Following its grand statement soft launch over the summer—featuring giant Yayoi Kusama inflatables—Manchester’s Aviva Studios officially opened to the public yesterday with an event that exemplified its ambitious intentions.
The venue, formerly known as Factory International, is the UK’s largest investment in a public cultural project since Tate Modern at the turn of the millennium—the total costs having risen from £110m, projected in 2017, to £242m, with a £35m sponsorship deal with insurance firm Aviva being struck in June to help provide funds. The building was designed by the prominent architecture firm OMA and is intended to cater for all kinds of programming, from art to musical performance and fashion shows, with its large-scale, versatile spaces.
On Wednesday, it launched with Free Your Mind, a new performance directed by Danny Boyle and based on the action blockbuster The Matrix. The show, which featured stage design by Es Devlin, the British artist known for her large-scale public installations, was held across various Aviva Studios’ spaces. These included the 1,600 capacity theatre, as well as The Warehouse, a 21-metre-high area that could fit four double-decker buses stacked on top of each other, and that is nearly long enough to fit a Boeing 747. These interiors are divided up with giant partitions which, when required, can be moved to reshape the visitor experience.
The performance, for which Boyle also collaborated with the playwright Sabrina Mahfouz, the composer Michael “Mikey J” Asant and the choreographer Kenrick “H2O” Sandy —the latter two being founders of the Olivier award-winning Boy Blue group—featured a troupe of 50 dancers. Boyle spoke in a statement of the unique opportunities that Aviva Studios brings in terms of putting on a spectacle of this kind. “It's a space that gives you an enormous amount of potential, he says. “It's wildly ambitious in terms of its scale. In my lifetime, to see a new space like this open is hugely empowering, and I hope the new generation of artists feel that power.”
The complete opening comes four months after the building hosted an early programme of events as part of Manchester International Festival, the biennial art event held across multiple venues since 2007. Central among these was the immersive exhibition Yayoi Kusama: You, Me and the Balloons, which brought together blow-up pumpkins, tentacles and other polka-dot forms by the Japanese artist, many of which curved or floated right up towards the building’s ceiling. It was a show that hinted at the Studios’ interest in wow-factor, albeit one that many hope will be taken to more nuanced places in the months ahead.
Whether that will be achieved remains to be seen but programming will certainly, as expected, continue to emphasise variety. In 2024 there will be, for example, a reimagining of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book by the folk act Coco-Rosie, a “visual feast for the senses” from the collective Marshmallow Laser Feast says the statement, and “a stage spectacle combining Chinese and South Asian dance, data and video” from the London-based artist Keith Khan.
The Factory Academy, meanwhile, will provide training for jobs in the creative industries, while other initiatives include the Factory Fellowship, aimed at emerging artists.
Organisers hope the venue will raise £1.1bn for the local economy over the next ten years and create or support up to 1,500 jobs. The UK culture secretary Lucy Frazer emphasised the mission for the venue to bring wide-reaching benefits. “Aviva Studios will maximise the potential of the creative industries in Manchester and beyond, creating opportunities for local talent and bringing more world-class culture to the city,” she said in a statement. “I look forward to seeing the positive impact it brings to Manchester, both culturally and economically.”