The Manchester International Festival launched in 2007 is an artist-led festival presenting new works from across the spectrum of performing arts, visual arts and popular culture.
Over the years, MIF has commissioned, produced and presented world premieres by artists as diverse as Björk, Steve McQueen, Maxine Peake, Damon Albarn and Elbow.
For 2021, and as an antidote to the year of lockdowns we have all experienced, the organisers wanted to commission something that encouraged the people of Manchester to reconnect with their City. An opportunity to stop and take a moment to experience Manchester in a new dimension through captivating public artwork. US-born, Berlin-based artist Christine Sun Kim created Captioning a City - a series of statements to help trigger memories, emotions and sensations as people enjoy spending time in the city. These captions are not on TVs and monitors, but installed on streets and buildings in vast proportions all across the city and that can be discovered intentionally or even by chance.
In total, the captions are made up of more than 900m of PVC-free, fully recyclable material supplied by Innotech Digital and printed and installed by local Manchester-based print and display company, Liberty Signs. This was a mammoth, hugely time-sensitive project that was printed and prepared over 5 days and installed over a few nights at 23 locations across Manchester.
Will Smith, owner of Liberty Signs says, "This was a landmark project for the City of Manchester and also for Liberty Signs. As printed display projects go, this one is about as big as it gets and we were determined to show the organisers that as a company we had the professionalism, capacity and capability to deliver a first-class solution that met the high standards required by MIF. We had plenty of challenges to overcome and it was certainly tough, but the team worked tirelessly to ensure we delivered on time and to the quality the project demanded."
Introducing Liberty Signs
Liberty Signs moved into printing, graphics and display solution in 2017 and after a steady start found itself trading in a pandemic. "Lockdowns and the like made trade difficult for everyone. In some ways, companies like ours did have a source of work in that everyone now needed signage for social distancing requirements, sneeze screens and other Covid 19 related displays and partitions. We made a conscious decision to support small local companies with really extreme discounts. We are all in this together and companies like ours are dependent on our customers' success so it stands to reason that we need to support them as best we can whenever we can."
In this way, Liberty Signs was able to keep trading and Smith believes the company's evident community spirit was one of the reasons MIF made its initial contact. "We never tried to make out we were bigger than we are, but we always had confidence that we were very capable of delivering large projects. We understand our limits, but we also know that by putting the customer first, fully understanding what they need and what they are looking for, we can adapt our resources and services to meet this demand. MIF also felt that we would be able to meet their requirements and because they are very keen to support local progressive businesses, they made the decision to appoint us for the job."
The need for a sustainable solution
An important element of the project was the sheer volume of material that would be required for the job. The captions were to be installed on internal windows, external windows and also external brickwork. This presented a broad range of challenges, but one key element was the amount of product that would have ended up in landfill had they used vinyl. "This was a government funded project, so being as sustainable as possible was crucial," says Will, adding, "We encouraged MIF to consider using only PVC-free materials that could be fully recycled. This is where Innotech really helped us. They have an excellent and broad range of PVC-free materials and they worked hard to ensure we had everything we needed in terms of samples and swatches to present to MIF and help us select the right products for the project."
He continues, "We had not used PVC-free products before and Innotech's advice and support was invaluable in demonstrating the breadth and capability of the range and in dealing with the recycling. In the end we recommended three different products. Innotech's Vistamax Cling PET static cling film for the internal windows, Vistamax PVC Free Blockout PET Semi-Permanent White Matt Vinyl block out film for external windows and Vistamax PVC Free PP High Tack White Matt Greyback Vinyl for the external brickwork installations. The fact that Innotech could provide all of these products themselves was a big plus for us, especially with the support they provided."
Another important issue for the organisers was ensuring the material did not damage the windows and buildings it was being installed on. Will explains, "Normally we would apply the material and then heat the edges to ensure it stays in place, but this could have been risky in terms of damage to the buildings. The installation is only up for three weeks and Innotech demonstrated that their high tack material would not lose adherence in that time. Helping us show why these products were best suited for the project was key to winning the contract."
Production and installation
With a tight deadline looming, and 100s of metres of print to be produced, permission from the buildings to go ahead and do the installation was given with just five days to spare. "It would have been great to have more time but we are well use to working under pressure and we didn't let this phase us. Thankfully Innotech was able to deliver all the material overnight to be with us first thing in the morning and we were ready to print. We worked massive shifts and were all hands (and more) on deck to get the printing done in time to ready for the pre-show launch event at the National Football Museum. This was the largest installation with 90metres of output applied to the building. The remaining installations were mostly done over night ready for the 1st July start of the Festival," says Will.
He adds, "I am so proud of the team and the effort they put in to deliver this project. It was a mammoth operation and we were all exhausted by the end, but we got there and the installations looked excellent. Since installation, our role has been to maintain the displays. There has been a small amount of graffiti or other damage and we have always responded immediately to sort it out and put things right."
Working closely together, Liberty Signs and Innotech Digital have delivered one of the largest signage projects of the year, using nothing but fully recyclable, PVC-free media. Will Smith concludes, "Innotech has been a great partner that has helped us all the way from specifying the project with the customer right through to ensuring we had the material on hand and available exactly when we needed it. With their support and with the right people, planning and products, we have shown that companies like ours can deliver high volumes of print at the highest quality to meet the needs of major sign and display projects."