Except for the day we arrived in the UK and the day we were at the Manchester Print Fair in early April, we hadn’t really visited Manchester despite being here for nine months. The funny thing is that throughout the spring and summer, I kept saying that we were going to make a trip there but for some reason, that didn’t materialize. This past week though, I finally planned a somewhat impromptu trip there — our first proper visit to Manchester! Lucas was going to be at school, and with the British kids’ summer vacation over, there wasn’t anything happening around here. Our trip was largely weather-dependent though, as I didn’t want to be walking the streets in the rain, and because the weather forecast changes quite quickly here, I was obsessively checking and re-checking it up until the morning of. It worked out in our favour, so off to Manchester we went!
The primary reason for the trip was for the Hans Ulrich Obrist exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery. It’d been running as part of the Manchester International Festival back in July and I’d wanted to see it, together with some other events in the festival, then but somehow life got in the way. Luckily for me though, the exhibition doesn’t close until almost the end of September. Despite the fact that the trip to the gallery was the main part of the visit, Raspberry and I took it easy and checked out a couple of other things. After all, one cannot spend eons in an art gallery with a five-year-old.
Our first stop was a photobooth. Back when we were at the print fair, we’d meant to get our sorta-annual photobooth picture done at an art supply store just down the street from where we were. Unfortunately due to time constraints, that didn’t happen so I was determined to get it done this time. According to this site that lists all the old photobooths worldwide, there are only seven in the UK, most being in London. So I think it’s incredibly lucky that one of them is close by (a relative term, of course) and naturally, it only makes sense that I take advantage of this. The photobooth is in an art supply store, so we browsed before we did the picture. I don’t know about Raspberry but I was in heaven there — there was so much cool stuff in addition to actual art supplies. There were actually two photobooths, a black-and-white and a colour one. The black-and-white one was just like the one at the Drake Hotel in Toronto, where we did all our other black-and-white photobooth pictures. I opted for that one while Raspberry wanted the colour one. I reasoned that all the pictures I take are in colour anyway, so it’d be nice to do something different. Plus, I like the look of the black-and-white strip better too. She didn’t really put up much of an argument so we did it. Inspired by a cover picture from an issue of East Village Inky, I wanted a picture of my bump. It didn’t quite turn out how I’d envisioned it but good enough for my liking. Actually, I like all my photobooth pictures, even the ones where I look weird and dorky.
On our way to the art supply store, we’d passed a store tucked under some scaffolding — The Real Camera Company — and of course, I just had to go in. While I’ve seen images of shelves upon shelves of old cameras, I’d never seen this in person until I walked into the store. Oh, how beautiful it was. I’m totally a sucker for old cameras and if I had some disposable income, I’d probably have more old cameras than I currently do. While I oohed and ahhed and marvelled, Raspberry busied herself looking at tripods. Evidently, things you can touch are way more interesting than those behind glass. I’d probably liked to have stayed longer in the store, but I saw little point in doing so since I knew I wasn’t going to get anything and besides, one little camera store doesn’t make Manchester!
Lunch was at Piccadilly Gardens — I was drawn to the small green space and Raspberry, the enormous fountain. I love that there’s a bit of green smack within an urban setting, even though it was still mostly concrete and it was quite busy and there were several smokers around. But it’s lunchtime, so what are you going to do? We sat by the fountain, next to a lady with four kids, three of whom were dressed in police outfits. Hmm. After having her sandwich, Raspberry ran around the space, to the fountain and to a statue of Queen Victoria covered in pigeon feces, while I sat and watched a little girl feed the pigeons with a bagful of bread. Clearly someone came prepared. Raspberry wanted to climb another statue after seeing some older kids do so, and I lifted her up but she got a little nervous. She loves climbing but doesn’t always have confidence in her physical abilities. Anyway, we headed to the visitor information centre after, as I needed to pick up some maps (by “some,” I mean a handful, for immediate use, backup and for later. Yes, I was being well-prepared) . I had had Lucas print me a map of the city centre, but it’s smaller and in black and white. It’s completely functional, but I do prefer the large colour versions I picked up instead. But those larger maps were of little help to me, as I walked in the complete opposite direction leaving the info centre, heading away from the art gallery instead of toward it. I wouldn’t be me in a new city if I didn’t get lost once. Ha.
