for art exhibitions, installations, opera, theater and raves.
The building’s design was overseen by Ellen van Loon, a partner at OMA, who told a press tour that she pitched the idea for “Opera Extra Extra Large” when the firm competed for the first time to design the space. Factory International will have “unique flexibility” for a cultural venue of its size, she added. The warehouse and the showroom will be separated by a removable wall, from floor to ceiling and fully soundproofed, which means that the showroom and the warehouse can be split in two, open as one or partially separated. The moveable wall also means that the performance hall stage can be deepened up to 35m.
The building’s heritage features from Manchester’s industrial past have been retained; the warm terracotta of the original Victorian railway vaults are juxtaposed against the smooth, rigid industrial concrete.
The development was spearheaded by Manchester City Council, which secured a £100 million grant from the UK government through Arts Council England, originally as part of Chancellor George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse scheme. But the opening of the show will come as a relief for some Mancunians; the cultural space has cost £76m more than its original budget and is opening four years later than planned, with the impact of Covid responsible for construction delays. Manchester City Council originally budgeted £20m in funding for the creation of the building, but spent over £50m during a period of sustained cuts to the council’s overall operating budget.
But Bev Craig, the leader of Manchester City Council, thinks it’s money well spent. At an event to announce Factory International’s scheme, she said the arts center would provide 1,500 local jobs and add £1.1billion to the city’s economy over the next decade . “Factory International was built by and for Mancunians, and will redefine Manchester’s offer on the world stage,” she said.
The event was also attended by Conservative MP for Pudsey Stuart Andrew, who was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on September 20, 2022. In a brief speech , Andrew said the current UK government was “intended to redraw the cultural map” and linked the creation of Factory International to the government’s ongoing upgrading program to bring more equal standards of living in different parts of the UK.
Ask if free your mind will be directly confronted with the political climate of the moment in the UK, Boyle said: “The show will be bigger than Liz Truss, to be quite frank. And the building deserves to be bigger than Liz Truss. Devlin added, “By the time the show opens, she’ll be gone anyway.”