I visited for the first time a number of places I'd long wanted to go to – Bradford, Saltaire, Holmfirth, Bournville, New Mills, Helsinki, Lyon and, my new favourite city, Stockholm. I went to Wythenshawe Park for the first time, and also visited Modernist Heroine Mitzi Cunliffe's epic, monumental public artwork on the Heaton Park pumping station (photos can't prepare you for its scale!). I plunged into the (ice cold) sea on the Kent coast over an unseasonally warm easter and swam in three lidos for the first time, ranging from warm – Hathersage lido in the Peak District on a rainy day (heated), to refreshing – the massive Tooting Bec lido, an escape from the London stickiness (unheated), to freezing – glamorous, art deco Saltdean lido in East Sussex (definitely unheated!).
The Shrieking Violet went a bit interview crazy in 2011, and I did my first ever Skype interview with Ancoats Peeps artist Dan Dubowitz, who is now based in Italy. Favourites included Carol Batton, David Medalla, Maurice Carlin, Dan Dubowitz and Anthony Hall. Overall, 2011 has been a particularly good year for film and art, and I dramatically increased my TV viewing in 2011 (it was a great year for documentaries!), but unfortunately I've not been listened to as much new music or been to anywhere near as many gigs as I should have done (I am never missing a Thermals gig again – not going to see them at the Roadhouse was one of my big regrets of 2011!).
I visited two biennials and a triennial in 2011. This year's Folkestone Triennial, which took over the town and opened up normally private places, was excellent, and I enjoyed some of the pavilions at Venice Biennale, particularly Mike Nelson's British pavilion. The Whitworth Art Gallery had strong shows, including Dark Matters, and Manchester International Festival had a refreshing and thought-provoking art programme, especially 11 Rooms at Manchester Art Gallery. I also enjoyed the Text Festival at Bury Art Gallery. It was good to see new galleries open despite the recession, and I visited the Turner Contemporary in Margate, Kent, as well as Firstsite in Colchester. The latter particularly impressed by the way it showed national and international artists alongside local artists and artefacts telling the story of Britain's Roman capital. In 2011, it felt like every topic I was interested in came back to the Festival of Britain – fortuitously, it turned out, as 2011 was the 60th anniversary of the Festival and was accompanied by TV documentaries and an exhibition of memorabilia at the Royal Festival Hall. However, my highlights were some of the smaller shows:
Dan Graham, Eastside Projects, Birmingham
This show brought together two of the areas for which Graham is best known – his pavilions and his music criticism, combining videos and models of his transparent two-way mirror pavilions and writing on public space with a video of Minor Threat in concert – one of the most unusual and noisiest, but most welcome, exhibits I've encountered in a gallery. Later in the year, I got to inside one of Graham's pavilions in the grounds of the Museum of Modern Art, Stockholm
Susie MacMurray, Islington Mill, Salford
A magical installation on the top floor of Islington Mill, MacMurray filled the loft, accessed via a rickety wooden staircase, with a mass of white feathers which change colour as the light floods in, surrounded by big windows looking out over Manchester and Salford.
Daniel Buren, Lisson Gallery, London
A small show, but one which transformed the gallery space with his trademark stripes, incorporating multi-coloured perspex that caught the light.
Las Kellies, Deaf Institute, Manchester
One of the funnest bands I've seen in ages, Argentinian group Las Kellies are a dance-punk-party band, complete with bright coloured floral dress, sunglasses and an ESG cover.
The Middle Ones, Ace Bushy Striptease, my house
A bank holiday Friday garden gig next to the canal, Birmingham's finest Ace Bushy Striptease blasted away any thoughts of the royal wedding – and attracted a pair of fighting geese – before indie-folk duo the Middle Ones calmed things down with an intimate acoustic set.
Lemonheads playing It's A Shame About Ray, Ritz, Manchester
One of my favourite bands playing one of my favourite ever albums in its entirety – plus some solo, more country songs from Evan Dando.
David Thomas Broughton, Sounds from the Other City, Salford
I wasn't planning to go and see David Thomas Broughton because I'd already seen him so many times, but slipped into Peel Hall during a quiet moment at Sounds from the other City and remembered that, live, David Thomas Broughton's extraordinary voice and stage presence is never less than captivating.
Steve Reich, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester
A classical concert that felt closer to a rock concert. Pieces from Reich's long career were performed by young musicians, with an appearance from the composer himself on 'Clapping Music'.
Flamin' Groovies, 229, London
Chaotic but brilliant, Californian power-pop band Flamin' Groovies staggered through a set of rock 'n' roll and surf influenced punk classics. Singer Chris Wilson, who was clinging onto the microphone stand throughout, only fell over once.
Pascal Nichols, Rogue Studios, Manchester
The highlight of the launch of Hiss Heads, Florian Fusco's zine about Manchester's analogue aficionados, was a solo set from Pascal of Part Wild Horses Mane on Both Sides in the project space at Rogue Studios in Crusader Mill in Ancoats.
