Twelve by Melanie Manchot at Castlefield Gallery: Review

Megan Walsh

How do you capture addiction – and its impact – on film? Artist Melanie Manchot provides a mesmerising insight.

Castlefield Gallery’s latest exhibition, Twelve, intimately explores the stories, repetitions and ruptures of lives lived with addiction. For two years, artist Melanie Manchot worked with twelve people in rehabilitation communities in Liverpool, Oxford and London; the result is a series of multi-channel video installations inspired by their personal experiences.

Haunting and sometimes difficult to watch, Twelve is a true depiction of the fragility of addiction and the turbulent road to recovery. One woman’s heart-rending letter to alcohol leaves a lasting impression, as she tells of how her “best friend”, for whom she still aches for, slowly turned into her “worst enemy”. The personification of her dependency helps to encapsulate how demanding, manipulative and life-ruining addiction is by nature.

Manchot worked with twelve people in rehabilitation communities in Liverpool, Oxford and London

There are sequences shot in continuous takes, like the footage of a pair of hands frantically scrubbing a single kitchen tile, which offer an unswerving eye on the process of recovery. If you don’t know your Austrian movie scenes, though, there’s a good chance you’re going to be left feeling somewhat bemused.

If you’re familiar with Michael Haneke’s The Seventh Continent, for instance, you’ll recognise the carwash scene mimicked in Manchot’s final installation. The characters in the original are disengaged with society; they have forgotten how to feel, how to love and how to care; there’s a similar implication here, with the carwash sequence drawing attention to the isolation and alienation the Manchot’s subjects face. But if – like us – you’ve never heard of the film, the chances are you’ll be left wondering what two men in a carwash have to do with addiction and recovery.

If anything, you could say Twelve lacks a certain sort of closure; in the end, there was a strong feeling of bafflement at the fragmented scenes. And yet it is powerful, playing on your mind long after you’ve left Castlefield Gallery. In Twelve, Manchot has managed to capture the raw emotion, vulnerability and true honesty of the highs and lows of recovery. We just wish we’d done our homework beforehand…

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