Ask every question you have about homelessness at Manchester arts festival

‘Are You Sitting Comfortably?’ offers the chance to get up close and personal with the issue at Whitworth Art Gallery

All those difficult questions you have ever wanted to ask about life on the streets will be answered this weekend at the world’s first international homelessness arts festival in Manchester.

Running until November 18, One Voice’s free International Art and Homeless Summit and Festival aims to offer a new perspective on homelessness.

Among the pieces on show at Whitworth Art Gallery tomorrow will be Are You Sitting Comfortably? –  an interactive art piece involving two armchairs. One is the chair of Ethel Briggs – an elderly woman who died in her daughter’s arms in January – representing home while the other is a chair upholstered by Pete, a man with lived experience of homelessness.

Artist Emma Turner’s vision is for the public to sit in Pete’s chair to quiz people sitting in the other chair on homelessness.

Sitting in the other chair will be Denise Harrison, a formerly homeless woman who has beaten alcoholism and got her life on track, chronicling the tale in her JustAGirl17x online blog. The conversations in the chairs will be filmed to form a video art installation while there also plans to take the project on tour.

The pair have also teamed-up on My Name Is – a series of sculptures of people who have experience homelessness, with Denise acting as one of the four muses.

And the blogger is involved in another project too, joining forces with Rick and Kim Wilde for a short animated film called This is Depression. The flick has been showing at Manchester’s The Adelphi this weekend and will also be on show at The Neo tomorrow.

Denise said: “The film has had a really big impact and I have seen people reduced to tears watching it this week so I think people have really connected and engaged with it.

“I think the message I want to get across is that people who have experienced homelessness are people and are not scary.

“I want the people sat in the chair opposite me to understand what it feels like and that it can happen to anyone.”

Emma added: “I don’t think that the general public don’t care about homelessness and I think that a lot of people want to care if you show them how.

“I was one of those people who was quite naïve about it until I walked around Manchester for three weeks and saw people on the streets being ignored.

“I want to challenge and break the stigma around homelessness.”

Big Issue Street Art regular David Tovey is also contributing to the festival with his immersive opera Man on a Bench on show at Mayfield Depot on Sunday from 2.30.

The International Art and Homelessness Summit and Festival runs until Sunday November 18