True Faith: Decade-Spanning Art inspired by Joy Division and New Order
Manchester International Festival (MIF) kicked off with a celebration in the cities Piccadilly Gardens… However, away from the public, True Faith was also unveiled hours before - an exhibition that will outlive the festival until the Autumn.
The exhibition is a tribute to Manchester band Joy Division, which then dissolved and reformed as New Order after the death of frontman Ian Curtis. The bands aren’t the only primary focus however; a huge focus is also on one of the attendees of True Faith’s debut, designer Peter Saville, who produced plenty of sleeve designs for Factory Records, helping create the aesthetic of both bands.
The pieces based on Joy Division aren’t two dimensional in appearance, nor are they all as bleak and black and white as the lyrics of the troubled Curtis, but the band’s melancholia does seep through into many of the exhibit’s attractions. Joy Division’s half of True Faith ranges from a torn out page of Curtis’ handwritten lyrics for "Love Will Tear Us Apart", to a fantastical piece by Glenn Brown titled “Dark Angels”: an ethereal piece, featuring garish colours, and sci-fi-esque cities and structures atop asteroids.
Also included was Rob Gretton’s notepad - manager of both bands - talking about how to further Joy Division’s success, wanting to do something that hadn’t been done yet, and moving away from being focused on money. Three stills of the late frontman are lent generous wall-space, capturing Curtis in his unique, seizure-like dancing pose that he was known for. Pieces of found footage also surface: one, a grainy video of Curtis dancing alongside the band’s song "Decades" from their second and final album Closer (1980); the other, CCTV footage of Curtis in public graced by eerie music.
Aside from the grainy footage of Curtis, we get multiple videos across two mini theatres of live footage from both bands. And it’s outside of these two theatres that the bulk of archival pieces are found. Donated from the collections of members of the band, their families or even from collections of those who worked with both bands, there are tonnes of screen prints and posters from each band’s careers. As the timeline of the pieces moves forward, the sombre monochrome aesthetic of Joy Division peels away, to reveal garish colours and bold fonts and designs.
A whole collection of record sleeves are also given pride of place, from Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures (1979) and Closer (1980), to Power, Corruption and Lies (1983), Substance (1987) and Republic (1993).
The sometimes harsh lighting of the exhibit comes from electric trees, with branches of fluorescent light escaping from the trunks. This itself is a part of the exhibition, larger than it was when displayed at the Tate. Taking its title from the lyrics of New Order’s "The Village", Martin Boyce’s “Our Love is Like the Flowers, the Rain, the Sea and the Hours” is also comprised of everyday public features like a bench and a bin.
The most interesting poster comes in segments, showing letters sent regarding the creation of a New Order poster from May 1989 from Michael Shamberg for a performance in Los Angeles. The design featured a female driver, complete with initial plans for multiple colours to be added, test runs of the colour scheme presented next to the letter, alongside a black and white draft of the poster.
The basis for more New Order artwork is featured in the presence of Ignace Henri-Théodore Fantin-Latour’s A Basket of Roses (1890), yet the postcard set in a glass case to the right of it is the actual inspiration. Peter Saville purchased the postcard in London’s National Gallery, leading to the piece becoming the artwork for New Order's Power Corruption and Lies.
Though the majority of the exhibition is a mix of artefacts from the band and Saville’s careers collectively, the whole experience is worth so much more. The archival footage that has been unearthed really brings the room to life with the various live performances of each of the two band's songs, and then the inclusion of handwritten pieces by Gretton and Curtis bring a fallible quality to the band’s histories. But it’s the more modern collections inspired by the band’s and Saville’s art that really offer a contemporary feel, proving once more that the impact of the two bands was not just greatly felt in British music, but around the world.