Manchester makes monumental political statement with replica of Big Ben in Piccadilly Gardens

A monumental replica of London's Big Ben is lying down in the city centre for Manchester International Festival 2021
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Big Ben has quit Westminster and has crash-landed in Manchester.

The colossal new work of art – a 42-metre-long replica of Big Ben lying down almost horizontal – is covered in 20,000 copies of books that have shaped British political history.

‘Big Ben Lying Down’ is a temporary landmark that aims to inspire conversations drawing from Manchester’s unique and independent spirit.

You can see this incredible artwork around the clock in Piccadilly Gardens for free throughout Manchester International Festival 2021, with no need to book. You can also reserve a free ticket to explore inside, (10am-9.30pm daily), where you can experience a film and soundtrack created by artist Marta Minujín.

Then on Friday 16, Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 July, you can join the festivities for a (free) three-day Book Redistribution Ceremony (tickets not required) – when Big Ben will be taken apart and you can take home one of the 20,000 books for free.

The books that coat it range from footballer Marcus Rashford’s You Are A Champion to Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto and will be given away to passers-by on the festival’s closing weekend, 17 and 18 July.

Big Ben Lying Down with Political Books is the first major UK commission by Argentine artist Marta Minujín, who creates extraordinary large-scale artworks and participatory performances that put socially engaged art at the heart of everyday life. The latest instalment in her series The Fall of Universal MythsBig Ben Lying Down with Political Books is a joyful invitation for us to reimagine our national symbols – and to unite around democracy and equality.

Other MIF21 highlights include Captioning the City, for which Christine Sun Kim has put giant subtitles on buildings including Bridgewater Hall and Piccadilly station.

There are also posters around the city as part of the Poet Slash Artist exhibition, featuring the work of writers who also make visual art and vice versa, including Tracey Emin, Lubaina Himid and Imtiaz Dharker.

Meanwhile, the Arndale shopping centre has been turned into a makeshift art gallery for Cephas Williams’ Portraits of Black Britain, which features giant banners showing high-achieving black Britons.

Turner Prize winner Laure Provoust has worked with local women to create an installation at Manchester Jewish Museum, which is opening after a £6m renovation.

Performances during the festival will include a stage adaptation of author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Notes on Grief, while Peaky Blinders actor Cillian Murphy stars in a short film as a man meditating on his guilt about the world’s problems.

The festival finishes the day before all Covid restrictions are expected to be lifted, and this year organisers have put a number of artistic showpieces outdoors around the city.

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