1 September 2004
Manchester Evening News

The sound from the banks of speakers set up by local rappers and garage artists reverberated from the rafters and against the tiles of the Edwardian swimming pool – Manchester’s grandiose Victoria Baths, at last, had been given its own voice.

Suspicion as well as cautious curiosity was written on the faces of the local teenagers in tracksuits and hooded tops invited into the building to make the building swing with hip-hop and dance.

But as they felt the sound of their music and dance routines booming into the ornate ceiling and the space left by the empty swimming pool, all doubts were put aside. As one of the harder lads confessed to organiser of the event, Alison Kershaw: “This building makes me feel special.”

This was the rehearsal for The Mancunian Way – the opening event of Transition Arts – at the historic Victoria Baths, which were closed in 1993.

Their event was organised by Panamanian artist Humberto Velez to kick off the Transition Arts event (September 3 to 19, Weds to Sundays, noon-6pm) as a means of giving members of the local community a chance to be involved with the historic building that so many people are fighting to preserve.

Velez worked with young rappers and garage artists from an organisation called BOLT (Building Our Lives Together) and a dance group called What We Want, to make sure that the two-week residency by six artists during Transition Arts would mean something to the local community.

Their procession in an open-topped bus followed by a performance written and choreographed by the young people has opened the way for the other artists. Velez is using the Victoria Baths song written by the youngsters, photographs and a banner made by a group of Indian women for the building, to create an installation.

London-based Todd Hanson will decorate the gala pool with hand-painted woven paper designs reminiscent of the Victorian dΓ©cor. Nottingham-based Ellie Harrison has been commissioned to produce a web-based piece of artwork celebrating the facts and figures about Victoria Baths, including cross-channel swimmer Sunny Lowry, who once trained there.

Lizzie Hughes is producing a video looking at the path of water from the baths to the sea, with ecological overtones. Joanna Karolini – who trained at Manchester Metropolitan University is interested in the Turkish baths and will celebrate migrant workers by carrying out a meticulous clean of half the baths, which she will then video.

Victoria Baths came to national prominence last year when the building was the outright winner in the BBC2 series, Restoration, which featured numerous important buildings in the UK, all in need of saving. The hope is that the grand building with three” pools and flamboyant Turkish Baths will open again as a swimming pool for the public. But no decision has yet been made about its future.

Curator of Transition Arts, Alison Kershaw, believes that the artists are playing an important role in decisions about the future of the building. She says:

“Things can never really go back as they were. Nostalgia is important, but the artists can help remind us that now is also important.”

For the lads involved in The Mancunian Way the link has been made.

As rapper Ross left the first rehearsal, he fired a string of questions at Alison Kershaw. As he explained: “I need facts and figures to write my song.”

Rachel Pugh