But I found my bearings, and we got to see the Chinese Arch, just like I’d originally wanted to. We also popped into a Chinese grocery store. Liverpool only has about five Chinese stores, of which we’ve been to four and they’re just all right. I wanted to see if Manchester could do better and if the prices were cheaper too. Raspberry stroked an oyster mushroom outside the store, as she’s never seen one before. I think she liked how silky it was. Inside, she was surprised and a bit freaked that there were live lobsters and crabs on ice, and I had to reassure her that they wouldn’t hurt her. We browsed the aisles, seeing typical Chinese-store groceries, and stopped to look at some hell money. I’d explained hell money to her a few weeks ago and she was quite taken by the large denominations (a stack of one billion dollar notes, anyone?). As we were leaving, I spotted a small tube of durian paste and got pretty excited. Raspberry wanted to get some but I had no change on me, so maybe next time. I’m not sure if the durian paste is meant to be consumed as if (my mother mixes it with cream for crepe fillings) but hey, I eat Nutella out of a jar, so clearly I’m not overly concerned with the proper way to eat certain foods.
The art gallery is on the edge of Chinatown. I’d meant to walk more through Chinatown, but I figured that since the point of the trip was to see art, then that’s really what we ought to do. While I was enjoying the sights, I didn’t want to end up in a position where we’d have to rush through the exhibits. I think Raspberry quite enjoyed the gallery more than the galleries here, as there are a few interactive activities scattered throughout. They’re just tables and chairs set up with paper and pens and a prompt. We came upon one of them in the room for 17th century art (“old art,” as Raspberry calls it) while trying to find the room where the Obrist exhibition was. Ignoring the prompt to practise various signatures, Raspberry sat down to work on a portrait of me with messy hair while having breakfast. I quite like it actually and I might put it up on the wall.
We eventually found exactly what we were looking for and she had a great time with the interactive exhibits, especially the one that allowed you to draw anywhere in a room (except for the floors). I left her scribbling madly on the table, chairs and walls while I looked at the various exhibits. She also insisted on decorating not one but two shoeboxes to take home, so as you might imagine, our subsequent trek through the gallery was a little cumbersome. I’d told her both boxes were her responsibility, since she’d insisted on two, but by the end of it, I ended up carrying them since it’s quite the hassle for a kid who’s only a little over a metre tall to be toting around something rather large. I know I shouldn’t reneged, but I wanted her to enjoy the exhibits too.
The Obrist exhibition took up most of the top floor of the gallery and we both really enjoyed going through the various exhibits. Raspberry watched a video on diving twice and seemed rather inspired by an installation where the artist made a scene by rearranging various items of clothing. She also got to squeeze a lemon on a bicycle seat and climb a rather tall ladder. Interactive exhibits are clearly the way to go when it comes to a kid. She enjoyed the exhibition (and probably the gallery) so much that she asked if we could come back the next day. If only! On our way out, she came across some supplies you could borrow to view the exhibits — a magnifying glass, binoculars, coloured glasses, a hard hat (why?!). She seemed most interested in the binoculars, especially by the fact that she could clearly read the words on the door that was quite far away. It’s maybe the second or third time she’s used binoculars but I think the fact that she could read faraway words just blew her mind. I had a hard time dragging her away from the binoculars, but I did so on the promise that we could borrow a bag of this stuff on our next visit and that I’d look into getting her her own pair of binoculars.
