Category Archives: Manchester

A Hong Kong (plastic) Soup

According to Greenpeace East Asia, more than 17 million pieces of waste plastic are flushed into the sea via Hong Kong’s Shing Mun River every year.


Mandy Barker, Hong Kong Soup:1826. Transform. Recovered Transformers action figures reflect the inadequate disposal of children’s plastic toys. This group sends the message to transform the habits and behaviour of the younger generation in Hong Kong, with the emphasis being to take action. Part of a collection recovered from various beaches over 3 years

Mandy Barker, Hong Kong Soup. Video by Shirley Ying Han

Mandy Barker, a photographer who keeps on reinventing the artistic language to raise awareness around the plastic catastrophe, has been collecting plastic detritus from over 30 beaches in Hong Kong between 2012 and 2015.

The type of waste she selected echo not only the type of products that found their way into local water streams, they also closely relate to the traditions and culture of Hong Kong: manufactured toys, food wrappers, fake flowers and even hazardous medical objects, agricultural and fishing related debris.

Barker then worked in her studio to compose striking photographs that play with the tension between an immediate aesthetic attraction and the emotional, nauseating response to water pollution.

The series is called Hong Kong Soup:1826 because over 1,826 metric tons of municipal plastic waste goes into landfills every day in Hong Kong. The precise number reflects the artist’s ambition to be scientifically accurate. “It is essential to the integrity of my work that I don’t distort information for the sake of making an interesting image and that I return the trust shown to me by the scientists who have supported my work,” she told Lensculture. “Although aesthetics are important, it has more to do with representing the facts of how we are affecting our planet and changing its environments irreparably.”


Mandy Barker, Hong Kong Soup:1826. Lotus Garden. A collection of different species of discarded artificial flowers that would not exist at the same flowering time in nature and should not be found in the ocean. The lotus flower reflects early connotation of beauty in China


Mandy Barker, Hong Kong Soup:1826. Birds Nest. Ingredients; discarded fishing line that has formed nest-like balls due to tidal oceanic movement. Additives; other debris collected in its path.


Mandy Barker, Hong Kong Soup:1826. Poon Choi. Ten objects of municipal waste collected from twn beaches that relate to Hong Kong’s traditional New Year’s dish: Poon Choi. The dish is comprised of ten layered infredients that go into a one-pot meal. Includes: child’s sandal, mannequin hand, race duck, ribbon, spectacle frame, toy dinosaur, fishing float, shipping tag, pocket game & toy boat. Collected from 10 beaches in Hong Kong, November 2013


Mandy Barker, Hong Kong Soup:1826. Zongzi. Miniature plastic imitation sticky rice packages found in the sea. Zongzi, or Zong, are traditionally made from bamboo leaves and thrown into the sea as part of the Dragon Boat Festival in Hong Kong. Recovered from Tai O Beach, Lantau Island

Mandy Barker: Hong Kong Soup is at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art in Manchester until 20 January 2018.

Previously: Plastic plankton, the Anthropocene’s emblematic “microorganism”.

A Virus Walks into a Bar. Or how art and science can infect each other


John Walter, A Virus Walks into a Bar, 2018. Part of the exhibition John Walter: CAPSID at HOME in Manchester


John Walter, Hung Drawn and Circumcised. Part of the exhibition John Walter: CAPSID at HOME in Manchester

Over the course of a 3 year Wellcome funding, Walter has embedded himself inside the Towers Lab at University College London. The research center, headed by Prof Greg Towers, studies the molecular details of host virus interactions, focusing particularly on HIV-1, the cause of AIDS, and its relationship with the innate immune system.

The artist attended lab meetings, took note of the scientific jargon, asked awkward questions and learnt more about the research done at the lab. At the heart of his collaboration with the scientists is a study of the HIV capsid. The CAPSID is a protein shell that surrounds the virus (including HIV) and enables its transmission. CAPSID is a rather sneaky bastard. It protects the virus’s DNA from being seen and acts as an invisibility cloak.


