In Haunt

Be immersed in an enchanting water-bourne journey through music, film, dance and photography, as a brand new audio-visual experience comes to Salford’s White Hotel from the 3-10 June 2021: Dark Days, Luminous Nights. A unique live installation-meets-exhibition for this age of uncertainty… and a slice of the future, layered with the power of the past.  

This is a collaborative project of unique calibre, bringing together a diversity of artists unafraid to delve into the urban darkness, following the journey of the River Irk and revealing astonishing insights in the process. Dark Days, Luminous Nights has been commissioned and produced by Manchester Collective, and marks artist Simon Buckley’s striking directorial debut – delving into urban decay, staring straight into the city’s soul.

At the heart of this profound piece is a newly created 30-minute film, scripted and directed by Simon, featuring the subversive signature movement style of the artist Blackhaine, alongside Simon’s striking photography. All recorded in Manchester and Salford at the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, this is a hard-hitting human experience pummelling the past, present and future together, under the influence of ever-occurring urban change.  

By Simon Buckley

Underpinning this unique exploration is an impressive score consisting of Béla Bartók’s Divertimento, Wojciech Kilar’s Orawa and The Centre is Everywhere by Edmund Finnis. Newly recorded by Manchester Collective, this music adds to the notable immersive feel, and means that when viewers come to experience the piece at The White Hotel, they will be plunged into a truly multi-media spectacular. Dark Days, Luminous Nights has been designed in line with the government’s Covid-19 guidelines for socially-distanced indoor events, and will be a 60-minute ticketed experience, with showings starting from 2.30pm to 9.30pm each day on the dates 3-10 June 2021 (more information, FAQs and tickets online here).

Rakhi Singh, Manchester Collective co-founder and Music Director, reflected:

“In a time when we can’t physically be together, we wanted to shape an experience that contains humanity and creates space for reflection. Dark Days, Luminous Nights is the story of what we’ve all been going through, not as individuals but as a collective experience.

“When we met Simon Buckley, we discovered that he has a similar connection with cities that we have with music – looking for spaces that are passed by, in the darkness and ignored. He finds the beauty and personality in them, as well as the hidden stories. His work seamlessly blends the contrasts of the music with elements of dance, photography and film into a complete experience.

“Most of all, this is a project about Manchester. It’s about our journey as individuals – as musicians, producers, directors, photographers… We are all part of these bricks and mortar, and it is our story to tell.”

This is an innovative piece of work aiming to peel back the layers of a place we think we know, and seeks to ask a question more pertinent than ever: ‘what have we lost?’.  In this age of sky-scraping city apartments, towering complexes and urban evolution, new development looms over former burial-grounds, workhouses, water-courses. And to what cost? The film follows the journey of four lone figures as they make their way through this evolving urban hinterland, as Simon considers:

By Simon Buckley

“My work in Dark Days, Luminous Nights stems from a project I began five years ago called Not Quite Light (NQL), in which I set out to reacquaint myself with the city I’ve known and lived in for most of my life, at a time of huge transition both for myself and for Manchester. I was interested in using dawn as a metaphor for change and this project has allowed me to translate my vision into a film – through themes of regeneration, displacement and isolation.

“The NQL project was initially conceived in Angel Meadow, one of the locations for this new work, and so provides an opportunity to further examine the changes which are soon to arrive in this ancient area of the city of Manchester. The film, along with the photographs on display, could be seen as fragments of a disquieting dream, which sits in reality.”

Here at Haunt Manchester, we decided to further interview long-term network member and former collaborator Simon Buckley about his directorial debut in Dark Days, Luminous Nights. He is after all no stranger to exploring urban space in the after-hours through his Not Quite Light project, furthered through his innovative Not Quite Light Festival (due to recommence in March 2021). 2020 has also been a busy year for Simon, who has been working with Macclesfield-based Barnaby Festival, and took the dramatic ‘Rainstorm’ photograph which achieved rapid acclaim.

He has previously collaborated with Haunt on a photo essay (inspired by LoneLady’s DEMON exhibition), talked us about dawn photography and chaired a Hauntology panel exploring the hidden wonders of Manchester back in 2019. ​

Hello Simon! How did this intriguing collaboration come about?

“It began with a phone call from Adam Szabo, the CEO of the Manchester Collective. I think we'd chatted previously about doing something for my Not Quite Light Festival, and so he was obviously aware of my work. He roughly outlined what he had in mind, sent over the music they were going to use, and it went from there. I conceived an idea, based on their ethos for performing work in unusual spaces, and Adam was hugely supportive, taking the risk to let me get on with the ideas. He's really great to work with.”

By Simon Buckley

Last time we spoke to you was during the Summer of 2020 – those long locked-down days of surreal sunshine which saw people exploring their localities in new ways. Now the shorter days change that again. The title of ‘Dark Days, Luminous Nights’ points at our relationship with time and the possibilities of the night. Has your relationship with the night in particular changed over the course of the pandemic... we're usually used to seeing you at dawn, with Not Quite Light!

