In Haunt

It was a truly historic occasion celebrating Manchester’s Gothic credentials on the world stage, as The International Gothic Association – a worldwide body for academics, artists and performers interested in Gothic culture– came to the city for its 14th conference from the 31st July – 3rd August.

2018 marks the first time this prestigious event has been held in Manchester, and follows on from the conference being hosted in cities across the world including Cholula in Mexico and Vancouver in Canada. The conference took place in and around Manchester Metropolitan University, with this institution being home to The Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies.

2018’s conference took the theme of ‘Gothic Hybridities’ with a focus on ‘Interdisciplinary, Multimodal and Transhistorical Approaches’ in particular. The programme consisted of a number of panel events during the day, allowing for the academics to present their work, as well a range of events in the evenings – many being part of The Manchester Gothic Festival 2018, running this year from 1st -5th August so to co-incite with the conference.

Over 300 delegates attended the conference, registering from noon onwards on Tuesday 31st July. Ever-innovative and engaging, there was then the choice of an IGA Postgraduate Researchers Board Games Social at the Conference Suite within Manchester Met Students’ Union Building, followed by a beautiful opening event for the IGA at the historic Manchester Art Gallery in the evening.

The opening event proved highly popular, with the first floor galleries packed with attendees, as well as a range of Gothic Manchester inspired music from the Manchester String Quartet.

An opening address was given from the Lord Mayor of Manchester June Hitchen, as well as a speech from Professor Malcolm Press, Vice-Chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University. The Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies’ Linnie Blake also spoke, emphasizing the importance of the event in Manchester and range of opportunities people could enjoy in the city. With the stunning painting of ‘The Sirens and Ulysses’ by William Etty in the background of the stage – capturing a key moment of tension in Homer’s Odyssey – this gave an additional dramatic flair to proceedings.

Each IGA Conference typically spans the course of a number of days, with delegates staying in and around the host city to get involved with scheduled academic activity across the duration. This also applied to Manchester. Wednesday featured a number of academic panels and presentations, many drawing on the fact that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – a novel often seen as a significant source of Gothic inspiration – turns 200 in 2018.

Panels included the likes of ‘Frankenstein’s European Sources’ chaired by Dale Townsend, ‘Rethinking the Early Gothic’ chaired by Holly Hirst and even increasingly innovative and unusual options like ‘Gothic Dolls’ with Sandra Mills as chair and ‘Digital ‘Ghosts’’ chaired by Xavier Aldana Reyes.

Each panel was set to consist of three twenty-minute presentations, allowing delegates to deliver research with a themed connection, along with the opportunity for fellow delegate questions – thus creating a lively knowledge exchange.

Across the conference from Wednesday to Friday, there were over 80 different presentation topics, with just some examples of research including ‘Vampire-Werewolf Hybrids in Post-Millennial Gothic Fiction and Film’ by Carys Crossen from the city’s own University of Manchester and ‘EcoGothic and The Globalised Garden: Jamaica Kincaid’s Tropical Gothic’ from Eleanor Byrne of Manchester Metropolitan University.

From the early to the contemporary Gothic, classical to tropical, Scottish to Canadian – this was a conference opening up discussion of the genre in increasingly innovative ways. Another key aspect of engagement was the number of unique events with a Gothic theme taking place around the city, highlighting why Manchester’s Gothic heritage is deserving of recognition.

A key opening event of The Gothic Manchester Festival 2018 – which was similarly running with theme of ‘Gothic Hybridities’ - was ‘Scoring Fear: An Evening of Classical Music and Gothic Horror Film Scores’ from the BBC Philharmonic at Stoller Hall, with a number of IGA Delegates in attendance. The concert was also recorded for BBC Radio 3, and attendees enjoyed a range of drinks and canapes, before the event was presented by Dr Matthew Sweet, with Dr Matthew Foley of Manchester Metropolitan University ‘in conversation’ with him during the performance.

Other events popular with IGA delegates during the course of the conference included a Live Action Role Play event and ‘Migrations: A Special Exhibition from Miskatonic University’ based in Manchester Metropolitan University’s Special Collections.

One of the most visually striking events was the revelation of an impressive Frankenstein cake from Conjurer’s Kitchen, part of the ‘In Search of Mary Shelley: The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein’ event. This is the title of a book by Fiona Sampson, who read from her work at the event and also celebrated Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ turning 200 years old.

The Conference was celebrated and closed with an IGA Annual General Meeting in the afternoon of Friday 3rd August, followed by an exclusive conference dinner at the Hilton Hotel on Deansgate, where diners were accompanied by the music of the Manchester String Quartet.

Delegates were also encouraged to get involved with the range of ongoing festival activities including ‘GOTHIKA: A Gothic Vogue and Drag Extravaganza Club Night’ at The Great Northern Warehouse on the evening of Friday 3rd. Some attendees also stayed on for the weekend events which included a Frankenweenie Black and White Party, a ‘Twisted Tales of Hybridity’ author event and a Gothic Manchester Walking Tour with Anne Beswick on Saturday.

The next IGA Conference is due to be held the U.S. near Chicago, though considering the scale of events and arrangements made for the 2018 edition in Manchester, it is evident that this is a city that makes an impression.

- By Emily Oldfield

Photo credit with thanks to Alannis Barnes

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