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter

John Walter, A Virus Walks Into A Bar (trailer), 2018. Part of the exhibition John Walter: CAPSID at HOME in Manchester

You can see the deftness of the virus in action in A Virus Walks into a Bar. The short film (a new HOME Artist Film commission) uses the bar motif of British soap operas to depict how the HIV virus infects human cells.

The bar is the immune system. It is guarded by bouncers who refuse to let the virus in when he turns up in his big yellow zorb ball. They know he means trouble. Other customers are not so cautious. The new guy looks so harmless and chummy they let him buy them beers. Once inside, our CAPSID character fends off more resistance from other customers (who play the role of proteins and cytoplasm) and slowly makes his way to the counter where the barmaid is standing (she personifies the nucleus of the human cell.) From there all hell breaks loose….

John Walter‘s talent in expressing complex scientific ideas in an engaging and eccentric way is on show this Winter at HOME in Manchester.

John Walter: CAPSID mixes animation, paintings, textile craft, humour, pop culture and more to investigate the complexities of virology and the spread of deadly infection but also scientific language and protocols.

The result of his research is informative without ever being didactic nor illustrative. It is relentlessly bombastic, witty, seductive. And yet, it remains anchored in rigorous science.

I was lucky enough to attend the guided tour of the show with John Walter and structural virologist Professor Greg Towers. Anyone doubting the benefits of a close art and science relationship should have seen these two explaining the exhibition. Walter spent most of his time detailing the scientific bits while Towers was busy describing his own take on the artistic merits of the works. I don’t think the role reversal had been planned but it demonstrated how much two worlds that are academically and culturally presented as separate can gain from closer connections and exchanges.

Towers described how the artist’s sometimes surprising questions have led his team to question their own lines of investigation and open up new ones. Beyond the lab, the artist also discussed with undergraduate students, got involved in the lab’s science outreach programs and challenged scientific minds to think more reflexively about their own research.

The challenging process went two ways though as Walter used scientific imagery, codes and jargon as a source material to innovate and expand his own artistic practice.


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter

Just like the virus contaminates the healthy cell, the world of science contaminated the world of art and vice versa. This contagion is further reflected in the whole exhibition space where prints cover the floor, stickers are glued on the windows to allow passers-by to get a sense and a curiosity for what is inside the gallery, wallpaper seems to interact with paintings and videos, etc. Immersed in this overwhelming assault on the senses, the visitor is led to question his or her own role in the exhibition.


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter

Walter’s inventive ability to find new ways of expressing how viruses behave is truly impressive. For example, he experimented with patterned metal screens to signify the “uncoating” moment when the CAPSID releases viral acid into its host. He also produced 5 metres wide paintings in which Jamiroquai, the AGIP logo, the La Vache Qui Rit cow and other iconic characters of pop/corporate culture evoke the co-factors (particles that facilitate the capsid’s access to the nuclear pore.) There’s so much to discover in the exhibition…


John Walter, Innate Sensing Mechanism (detail), CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter


John Walter, Innate Sensing Mechanism, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter

I was particularly fascinated by the series of Innate Sensing Mechanism paintings.

Garish objects such as plush toys and silicon foreskin (that’s when i learnt that there’s a market for circumcised men want their foreskin back) are glued on the compositions using pink adhesive foam. They stand for the defense mechanism by which a cell can detect foreign genetic material and kill it. Walter used a silicon gun to make sure that the invasive materials could not be rejected. The strength of these paintings (and of the other works in the exhibition) is that they stand on their own two feet, you don’t need to be aware of the scientific background to enjoy these mesmerizingly outlandish collages.

