Design in the mix in Manchester International Festival

A walk-through haunted house, an intimate chamber-music hall and a pyramid structure made of light have been unveiled as part of the line-up for this year’s £10m Manchester International Festival.

Although this year’s programme features design stars including architect Zaha Hadid and lighting specialist Paul Normandale – and the festival has the creative support of graphic design legend Peter Saville and curator Hans Ulrich Obrist – design has not been a conscious part of the programme mix, according to festival director Alex Poots.

‘Our interest in design comes from artists whose work touches on that area. That, by default, makes us interested [in design],’ Poots says, in relation to the artist selection criteria. ‘We’re very much about exploring who is an interesting artist at the top of their game – be it Kanye West or Peter Saville. I have got an eye on ending up with a wider range of areas of culture, but we’re not about starting with sections that need to be filled up,’ he adds.

Productions, as well as their promotional graphics, have been conceived by the roll-call of artists that make up this year’s bill. ‘The artist is king. Even the look for each production starts with the artist. For example, with It Felt Like a Kiss, [BBC film-maker Adam] Curtis found an old 1950s image and we went from there,’ says Poots.

Manchester consultancy Music, which has produced the marketing collateral for the event and pulled together the promotional graphics for individual productions, is ensuring coherence across the MIF brand.

Music creative director David Simpson says, ‘It’s not a commercial way of working and that’s the beauty of it. Each show has its own life beyond anything that any of us does. What we’re doing is policing the brand and making sure it does its job. It could be easy for the festival to become invisible and get lost in other stuff going on.’

Saville, creative director for the city of Manchester, has created the identity for this year’s festival with German artist Gustav Metzger. The latter’s Flailing Trees project heavily inspires the branding, with a ghostly tree silhouette forming the background for typographer Paul Barnes’ letterpress type.

Performance art and theatre design collective Punchdrunk, which has worked on productions including The Masque of the Red Death, is currently leading a ‘huge design brief’ for It Felt Like a Kiss, a walk-through haunted house that tells the story of America’s rise and fall through the golden age of pop and beyond, according to Poots.

The project, which is being led by film-maker Curtis, will see Punchdrunk transform a disused building into a production across five floors, blending music with documentary footage.

Another of the design highlights, says Poots, is Hadid’s design (pictured) for an intimate chamber-music space to be installed at the Manchester Art Gallery throughout the festival. The ‘sonically and visually perfect environment’ will host soloists who will perform the work of Bach to a 150-strong audience.

Lighting designer and producer Normandale is working with Mercury Music Prize-winning band Antony and the Johnsons to transform the Manchester Camerata, with a ‘pyramid structural light environment in which the show will exist’.

Manchester international festival

• The Manchester International Festival runs from 2-19 July

• For further details, visit

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