Tony Wilson > Réification: Making the abstract, concrete - The Tony Wilson Experience
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The Tony Wilson Experience [Official website]
"TWENTY-four hours of 'binge thinking' and 'chain chatting' will honour the memory of Tony Wilson once again this year, the M.E.N. can reveal today, on what would have been his 59th birthday.
"After the success of last year's pilot, which brought together artistic luminaries with the bright young things of the future, organisers have set up a company which will stage the event for the next three years.
"'Reification, The Tony Wilson Experience Part 2' will take place on the weekend of June 20."
I was so excited about being selected for the Tony Wilson Experience, it felt great and I couldn't wait. At registration I was given an event pass; my name underneath the word 'Talent' – that gave me a buzz, gave me confidence, something I think Mr Wilson would have wanted. To break the ice, we had the task of finding our 'creative partner', a like minded individual. Mine was a lovely girl named Ruth. We both agreed that whatever happened, the next 24 hours would be interesting.
Steve Coogan and Peter Saville opened proceedings reminiscing about Tony, discussing their own careers and the identity of Mancunians. The artist Liam Spencer highlighted the lack of opportunities for young artists in the city – URBIS fully booked for the next two years and Cornerhouse disinterested in nurturing indigenous artistic talent. This needs to change.
We were encouraged to interrupt and ask the panel questions, but this was difficult. Why were the 'stars' elevated on a stage? It worked only as a barrier to interaction. Hearing about the working methods of Irvine Welsh was very interesting but there were too many anecdotes about Tony and at times it felt like we were experiencing the situationist bug bear: the spectacle. Thankfully, Jayne Casey shifted the focus away from Tony, toward Liverpool and how the port city lacked a Wilson-esque figure to market its own image.
As the hours progressed the audience, increasingly inebriated, began quite rightly to object, heckle and enquire. This was much more like it. This, I felt, is what Anthony H would have wanted – a bit of tongue-in-cheek anarchy exemplified by the Happy Mondays 'performance' at around 3:30am. Congratulations to John Robb for somehow maintaining order.
Undoubtedly, the highlight was the open-mic session hosted by 'Johnny' at 5 in the morning. This perfectly captured the ethos of Tony's legacy – to provide opportunities for creative people. Talented youngsters recited poetry (notably 'An Ode to Manchester'), and spoke with each another about the difficulties in getting 'the breaks'. Fittingly, this session was attended by both Oli and Izzy Wilson who, along with Johnny encouraged the tentative participants.
This could be the start of something really important not just for the creative industries but for the future development of Manchester – a forum for ideas, objections and an important political voice for the youth. Young people don’t care about national politics, but they care about this city and its future development. A major concern emerging over the 24 hours was that we have gained a shiny new city centre but what have we lost? Enjoy your lattes but be aware of the effect that globalisation is having on the city; the appeal of Manchester, its identity and uniqueness needs to be carefully preserved.
In conclusion, the key message was Tony, how to maintain his legacy, to keep providing opportunities for young people, and, Manchester - its past and future development. The event is a credit to Manchester and was a fitting tribute to Tony. Please don’t be cynical. Some good will definitely emerge.
Praxis (the Wilson interpretation): Do something because you have the urge to do it, invent the reasons later.
So it was that several hundred people gathered in a tent outside Manchester's Urbis on Saturday 21 June 2008 to talk at and to each other for twenty four hours in the name of Anthony H Wilson, the result of an urge of a number of his friends to provide an active, ongoing memorial.
The idea itself was first mooted by Peter Saville at a small gathering of Wilson's former collegues in the Autumn of 2007, and quickly gained momentum with the backing of Manchester City Council through its 'Marketing Manchester' initiative.
His inspiration came from attending the art critic Hans Ulrich Obrist's 24 Hour Interview Marathon, held at the Serpentine Gallery in London in 2006. The Saville interpretation: chuck some been-there-and-done-its in a big room for 24 hours with the wanna-be-there-and-do-its and see whether a happening could happen.
The Stephenson Bell designed techno-teepee that housed The Wilson Experience stood tall, despite being drenched by Saturday's continuous downpour and buffeted by Sunday's gales (it must be weather-cursed - its original incarnation as centrepiece of last year's Manchester International Festival was similarly accompanied by a whole week of Manchester rain).
Inside the participants were kept warm by the heat of the lights and cameras, occasional hot air from the speakers, and debate that became so heated, at times, that some attendees felt the need to douse each other down!
The happening appeared unlikely during the (Satur)day with some slots retreading ground already trodden in previous events, often reverting to the 'intimate conversation/five minute Q&A' format.
But following the evening's light entertainment - whereby Ratio did Rialto, Hewick did Hooky, Dasilva did as Dasilva does - something did happen: an event that gave reason to the initial urge, and hinted at the way forward.
An open-mic session between 5 and 7 am with a largely cobbled-together stage full of various Manchester hard workers - including, at times, Oli Wilson, Martin Moscrop, John Pennington, Mark Kennedy and MC'd by Johnny Jay - developed into a full-on, no-holes-barred, two-way conversation full of honest, genuine advice from equally honest, genuine people.
Elsewhere, from participant to organiser it was clear that the ultimate success of the event lay in the conversations that continued outside of the forum itself, with many of the 'Experienced' (it said so on their passes) making themselves fully available to the 'Talented' (it said so on their passes): in person, tangible and approachable.
The twenty four hours were completed with a plea by Peter Saville to the attending Manchester City Council leader Richard Leese for further support of the event, followed by a rousing rendition of the poem St. Anthony by Mike Garry.
Many thanks to Steve Aldcroft for the pics and James Kelly for the review.