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True Faith, Manchester Art Gallery, MIF17

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by David Keyworth (subscribe)
I’m a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester. My debut poetry pamphlet is available at
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A warehouse of 1970s dreams and the art they inspired
An exhibition about the legendary Salford bands Joy Division (1976 - 80) and New Order (1980 - present, formed after the death of singer, Ian Curtis), is Manchester Art Gallery's contribution to the city's international art festival (MIF17). The exhibition is free to enter.

True Faith is in part a trip down memory lane but its main purpose is to collate and pay tribute to the cultural and visual legacy of the bands.

The first room you enter is dark. This is probably in part to capture the atmosphere of groups whose songs included New Dawn Fades. The darkness is also necessitated by the inclusion of Martin Boyce's flourescent 'trees', which immediately provide relief from the gloom.

New Order, Joy Division, True Faith, Manchester International Festival (MIF), Manchester Art Gallery
True Faith, Photography Michael Pollard. Copyright Manchester City Galleries.

Scattered amongst the room are mannequins in hooded coats. Are they meant to be loitering in the rain, or waiting for someone or something to start? What they suggested to me was the boredom of a 1970's Sunday afternoon, where looking at the window displays of closed shops passed for an afternoon out in town.

The world which Joy Division and New Order came from is also powerfully evoked in Mark Leckey's 23 minute film, Dream English Kid 1964 – 1999 AD (2015). It combines the greyness and surrealism which combusted in the musical Molotov cocktails with which punk and new wave artists exploded into the British pop charts.

The montage of telegraph wires and tower blocks have a sinister quality but there is also humour in the projections of a technological future, depicted in childlike drawings. It is juxtaposed with grainy footage of a Joy Division concert. I noticed that many visitors stopped to watch the film rather than moving on to the next exhibits.

More vivid colours come from one of Peter Saville's cover designs - in this case for Power, Corruption and Lies (1983). Saville was inspired by 19th-century French painter Ignace-Henri-Théodore Fantin-Latour work called A Basket of Roses.

In a nice nod to the theme of artistic influence, the postcard of the painting which Peter Saville bought from the National Gallery is displayed to the side of the album cover.

I spotted Peter Saville at the crowded exhibition preview, and later, New Order singer Bernard Sumner. Sadly, I didn't find out what they thought of the exhibition.

Ignace-Henri-Théodore Fantin-Latour:, Peter Saville
By Henri Fantin-Latour - Henri Fantin-Latour - Roses, Irina, 2014-10-22 00:09, CC BY 2.0,

One wall of the next room in the exhibition is devoted to tour posters, album covers and handbills. Some, like Peter Saville and graphic designer Paul Barnes tour posters stand the test of time. Others are superior memorabilia and reminders of the way that fashions in graphics and design change.

Some of best material are the videos, directed by such notable names as film-maker Jonathan Demme (director of The Silence of the Lambs) and another Oscar winning director - Kathryn Bigelow, (director of The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty).

True Faith
- the 1987 hit which inspired the exhibition's title - is represented in a video directed and choreographed by Philippe Découflé. As long as you don't take it too seriously, it is great fun to watch - the dancers look like they've escaped from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Anton Corbijn's video for Atmosphere (1988), when the Joy Division song was re-released, eight years after the death by suicide of singer Ian Curtis. It features hooded figures carrying a giant portrait of Ian Curtis (linking back to the exhibition's mannequins) on a beach and for me poignantly expresses the personal and artistic loss which his band mates and most devoted fans must carry with them, still.

New Order, Joy Division, True Faith, Manchester International Festival (MIF), Manchester Art Gallery
True Faith, Photograph by Michael Pollard. Copyright Manchester City Galleries.

There are black and white photos of Joy Division rehearsing in a disused building, which post-industrial, pre-renaissance Manchester was full of. However, if you're most interested in the history of the bands and how the music was made, you're best heading to Stockport Museum for its excellent exhibition about Strawberry Studios.

Strawberry Studios I am in Love

Is it worth seeing True Faith if you're not a fan of Joy Division, New Order, or both? Maybe not, but beyond its direct associations with the bands, its most resonant aspect is the way the artists involved evoke the atmosphere of the world which Joy Division/New Order came from. It was a world which they undoubtedly played a part in changing or at least providing an enduring soundtrack to - one with introspective lyrics and a beat you can dance to.

Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, expressed it well, during his speech at the preview, where he spoke of 'a message of change that has gone across the world but is very much rooted here'.

True Faith is curated by Matthew Higgs, Director/Chief Curator of White Columns, NY, author and film-­maker Jon Savage, and archivist Johan Kugelberg. It runs until 3 September.

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Why? Art and archives celebrate Joy Division and New Order
When: Friday 30 June 2017–Sunday 3 September 2017
Phone: 0161 235 8888
Where: Manchester Art Gallery
Cost: Free
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