We headed out after a quick browse through the gift shop, and a late-afternoon snack in the cloakroom. There was a small grassy patch by a war memorial down the street and Raspberry stopped to run around there for a bit. What can I say? The kid is drawn to grass, among other things like climbing urban structures. We headed down Oxford Road to the station, as we were closer to that one than to Piccadilly, which was the one we came in at. There was a McDonald’s along the street and for a moment, I was actually tempted to stop in and grab an apple pie, but I knew how awful I’d feel about having done so after so I nixed the idea. The station was closer than I’d expected (maps are deceptive that way) and smaller than I’d thought too.
We didn’t have to wait long for the train, but once we got on it was delayed about twenty-five minutes leaving the station. To add to that, at times it seemed to travel more slowly than need be. It turns out there was a door fault. I still had some of the food we brought, so that kept Raspberry occupied for a short while, as did her notebook in which she decided she wanted to write cursive, but her version of cursive which is just letters joined together. I tried to explain to her that cursive was about more than just joining one’s letters together but she’s stubborn and insisted that this was her way. Sigh. There was a lady sitting across from the aisle from us and she seemed quite amused by Raspberry. I overheard her talking to a friend and it sounded like she’s got an almost-five-year-old so maybe that’s why she seemed entertained. At one point, Raspberry held up her book to show her imaginary cat audience, but she faced this lady and was explaining her cursive and the lady and I just looked at each other, trying to stifle our laughter. With the train being delayed, Raspberry got bored quickly by the extended trip. She was able to entertain herself at times by telling me all kinds of things her imaginary baby and cats were getting up to and at times she was so animated that I had to remind her to keep her voice down, but it was obvious that she was bored.
Lucas was back when we got home and Raspberry wasted no time in telling him all about her day, it was that good. I really enjoyed our trip too. Usually when I’m on my own, I have a specific plan about where I want to go and exactly what I want to get done and I go at it full-force and end up absolutely exhausted at the end. But when you have a kid with you, obviously you need to tone the day down. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed our leisurely day (really, just unrushed and with much less of a need to go everywhere), one that had enough buffers built in for spontaneous activities like stopping to jump around in the grass or balancing on concrete beams. And I’m glad Raspberry enjoyed the gallery too. I’ve been taking her to galleries since she was a few weeks old, but I don’t think she’s ever expressed that much enthusiasm for any particular exhibit before until the Obrist one. Plus, I learnt she seems to prefer sculpture over paintings, but the contemporary kind though (that’s her taste when it comes to art too, but I think I had something to do with that). Having a more specific idea of her preferences in art now, I think I might be better able to tailor our gallery trips. I thoroughly enjoyed the Obrist show too. Sometimes I feel really harried when I’m looking at an exhibition and I end up not fully immersing myself into it and of course not getting much out of it. But being at this exhibition, I was able to get the peace of mind to enjoy the art as Raspberry was really into it too (often, she just ends up running all over the gallery space and being a little bored so I feel obligated to hurry up and get out of there). I think it’s the first exhibition in a long time that I’ve really enjoyed. For some reason, I haven’t quite been able to get into the art I’ve seen in Liverpool in the past several months. In fact, when the LOOK/13, the Liverpool Photography Festival was on in the spring, I’d made tentative plans to see many of the exhibits but never quite found to motivation to see them, save for a few. Perhaps I was just a little sore that I was missing CONTACT, Toronto’s huge photography festival held the same month, for the first time in eight years. Ha. But I’m glad that this exhibition has renewed my interest in art. For a moment, I was wondering if perhaps my interest had waned. Maybe I just wasn’t viewing the right kinds of art.
Anyway, Raspberry seems to really enjoy Manchester and wants to go back again soon (“next week?”). There’s still lots of places I’d like to visit there and an upcoming Science Festival so I’m sure we’ll be there again soon enough (actually, with all the cool stuff the science festival is holding, I wish we lived there so we could take it all in!). Once a month, kinda like our trips to Toronto, seems like a good frequency to visit Manchester, I think. Next time, we’ll probably go to the science museum, as they’ve got an exhibit about brains and all of us, Lucas included, really want to see that.Advertisements