Here’s how to get your hands on one of them

Marta Minujín’s Big Ben Lying Down With Political Books has officially moved to its library piñata phase. Well not quite as destructive. The landmark piece of artwork that has been sitting in Piccadilly Gardens since the start of July is now ready to be stripped of its 20,000 political books, all of which will be given away for free to the public.

By taking a book, people create the artwork

The 42-metre replica of Westminster's iconic Elizabeth Tower (and its world-famous clockface) was commissioned as part of the Manchester International Festival 2021 Programme. 

The first major UK commission of Argentinian artist Marta Minujín, the structure has an external surface covered in some 20,000 copies of political books ranging from classics of political theory by Marx and Engels to more recent best-sellers like Rutger Bregman’s Utopia For Realists. Inside, visitors can experience a film and soundtrack created by the artist.

A Visitor Takes A Pictures Of Big Ben Lying Down An Art Installation In Piccadilly Gardens In Manchester As Part Of Manchester International Festival
The 42m long structure is covered in some 20,000 political books Fabio De Paola

Which books can you take from the dismantled Big Ben sculpture?

The installation will be dismantled at midday on Friday 16 July and the public is invited to take home a piece of Manchester art history. Books will be laid out on trestle tables, 10 books at a time and people will be able to select a book from the table - one book per person so choose carefully. The books cover a range of political topics including race, class, gender, disability and societal injustice spanning poetry, fiction, biographies and essays. The collection which makes for an informative reading list comprises a diverse list of writers too.

Selected by a coalition of Manchester and Salford-based organisations, writers include Mary Wollstonecraft, bell hooks, Angela Davis, Akwugo Emejulu, Francesca Sobande, Margaret Atwood, Irvine Welsh, Walter Rodney, Mary Beard and Karl Marx. To name just a few.

Marta Minujins Big Ben Lying Down A Piece Of Art In Piccadilly Gardens As Part Of Manchester International Festival
Visitors can still see the installation until 18 July with booking required for the film and soundtrack inside Fabio De Paola

Manchester represented in book form

Manchester is well-represented with writers and activists including Anthony Burgess, Elizabeth Gaskell, Shelagh Delaney and Emmeline Pankhurst as well as Hafsah Aneela Bashir, Lemn Sissay and Marcus Rashford. The selection also touches on contemporary additions with the likes of Akala, David Baddiel, David Olusoga, Nikesh Shukla, Naomi Klein, Caitlin Moran and Bernardine Evaristo, alongside classics from George Orwell, D.H Lawrence, Charles Dickens and Doris Lessing.

How do you get hold of one of the books? 

There's no need to book a ticket, but you might need to prepare to queue. The giveaway starts at midday on Friday 16 and will continue until 10pm on Sunday 18 July, with the remaining books donated to schools and libraries across Greater Manchester. All books have been stamped with a drawing by artist Marta Minujin as well as her signature, making for a unique addition to your bookshelf.

Speaking on the giveaway, Marta Minujín said:

“People need this! We need new ideas and new places where people meet. By taking a book, people create the artwork. The people of Manchester will create a new Big Ben that the UK will never forget."

Big Ben Lying Down With Political books is free to visit at Piccadilly Gardens until 18 July. Visits to the internal video installation and soundtrack, also by Marta Minujín can be booked separately. 

Read next: Manchester International Festival highlights: MIF21 reviewed

Read again: MIF21: Breaking down barriers with neighbourhood organisers

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