MIF21: Big Ben Lying Down with Political Books

Sara Jaspan, Exhibitions Editor
Marta Minujín - Big Ben Lying Down with Political Books at Manchester International Festival 2021 credit Fabio De Paola
Marta Minujín - Big Ben Lying Down with Political Books at Manchester International Festival 2021 credit Fabio De Paola

1 — 18 July 2021 Entrance is free — Book now

Having outlasted six monarchs and 41 prime ministers, Big Ben is one of the world’s most iconic structures and a long-serving symbol of British institutional power. But when so many ideas and values are being brought into question, might it be time for a new, updated national symbol? Perhaps even (dare it be said) one located outside of London? Whilst the original clock tower remains under wraps in the final stages of its conservation, a second version has arrived in Manchester this summer.

Marking her first major UK commission and as part of Manchester International Festival 2021, Argentinian artist Marta Minujín presents Big Ben Lying Down with Political Books – a 42-metre-long reconstruction that occupies the centre of Piccadilly Gardens. The structure is made out of 20,000 books that have shaped British politics – including its forgotten histories and neglected voices – drawn from a list of 150 titles selected by a broad coalition of Manchester-based organisations (including the People’s History Museum, Manchester Jewish Museum, MIF’s Young People’s Forum and the Wai Yin Society). The books will be given away for free during a participatory ceremony at the end of the festival – hopefully sowing the seeds for new ideas in the minds of those that read them.

Visitors are invited to walk around and through the structure whilst listening to a new sound piece composed from speeches from history and Ben Ben’s iconic chimes, and to watch a short film by the artist capturing the arrival of the tower in the city. An accompanying interactive digital artwork and online exhibition also allows people to engage with the work virtually.

For Minujín, the decision to position the tower ‘lying down’ represents a less ‘straight’ view of the world – a shift toward more horizontal systems of power or less binary ideas. During a period when many of our old systems are beginning to crumble, this is an exciting new proposition that gestures towards a different, brighter kind of future.

1 — 18 July 2021

What's on: Exhibitions

Nothing About Us Without Us at PHM

‘Nothing About Us Without Us’ at PHM explores the history of disabled people’s activism and their ongoing fight for inclusion with a wonderful collection of exhibits brought together for the first time, 

free entry
ExhibitionsNorth East
Chris Killip, retrospective at Baltic

This spring, Baltic welcomes a major retrospective of the work of Chris Killip, one of Britain’s most influential and prolific post-war documentary photographers whose tender gaze captured the lives of communities in the North East of England.

free entry
(Un)Defining Queer at The Whitworth

Through a fantastic collection of classical and contemporary artists’ work, ‘(Un)Defining Queer’ examines the use of language, histories and narratives to explore what ‘queer’ really means today. free entry

Culture Guides


We go all in on festivals, with a round-up of everything from city-spanning giants to grassroots gems you may not know about.


There's no rest for the art lover - this month brings outdoor sculpture, musings on water, political drawings and Liverpool Biennial 2023!

Classical Music

Summer's classical music calendar is filling up nicely! Read our top picks of concerts happening in Manchester and the North.

Winnie the Pooh at Manchester Opera House

The sun has finally got his hat on! Enjoy our top picks of family-friendly events and activities, both indoors and outdoors.

Gerry Potter (credit Lee Baxter)

Books are big this summer, with festival readings, poetry slams, creative writing activities and famous faces all putting in an appearance.

Food and Drink

All signs point toward June being a scorcher of a month, so let’s take a look at all things summery food and drink.

Tours and Activities

From literary activities to brilliant independent shops, keep your minds and homes filled with the good stuff this month.

Theatre in Manchester

Check out our updated guide for lively theatre festivals, rip-roaring rooftop circus and dreamy outdoor shows.