“It's an interesting question, and certainly this year I've felt as if the winter dark has a greater density than normal. The weight of the night seems to rest heavily upon the soul at the moment. I spent a lot of the first lockdown walking, up to 10 miles a day, exploring areas of the city I'd not been to for a while, really reconnecting with spaces I'd lost touch with. So, I didn't want this to end, purely because it was dark. And in some ways, there is a greater reward to walking through the darkness. The filtering out of daytime detritus causes me to more deeply connect with the city’s ghosts, to feel my feet wade through the silt of time. In some ways it has felt like entering the artwork of a child... where they've swirled glue, oil and poster paint together.

“I've done a lot more of this project at night than I was expecting. I have been out at dawn quite a few times, but first light is so late now I'm simply part of rush hour. Working late into the evening has brought the solitude I crave when working. I'm an observer and an outsider when photographing, and I relish chance encounters with people, rather than feeling as if meeting others is unavoidable. I've been out into the early hours at times, confronting my fears when in deserted, derelict spaces. And this I think has elevated the photographs, evolved the ideas within them. If I could never sleep, I'd be happy.”

By Simon Buckley

Whilst we are on the subject of changing relationships – do you think the pandemic has altered the way we interact with urban space? And how might this influence the way people participate in ‘Dark Days, Luminous Nights’?

“It's been an extraordinary year, and it's perhaps still too soon to fully know the consequences of this pandemic in terms of how behaviours will change. It was fascinating to witness people responding to the city centre in Spring and early Summer, when the streets were barren, devoid of reason for their existence. At the time it clearly caused the citizens to regard their city differently. As to how much that will linger in their hearts and mind, I don't know.

“On a personal basis, I pushed deep into the suburbs walking away from the city centre and to places such as Newton Heath, Gorton or Moston. I went to the edges of Salford again too. What occurred to me was how I'd left traces of my life all over the place. It reminded me of all the connections I had with the two cities, and how deeply these places are embedded within me. There were traces of my life everywhere. From Crumpsall to Boothstown!

“And so, with regard to ‘Dark Days, Luminous Nights’ I hope that people feel as if they are on a slightly magical journey, not quite sure of where they are. It's a request to consider the place in which exist as a transitional space, never fixed, with layers of silt forming due to our own lives laying down traces within the streets and buildings. The pictures, I feel, are like fragments of dreams that sit within reality. And this notion has come to me because of the pandemic, and the surreal effect it has had on our cities.”

By Simon Buckley

What has been the biggest challenge of this collaboration? And the most rewarding thing?

​“It's not easy to pinpoint 'best' or 'most'. It has been rewarding to have someone place their faith in you. I'd never written or directed a film before, and so it was a risk for Adam to commit to this, but he did, and I'm deeply appreciative of that.

“And making a film, even if it was 'silent' and just 30 minutes long, was obviously a huge challenge. We had just three nights to shoot it, on a very tight budget and I was totally out of my comfort zone. I had to read books on screenplays, and watch a lot of YouTube videos! However, it was also a profoundly rewarding experience, and I got to collaborate with some great people. I find photography sometimes constricting, and so I've loved being able to express ideas differently.

“It was also a challenge to evolve the way I take pictures, not simply repeating the Not Quite Light work of the past few years. Over the past 12 months I've been going into Macclesfield Forest at full moon for another project (Our Future is Ancient, in collaboration with Barnaby Festival), and this has sometimes informed the way I've worked. There is one picture in particular I'm pleased with, that I couldn't have seen without the experience of photographing in the forest in the dark.

“I guess the biggest challenge is always with yourself, fighting self-doubt, ego and the reality of limitation.”

By Simon Buckley

Were there any settings/locations you found yourself drawn to in particular? I notice The White Hotel is a key venue... 

“The White Hotel is an amazing space, and the area around there is profoundly intriguing. It's one of the city's lost spaces, in many ways. Lost in transition, as it were...It's never easy to photograph around there as I'm often invading moments I'm not welcome to witness, shall we say...

“Working along the Irk Valley has absolutely captivated me though. I've been passing through this area since the late 1980s, and it has always fascinated me. It's an astonishing place. The peculiar scent of that secluded river sets the atmosphere, and the strange, echoing acoustics further add to the sense that you've entered a bizarre zone that the city doesn't quote know how to deal with. Every time I visited something odd happened. It feels as if things are falling from the sky there, though time portals.

“Obviously Angel Meadow holds a significant place in my heart, as it's where NQL was conceived. The valley is a place of ghosts, and you can feel these spirits whirling around and through you.”

By Simon Buckley
According to the description, 'this intoxicating work looks deep into the soul of a city and asks: what have we lost?'. So would you say this a work with hauntological links? And, in a strange way, can looking at what we've lost allow us to better understand what we can go on to gain?

“I guess many of us suggest that unless we understand something of our past, how can we effectively engage with our present and future. Manchester is not a sentimental city, it’s always been driven by the dynamics of capitalism, and so it often fails to truly engage with its history in a way which diverts us onto new paths. I fear we are simply repeating the mistakes of the industrial period in terms of our regeneration policies, and the Irk Valley is at the core of Manchester's transition, from its bucolic self, through to today's confused place, with the blackened wodge of its industrial self infecting the in-between times.”

By Emily Oldfield

All photographs by Simon Buckley

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