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What do piss building, super rats and brewing have in common? They’re all part of A Drunk Pandemic, sell-out MIF show curated by Contact Young Curators and international art collective Chim↑Pom. We caught up with two of the curators, Grainne Flynn and Wez Thistlethwaite.

You’ve been selected as a young curator – It’s a nice title, but what does it mean? What is the role of a curator?

GF Before this project I had never heard of the ‘curator’ role. A curator’s job is to investigate what the communities of their city would be interested in seeing. For us that meant to finding artists who have the power to connect with Manchester in a different way. I seriously love being a curator!

WT It’s absolutely mad that we were able to pick any artist in the world. I really enjoyed thinking about the alchemy between artists, the festival and how it fits into the MIF programme!

What made you want to get involved in the project?

GF I remember finding out that I was selected to be a Contact Young Curator – I can still feel the excitement now! The unknown aspect of the project was what attracted me. I had such a love for Contact and wanted to get involved as much as possible, and in terms MIF, I had only basic knowledge. I thought the collaboration of both organisations would be different from anything I’d been involved in before, so I went for it.

You were given the freedom to pick anyone in the world, why ChimPom?

GF Wow, big question! We wanted to pick an artist that MIF and Contact had never worked with before but also had an interesting energy.

WT The artist we picked had to get Manchester and understand the Mancunian mind-set. Chim↑Pom are interested in the underdogs and outsiders of society. They thrive on exposing the underground and hidden elements of the urban environment. Manchester has always been a city of underdogs and we have so much hidden history both physically and metaphorically – Chim↑pom just fit what we were after so well!

A Drunk Pandemic

Drop by Pub Pandemic and you’ll see the friendly face of Ryuta Ushiro © Rob Connor

Why the Cholera Epidemic?

GF Chim↑Pom base a lot of their work around the infrastructure of cities – the filthier, darker side of society which people shy away from. They were really interested in how Manchester has, essentially, been built on top of its people. The rapid development of Manchester during the Industrial Revolution massively impacted the spread of disease. This was the Cholera Epidemic and Walker’s Croft, where A Drunk Pandemic is based, is one of the many mass graves under Manchester.

This project is a memorial, a reflection and also an education about our history – remembering the dead who were affected by the poor infrastructure of the city.

ChimPom are a wild bunch, what’s the craziest ideas they’ve brought to the table?

GF It has to be ‘Piss Building’. A building created as a memorial for the people who were buried in this mass grave site. As hinted in the name, the building is created from the urine of the audience. At the end of the tours you can donate your urine in our pub (Pub Pandemic) and then Chim↑pom will mix it with cement to create a building of piss bricks.  It links to the Japanese memorialising of death and the afterlife; they go to the river Sanzu to pile rocks on top of one another. It’s believed to help their dead relatives pass over to the afterlife. I think it’s strangely beautiful!

A Drunk Pandemic

Masa and Motomu sat in Piss Building section, resting after a hard days graft © Rob Connor

What challenges did MIF and Contact present to you, and how autonomous was the process?

GF The process was massively autonomous. We were advised to meet up in between official meetings with MIF and Contact so as a team we met up every Sunday for about an hour to discuss artists we’d found or were interested in. That was a challenge because you had to navigate the project for yourself and your team’s interests which could be very different. I think this autonomy was also the scariest and most exciting part, because we had no idea if we were following the right process of curating this project.

WT By taking the stabiliser off, it became a project that we owned and could lead. This created a bar of responsibility to jump over and if we had been in a more heavily controlled environment then we wouldn’t have developed artistically and professionally as much as we have.

As a collective, you’ve worked hard and done an amazing thing and the proof is in the pudding – it’s a sell-out!  How does that feel?

GF Honestly, I’m so glad that people enjoy Chim↑pom’s work as much as we do. It’s surreal seeing this brewery and tour in the tunnels. We’ve been talking about this for around a year and to see it come to life is an unbelievable feeling.

WT It’s pretty amazing. I think it sold so fast because we managed to get that real connection to Manchester and the people that live in and around here! It’s been a show that’s really about the people and not the cultural elite. It’s amazing to see a lot of sons and dads coming down, which I don’t often see in audiences. I’ve never really seen this kind of conceptual art be so accessible and fun. I think that’s a real credit to the piece!

Its great seeing people, who don’t typically engage with visual art, donate their piss to an exhibition and really get it. I’d love to continue to curate more in the future and properly open the arts to everyone.

Super Rat

Chim↑pom’s Super Rat hanging out in a Manchester drain. © Rob Connor


Fri 5 Jul – Sun 21 Jul 2019

Created by Chim↑Pom. Curated by Contact Young Curators.
Commissioned and produced by Manchester International Festival and Contact.

Find out more.