John Walter: CAPSID is playful, absurd, smart, poetical and often very moving. More importantly, it reminded me of the need to constantly refresh and stimulate public conversation around HIV. AIDS is still very much a crisis in some areas of the world. According to a research by UNAIDS, 37 million people are living with HIV, the highest number ever, yet a quarter do not know that they have the virus. Last year only, almost one million people died because of it.


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter

And of course i need to go back to A Virus Walks Into A Bar and mention the onesies! The actors in the film are dressed in costumes hand-customised by the artist. There are 30 of them. Some directly echo Walter’s paintings. Others are covered in embroidery, patches, mini pompoms and buttons that seem to colonize and infect the garment. I loved how the silly onesies (no one will ever convince me they are not a bit silly) contrast with the white lab coats worn by scientists when they are interviewed on tv about their work.

More images from the exhibition:


John Walter, Cytoplasm. Part of the exhibition John Walter: CAPSID at HOME in Manchester


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter


John Walter, CAPSID at HOME in Manchester. Installation photo by Lee Baxter

If you’re curious about the exhibition, i’d highly recommend this audio tour of the show with the artist.

John Walter: CAPSID is at HOME in Manchester until Sunday 6 Jan 2019.

La Movida. Or the need for countercultural movements


Alejandría Cinque, from the The Disposable Generation series


Clara Casian, House on the Borderland, 2017

La Movida was a countercultural movement that emerged in Madrid after the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975. Suddenly liberated from the stern restrictions imposed the State and the Church, musicians, film directors (notably Pedro Almodóvar), artists and anyone involved in the capital alternative nightlife collectively shaped one of Spain’s most exuberant movements it’s ever seen. A movement characterized by new forms of expression, clubbing, recreational drugs and more visibility for the LGBT communities.

La Movida is also the name of the exhibition that opened at HOME in Manchester a few weeks ago. The show goes beyond the La Movida Madrileña of the 1980s to explore the traces and echos the movement has left in contemporary cultural life in Spain, in England and by extension in the rest of Europe.

First, the trailer:

Trailer for the exhibition La Movida at HOME in Manchester

Anyone else wondering what the music in the trailer is? It’s Extraños Juegos by Los Zombies. I’m listening to it in loop this week!

Los Zombies, Extraños Juegos, 1980

But back to business…

The exhibition at HOME shows that the Movida Madrileña might be almost 40 years old but much of what made it so explosive and scandalous at the time is still provoking ire and horror today. Which is why, in this age of Brexit and shortsighted nationalism, of austerity and politicians pinning for the crucifixion of abortion, same-sex marriage and freedom of movement, an exhibition that breathes hedonism and transgression is not just engaging, it is also necessary. It compels us to reflect on the fights we fought, won and lost again. On the values and rights we should never take for granted.

A short and very subjective tour of some of the artworks:


Alejandría Cinque, from the The Disposable Generation series


Alejandría Cinque, from the The Disposable Generation series

Alejandría Cinque is a young artist who uses disposable cameras to portray the ‘disposable generation,’ the young people who live in Madrid, a city driven by capitalism but they have no money, so feeling angry and abandoned, they seek a temporary escape in drink, drugs and dance. Cinque sees the camera as a tool that enables her meet people. Most of them ended up becoming friends or lovers, she explained in an interview with i-D.

She started sharing her photos of Madrid’s counter-cultural nightlife on tumblr but she now also collects and publish the images in a fanzine called WE ARE.


La JohnJoseph, 182cm Queenie, 2017 (La Movida installation shot). Photo credit Lee Baxter for HOME


La JohnJoseph, 182cm Queenie, 2017 (La Movida installation shot). Photo credit Lee Baxter for HOME

La JohnJoseph, 182cm Queenie (excerpt), 2017

In 182cm Queenie, novelist and performer La JohnJoseph is King Juan-Carlos I of Spain announcing the transition from dictatorship to democracy. Only in his version the Spanish king is cast as a working-class woman called 2D Joan. Because La JohnJoseph is interested in exploring the convergence of social class, gender identity, and religious faith in the matrices of social power, the discrepancies do not end there.

