This summer is all about getting back into the city and the things we love about it. That’s why MIF21 is putting a focus on public art in some of the city’s most public spaces – free and accessible for all, both in the real world and online. Here are seven of the free highlights from our packed programme of visual art.

Big Ben Lying Down with Political Books

1-18 July, Piccadilly Gardens, FREE

Pink cartoon image of a big ben shaped object lying sideways with people walking around

Legendary Argentine pop artist Marta Minujín finds joy in removing national symbols from their famous contexts – and her new artwork takes this idea to an astonishing scale. Lying on its side in Piccadilly Gardens, this enormous 42-metre sculpture of Big Ben is covered in books about politics. About 20,000 of them.

From 1 to 18 July, you can get up close to the artwork, and to the library’s-worth of thought and ideas that covers it – which we’ll also be exploring online every day during MIF21 on our social channels. Big Ben Lying Down with Political Books is free to see with no tickets required – and if you'd like to explore inside to watch a new film made by Marta Minujín, you can book a free ticket via the event page. Then if you come back between Friday 16 and Sunday 18 July, you’ll see Big Ben gradually taken apart – and you can take home a book for free.

Captioning the City

1-18 July, Around the city centre, FREE

Captioning the city main image

American-born, Berlin-based artist Christine Sun Kim invites you to go on a city centre-wide exploration of everyday life – as imagined and reimagined by her extraordinary new artwork, with poetic captions installed on streets and buildings around the city centre. There’s no better way to rediscover this hectic, strange and beautiful city. You can read more about the artist's work in our essay, Christine Sun Kim and the Deaf artists claiming sound as their subject, and explore a map of the Captioning The City locations.

Portrait of Black Britain

1-18 July, Manchester Arndale, FREE

Sam Shaw

You can’t think about public places in Manchester without thinking about the Arndale. Artist, writer and photographer Cephas Williams has transformed the iconic shopping centre into a gallery for Portrait of Black Britain – the start of a major project through which he’s building a huge collection of photographs of Black British people from across society, pushing back agains the overwhelming underrepresentation of Black people in British history and asking: ‘What does it mean to be Black, living in the UK?’

Poet Slash Artist

1-18 July, HOME & around the city, FREE

Tyler Mitchell, Hamish Brown, Rhys Frampton

Curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Lemn Sissay, this major exhibition looks at the fascinating spaces where visual art meets poetry, and features contributions from globally renowned writers and artists such as Etel Adnan, Imtiaz Dharker, Tracey Emin, Lubaina Himid and Xu Bing. The exhibition is centred on the gallery space at HOME, but their works are also visible all over the city for free, allowing for the kind of spontaneous encounters we’ve all missed over the last year. There’s a full map of locations, and you can also book tickets for Friday 2 July’s live event Catch A Fire, featuring poetry and music curated by Cerys Matthews.

Cloud Studies

2-18 July, the Whitworth, FREE (booking required)

A plume of cloud pollution

Cloud Studies is the latest exhibition from Forensic Architecture, a highly acclaimed collective that brings together architecture, science and art to investigate human rights violations around the world. Taking as its starting point the idea of clouds in conflict, the collective uses the most innovative tools to chart man-made clouds of all kinds – with a focus, in this exhibition, on environmental racism on the banks of the Mississippi in Louisiana. The result is a modern-day Cloud Atlas that tells a troubling story about war, inequality and the air we breathe.

EART: A Manifesto of Possibilities

1-18 July, Dantzic, FREE

Rashid Rana’s new work is all about his concept of ‘EART’: moments of self-expression that exist outside of the arts. Starting from his Manifesto of Possibilities, the prolific Pakistani artist has devised, among other things, a pop-up shop that will be a working embodiment of his theories about art, everyday life and consumerism.

We Dwell In Possibility 

1-18 July, online, FREE

Eleanor Davis

An interactive virtual artwork, produced by a videogame developer, about queerness and gardening. Intrigued? Robert Yang’s new work, created with illustrator Eleanor Davis, is all these things and more – inviting us to explore the literal and metaphorical landscapes of gay subcultures while it pushes back against agreed ideas of the 'typical' gamer. Following on from Tai Shani’s The Neon Hieroglyph and LaTurbo Avedon’s Your Progress Will Be Saved, both still accessible online, it’s the third commission for our Virtual Factory series inspired by the endless possibilities of The Factory – MIF’s future year-round home.

Lucy Holt is a writer from Manchester.

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