Melanie Manchot: Tracer
Great North Run Culture at Baltic 39
14 September - 4 October 2013
Review by Michael Mulvihill
The Great North Run is a half marathon that has been run for over 30 years from Newcastle to South Shields on the North Sea coast. It’s a grand event, drawing people in their thousands to cheer and support the 70,000 or more runners in various states of fitness, who pound their way along the 13.5 mile course. To celebrate the race’s 25th anniversary in 2005, Great North Run Culture was established with the aim of building connections between the arts and sports by commissioning artists such as Douglas Gordon and Mark Wallinger to respond to the event.
Melanie Manchot’s ‘Tracer’ (2013) is one of the latest commissions, and is installed in the form of three video displays. The work depicts a number of traceurs (parkour or free runners), as they seek an acrobatic route through the deserted urban landscape along the course of the Great North Run. Manchot celebrates the youth of the traceurs who, by their spectacular gymnastics and daring, take ownership of urban and municipal spaces. The image of traceur Andrew Vasey performing a handstand on Norman Foster’s Sage building in Gateshead has captured headlines, and for me the video projection of a free-runner finding a daredevil path over the rotating Newcastle Swing Bridge is no less of an arresting example of the traceur‘s grace and timing. However as the audience of this work, and others in the Great North Run Culture programme, the sense of desolation and remoteness in the films seems contradictory to my own experience of the run itself.
I have run the race several times, and it always impresses upon me the uncanny experience of being one of a moving mass of human beings, physically forcing themselves towards the finish. There are moments where the run is literally like a battlefield, with the sick and injured being treated in emergency cardiac units three miles before the finish line, while the Red Arrows roar victory overhead. This visceral sense of thronging human movement, which also includes running through vomit and witnessing lots of public urination, contrasts with the politeness and remoteness of many of the pieces in the Great North Run Culture programme. The artists intervene in the comfort zones of architecture or landscape, removed in time and space from the blood, sweat and tears - the human phenomenon - of the race.