Rick Smith and Karl Hyde of Underworld have worked with a number of homelessness charities such as the Booth Centre and the Mustard Tree and homeless people within Greater Manchester to collect their stories and represent them in art.
The stories, with the first names and ages of the participants, are painted on cardboard covering the walls, in dripping white. It is bold and striking. The stories are told as first person narratives, with all of the pauses and fillers and the stream of consciousness that you get when you hear someone speaking. In this way, it feels less mediated and controlled and is consumed as a free expression of their stories.
The exhibition is a live one, so, as visitors arrive, Hyde is still painting the words on the walls. As well as making this engaging for the audience as well as the subjects, it points to a bigger theme - these stories are ongoing, both for the participants, who hopefully have brighter futures thanks to the organisations they are working with and visibility offered by projects like Manchester Street Poem, but it also refers to all of the other stories, from the innumerable homeless people across Manchester and other UK cities.
The narratives were all unique, showing how diverse the range of experiences were. There were stories of drug use, redundancy and breakdown in family relationships all alongside each other. Some of the pieces were heartbreaking and one moved me to tears. Yet, others were uplifting, hopeful and funny, enough to make me smile again and even laugh. They were truly complex, genuine human stories.
Far from being a sad or dark place the venue is filled with light and the soundtrack, developed by Smith, is upbeat and positive, made from recordings taken all over the city. The exhibition cannot be summed up easily - it brought out complex feelings, it was emotionally taxing but also incredibly worthwhile. It is an incredibly innovative, grassroots form of arts and community engagement, which proves exactly the power of contemporary art as a channel for discussion about social issues. Most of all, Manchester Street Poem is a beautiful effort to help us understand the downtrodden and forgotten others.
- Image, Karl Hyde at work scribing the accounts of homeless people, courtesy of the MIF website
- Visit the MCR Street Poem website to watch a live stream of the exhibition and read the stories. You can visit the exhibition live until 14th July.