In Haunt

‘Dark Days, Luminous Nights’, The White Hotel, Salford
Saturday June 5th, 2021
Review by Matt Foley

Dark Days Luminous Nights at The White Hotel Salford - Photo by Drew Forsyth  Manchester CollectiveDark Days Luminous Nights at The White Hotel Salford. Photo by Drew Forsyth Manchester Collective

It’s a hot Saturday in June and Salford has an unusually continental feel. Off the beaten track, on Dickinson Street, sits The White Hotel, which is one of the most atmospheric venues in the city. Today, it seems more than a hosting space; it’s a portal to another place and time. The audio-visual experience that awaits inside is ‘Dark Days, Luminous Nights’, which has been curated and produced by Manchester Collective -- one of the region’s most exciting ensembles and arts organisations. Stepping across the threshold of the venue and inside, you find yourself reminded of winter nights that begin to ghost this sunny June day -- the dark, pubby atmosphere; the uncanny photographs of the urban environment around the River Irk; the winter jackets hugging the actors on film. The music, too, creates an atmosphere that intrigues. There’s a touch of magic to everything.

The Collective’s ensemble provide the sometimes tense, sometimes reflective musical atmosphere of the exhibition spaces and the showpiece film. The Collective’s renditions of these classical pieces (including work by Glass and Kilar) were recorded at the Stoller Hall, and there’s something particularly striking about that city-centre venue’s booming acoustics being funnelled through the speakers of an even more intimate space in Salford. The film of ‘Dark Days, Luminous Nights’ is directed by artist Simon Buckley (of Not Quite Light renown) and features, as its focal point, the mesmerising dance and movements of Blackhaine.

Projection at Dark Days Luminous Nights at The White Hotel Salford - Photo by Drew Forsyth  Manchester CollectiveDark Days Luminous Nights at The White Hotel Salford. Photo by Drew Forsyth Manchester Collective

This audio-visual experience weaves together music, photography, and film; it reimagines and explores representations of the River Irk at night, particularly the spaces of transition and regeneration around it in the Green Quarter, Collyhurst, and the river’s (for Buckley, highly symbolic) confluence with the Irwell. The ghostliness of Angel Meadow -- long an inspiration for Buckley -- haunts the exhibition from the outset.

The experience is spread across two rooms -- the first contains some moving words of reflection by Simon Buckley himself. For Buckley, the Irk Valley ‘tells the story of Manchester’ and it’s a place of spiritual significance. As we discover in room 2, that the natural banks of the Irwell and Irk seem inaccessible to the artist – these are potentially spaces of inspiration, promising communion with the past -- suggests that the city has lost something over time that could be resuscitated through art. 

Buckley’s photographs bring out a beauty in the streets around the river; his art makes the nights luminous and captures the half-light before dawn. There is both beauty and frustration; themes that are brought to the fore, too, by Blackhaine’s character in Buckley’s film. Blackhaine is a striking, mesmerising figure, and he moves through the streets like a paradigm of tortured masculinity. There is terrible beauty here, and struggle -- perhaps the very struggle for a place’s identity.   

Screen at Dark Days Luminous Nights at The White Hotel Salford - Photo by Drew Forsyth  Manchester CollectiveDark Days Luminous Nights at The White Hotel Salford. Photo by Drew Forsyth Manchester Collective

Buckley’s film is divided into three parts each sound tracked, respectively and in turn, by the Collective’s performances of Béla Bartók’s ‘Divertimento for String Orchestra, II. Molto Adagio’, Wojciech Kilar’s ‘Orawa’, and Edmund Finnis’ ‘The Centre is Everywhere’. The choice of Bartok suggests disjointedness and brings a tinge of horror to the forces of urbanisation and regeneration captured in Buckley’s images; Kilar’s strings, more hopeful, resonate with the flow and tide of the river and changing city; Finnis’ composition seems to unify these impulses of fight and flow – a reconciliation that itself is haunting, as suggested by the spectral presences of the film’s final scene. The film also stars Manchester Collective’s musical director Rakhi Singh, and the Collective’s bold and collaborative vision has produced something fresh and unique. The project was conceived in lockdown; it makes for a moving, often astounding, audio-visual and post-lockdown experience. We are reawakened to the city -- its beauty, its ghosts, and its uncomfortable modern truths. ‘Dark Days, Luminous Nights’ is a striking success.

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