SICK!, a festival in Manchester starting tonight, explores the medical, mental and social challenges of life and death. Performance artist Bryony Kimmings could not be more of a giddy kipper about it – and rightly so.
Action Hero’s Slaptalk is just one of the many exciting shows at SICK!
When the programme of events for the amazing SICK! Festival dropped into my inbox, I got excited. I got double-excited when I saw it was ALL happening in Manchester, my northern spiritual home and site of a lot of my favourite gig memories over the years. I got triple-excited when I saw so many of my favourite superstar contemporary artists and companies were involved. I just love it when science and medicine smashes against art. But goddammit I am in Australia until the end of April so you lot have to go for me, so I can live vicariously through your nerd hearts.
The first thing I noticed as I made a cup of tea and perved over the mailer was that ALL events are accessible. BOSH. That is the sort of festival I can get down with. I don’t really understand why the world is not accessible yet, but the sad truth is it isn’t and it is wonderful when the arts just get it right without boasting about it. Terrible when they don’t. Learn your lesson Edinburgh Fringe Festival and learn it quickly.
SICK! is the brainchild of Helen Medland and Tim Harrison who I know from my touring days at the Basement in Brighton (where another leg of this festival takes place). It was launched in 2013 as the first festival of its kind in the UK dedicated to exploring the medical, mental and social challenges of life and death and how we survive them (or don’t). The festival bills itself as a reflection on those experiences that are most personal to us, but which somehow connect us all as individuals with bodies, minds and lives that sometimes go wrong.
What’s not to LOVE!?
Dead Centre’s Lippy. Photograph by Jeremy Abrahams
Well, sometimes with this kind of niche festival, the answer is: a lot.
The two main problems for me when art meets medicine are:
Number 1: Sickness/health and wellbeing is HARD to get ‘right’ in art; it can often result in a navel-gazing work that doesn’t consider its audience OR a big cry fest that allows us to purge our emotions but not necessarily move forward as humans in anyway enlightened or changed – and, for me, that is what art is for.
Number 2: Most people aren’t into contemporary performance or science/medicine let alone the spaces where these two things smash together. This often means a load of works that genuinely speak volumes about humanity are seen by five people with beards.
So I am pleased to see SICK nailing it, by avoiding these pitfalls. The good thing about this festival is that the talks programme is so decent and the write-ups and trailers for each of the shows so clear that it makes even the more obscure work feel accessible and open. SICK! has not bogged itself down in “captivatingly winsome and ethereally clever” quotes or heavy academic medical text. It is asking big questions straight down the barrel, wrangling with BIG subjects, like rape, like cancer, like mental illness, but doing so plainly. That for me is very rare, yet so very important.
The next good thing is that the venues are very spread out and the tickets are cheap and often free. Hell yeah, Manchester! There are encounters, talks, 1-2-1 experiences; there are new works, established companies with established works, and a lot of very – very – different viewpoints. There is nothing better than seeing a sickness or experience of sickness that you hold dear tackled by an artist from a completely different place and perspective; it’s cathartic and helps us learn.
Brian Lobel’s Sex, Cancer and Cocktails. Illustration by James Barker
My recommended shows are:
Brian Lobel’s Sex, Cancer and Cocktails (US/UK)
Pieter Ampe’s 1-2-1 So You Can Feel (Belgium)
Laughing Hole by La Ribot (Spain)
Slaptalk by Action Hero (Bristol)
Zachary Oberzan’s Tell Me Love Is Real (USA)
Lippy is meant to be amazing… as is the new Ridiculusmus show… I could go on and on.
Also, take a look at the WHOLE talks programme and eat a roast dinner sandwich (yes, this
Now fly my pretties, go and find out all about being sick. Think about death. Think about humanity. Think about the wonders of modern science and the extraordinary strength found within the human spirit and report back to me. Then go get smashed down Canal Street and dance for me – I miss the UK a lot.
Performance Artist. Activist. Writer. Feminist. Comedian. Auntie. Person. Currently: pop star for tweens, collector of pubes and sayer of sooths.