Float Rivever – Float Riverer
I haven't been so excited about a Manchester band in years. A boyfriend-girlfriend duo comprising Nick from Beach Fuzz and Kate from Hotpants Romance (one of my favourite Manchester bands), they make great pop songs with a raw, rattling punk sound driven by Kate's Mo Tucker-esque drums, bringing to mind Vaselines, early Pavement and the one hit wonders of Nuggets boxset.
The I Love You Bridge, Radio 4
Park Hill's been in the news a lot this year, but by far the best take on Urban Splash's controversial 'renovation' was a short, thoughtful and near-heartbreaking Radio 4 documentary which went in search of the people behind the famous 'I love you will you marry me' graffiti on one the the building's raised walkways, recently highlighted in neon by the developers.
Change of Art, Radio 4
Artist Andrew Shoben came up with a great premise for a radio show – retiring out of date works of public art – that was funny, thought-provoking and at times frustrating but always highly listenable and entertaining.
There were several series I really, really enjoyed this year. The year got off to a good start with the return of my favourite TV show, Michael Portillo's Great British Railway Journeys (whatever you feel about the man's politics, he's an amiable TV presenter with infectious enthusiasm). Melvyn Bragg's Reel History of Britain was a good idea, but I found it disappointingly patchy (Bragg's wooden presenting style doesn't help, although programmes on early documentary films about slum housing, and the origins of the National Health Service, were good). Jamie's Dream School was an interesting, thought-provoking concept for prime time TV, but I felt the scale and complexity of the project was too great to be represented in the narrow slots of the TV format. Ceramics: A Fragile History, about the Stoke-on-Trent pottery industry, had its moments, and made me want to explore Stoke-on-Trent, but my TV highlights were a series on Pathe newsreels and Julia Bradbury's Canal Walks, which followed an excitable Bradbury as she tramped across the country along its networks of canals. The star of 2011's TV for me was Tom Dyckhoff, who fronted a short series called the Secret History of Buildings, a highly watchable and accessible look at how the built environment around us affects how we live, work and play. I would watch TV far more often if Tom Dyckhoff presented more of it!
There were also a few one-off programmes I loved:
Alice Roberts' Wild Swimming.
A dreamy look at watery outdoor pursuits around the country.
The Great Estate: The Rise & Fall of the Council House
A timely look at the origins of social housing and what went wrong.
The Golden Age of Canals
Everything about this programme about the campaigners who rescued our inland waterways from dereliction was perfect, from the excerpts of archive footage and range of interviewees to the music and the warm autumn colours it was filmed in.
The Wonder of Weeds.
An intelligent look at the history and spread of unwanted plants, taking in science, control and cultivation, with a welcome appearance from Richard Mabey.
My Dog Tulip
As a social realism devotee, whose feelings towards animals are ambivalent at best, an animated film about a dog is the last film I would expect to be my favourite of a year. My Dog Tulip is warm, funny and beautifully drawn, plus you get to see the best bits of owning a dog – companionship and exercise - without the drawbacks – smells, mess and bodily fluids.
Gillian Wearing's film is one of the most involving and absorbing, if at times uncomfortably personal and confessional, films I've seen.
Whilst Pedro Almodovar's The Skin I Live In was a slick, stylish, welcome return, Biutiful was the best Spanish film I saw this year, containing the grit and emotional impact lacking from Almodovar's film. Javier Badem's stunning performance almost made you feel sorry for his shady character.
Manchester Modernist Society screened this documentary about the vision, idealism and buildings of the generation of post-war architects, which took many of the architects, now in their eighties but still full of attitude, back to see their creations.
The red hooded jacket unsettled me a bit, reminding me of Don't Look Now, but Submarine is indie filmmaking at its best – despite their flaws, a film where you can empathise with the characters rather than wanting to hit them.
TALKS AND EVENTS
Manchester's galleries were immersed in all things Kurt Schwitters during the Merz Man festival, a Greater Manchester-wide celebration of Kurt Schwitters, which included talks, exhibitions and events related to the artist, his work and his influence (some more tenuously than others). Highlights included experimental dance teacher Valerie Preston-Dunlop's nostalgic walk up Oxford Road, reminiscing about her days studying under teacher Rudolf Laban, and subsequent talk at the Royal Northern College of Music, facilitated by Manchester Modernist Society.
Say Something Series
For the first half of 2011, Thursday evenings settled into a routine of diverse and inspiring talks at Islington Mill, by artists, curators and other people involved in the art world.
Alan Boyson bus tour
An inspired idea for an outing, Manchester Modernist Society and the north west branch of the Twentieth Century Society organised a coach trip visiting Greater Manchester public artworks from the 1960s and 1970s by Alan Boyson, from ceramic tiles on a shop in Denton to a mural outside a pub in Collyhurst to a listed mosaic on a wall in Salford, the only part of a demolished school still standing. My personal favourite was an etched perspex window in St Ann's church, which touched the vicar in a way he couldn't quite explain.
A View from the Bridge, The Royal Exchange
One of the best productions I've seen at the Royal Exchange, a powerful rendition of Arthur Miller's play with minutely observed 1930s period detail.
The Mill – City of Dreams, Drummond's Mill, Bradford
Freedom Studios' eerie, evocative promenade theatre performance round the empty textile mill, meeting the ghosts of its workers as production gradually shuts down.