First of all, 2D Joan speaks with a thick Scouse accent, a provocative reference to Basque and Catalan nationalism (Liverpool being often see as a fierce europhile city lost in a sea of Brexiters.) 2D Joan’s portrayal of democracy is also far more nuanced and iconoclastic than the one we would expect from someone belonging to the royal family. Hers come with holiday resorts, promises of a sensual integration into the European Economic Community but also with sharp comments about the machinations of political power, and those who wield it. Despite the outrageous make-up and biting appraisal of power and monarchy, the balance between critique, humour and analysis of reality is so spot on, i doubt anyone could genuinely feel offended by the video (plus, there’s the Liverpool accent which i’ve always found so charming.)


Bruce LaBruce, from the series Obscenity


Bruce LaBruce, from the series Obscenity


Bruce LaBruce, from the series Obscenity


Bruce LaBruce, Obscenity, 2012 (La Movida installation shot). Photo credit Lee Baxter for HOME


Bruce LaBruce, Obscenity, 2012 (La Movida installation shot). Photo credit Lee Baxter

On the other hand, it’s difficult to predict how people might react to artworks.

Take Bruce LaBruce‘s Obscenity portraits, for example. The prints depict Spanish cultural figures dressed as saints, nuns and angels and appearing to perform all kinds of fetishes and erotic fantasies. You might think that fashion magazines ads from the 1990s and 2000s have made us immune to glossy titillation. Or that Madonna had exhausted public indignation over the use of catholic figures in (mild) erotic context. But it turns out that visitors of the HOME exhibition were upset with this close encounter between sex and religions. Some of them even sent hand-written letters to complain about the images.

Their reactions however was nowhere near as ferocious as the ones observed in Madrid where the mayor called for an exhibition of the photo series to be closed, religious groups protested outside the gallery and someone hurled a firebomb through the window.

In an interview that followed the failed attempt to destroy the show in the Spanish capital, LaBruce shared this amusing anecdote about how he got hold of hostias: That’s a good story, actually. We first bought a bag of them in the religious supplies shop where we got all the other props for the shoots. Then during the second shoot we ran out and sent one of the flamboyant gay stylists to get some more. They wouldn’t sell them to him. In the end we got one of the girl assistants to go with a shawl on her head.


La Movida installation shot. Photo credit Lee Baxter for HOME


Linder, Pretty Girls, 1977-2007 (La Movida installation shot). Photo credit Lee Baxter for HOME


Linder, Pretty Girls, 1977-2007 (La Movida installation shot). Photo credit Lee Baxterv for HOME


Linder, from the Pretty Girls series, 1977-2007

A figure in the Manchester punk and post-punk music scenes of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Linder made posters and fliers for rock bands. Her Pretty Girls collages feature naked women found in erotic magazines with kitchen appliances in lieu of head. The series denounced how domestic technologies, instead of aiding the liberation of women, contributed to their enslavement and objectification.

It might seem like pretty standard imagery nowadays but at the time the Pretty Girls caused outrage and was rejected by Manchester’s left-wing bookshops as too extreme.


Clara Casian, House on the Borderland, 2017

Speaking of bookshops, censorship and indignation….

Clara Casian’s film House on the Borderland explores alternative publishing and censorship in Manchester via the history of Savoy Books. Heavily persecuted in the 1970s and 80s for their alternative publications, Savoy’s office and bookshops were raided by the Manchester Obscene Publications Squad more than sixty times. The attempts to restrict the activities of Savoy was part of a moral crusade orchestrated by conservative police commissioner James Anderton, nicknamed ‘God’s Cop’ because of his belief that God was guiding his defense of moral issues.

These attempts to ban boundary-pushing literature echo the fate of HOME’s Dark Habits, a publication that accompanies the exhibition La Movida. Sarah Perks and Bren O’Callaghan, curators at HOME, invited 19 contributors to explore freedom and indulgence, hedonism, transgression, sex and moral conventions for the book. They sent the texts to their usual printer who declared that the content of the book was too offensive to be printed. HOME had to find a more open-minded printer. The book was released a few days ago. I’m waiting for my copy to arrive in Turin and i’m obviously very curious about what i’m going to find inside the book.

And i’ll leave you with 3 more images. One is a touching portrait of Saint Batman, a queered, broken Batman, a folk saint of a lesser pantheon. The other two were taken while i was walking through Manchester, one of the most relentlessly exciting and energetic cities in the whole universe:


Jesse Darling, Don’t hurt Batman !!!, 2016

La Movida was curated by Sarah Perks. The show remains open at HOME in Manchester until Mon 17 Jul 2017. The guide of the exhibition is available as a PDF.

Grafters: Industrial society in image and word

Burlers and menders, Scott Mills, 1948. Courtesy of Museums and Galleries, City of Bradford MDC
Burlers and menders, Scott Mills, 1948. Courtesy of Museums and Galleries, City of Bradford MDC

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Trafford Park, 1976. Courtesy of John Bulmer

Located in a former hydraulic pumping station in Manchester, the People’s History Museum fulfills the important role of recording the struggles and the lives of ‘ordinary’ people at home, work and leisure in Great Britain over the last 200 years. I’ve visited several of their exhibitions in the past and i’ve never seen anything dull, trivial nor indeed ordinary there. Besides, the PHM motto is probably the best a cultural space could brand itself with: Ideas Worth Fighting For.

The museum recently opened Grafters: Industrial society in image and word, a photo exhibition that explores how industrial workers went from objects in photos, to heroic representations of industry and finally to photographers themselves. From the 1840s, the early moments of photography and of the Industrial Revolution, through to the present day.

And as i was in town for Incidents of Travel in the Multiverse, the AL and AL show at HOME, there was no way i’d let this photo show escape me.

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“Grand Slam” Bombs awaiting delivery, 7 January 1945. Photo: Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

In the early days of the Industrial Revolution, the working class received a rather measly attention. In the 1870s, the anonymous worker would be used as an easily recognizable unit of scale to fully illustrate the size and power of industry and its product.

“You know they’re there but they’re not really recognised”, curator Ian Beesley explained in an interview with Culture 24. “They were seen, to some extent, as disposable. We’ve got these pictures where they get a worker to stand in it so they’re just an anonymous unit of scale. One of the funniest ones we got, from Leeds, had a man next to a casting and just a note on the back saying ‘Fred was the smallest man in the foundry, so was always asked to stand next to new products because he’d make them look bigger.’

The other place where you could find photos of the workers at the time were in the mugshots made by the police to record people guilty of ‘larceny’. The practice followed Victorian theories that the shape of the head or hands of an individual reflected their criminal tendencies. This propensity to ignore the workers is an eloquent metaphor for the value that the elite of the 19th and early 20th century placed on the life of the ones they employed.

Over time, however, camera and photo processes became cheaper. The industrial workers started getting their own camera to document their lives and communities, providing thus an insider perspective on working class life.

That’s exactly what happened for Ian Beesley, the curator of the show. Beesley is now a leading documentary photographer but he used to work in factories. When he left school, the young man worked in a mill, hated it, found some work in a foundry, liked it very much but was made redundant because he was ‘too weak’ (his own words!) After that, he was employed in a textile manufacturing company, a furnace foundry and then ended up working on one of the last industrial steam railways in England.

While still working in industry, the artist felt there was a huge gap between the reality of the industrial north he was experiencing and the almost hygienic, PR-like images produced to portray it. He became interested in photography and started portraying his work colleagues and the factory life.

Mill girls, 1960. Courtesy of John Bulmer
Mill girls, 1960. Courtesy of John Bulmer

Cleaner, Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company, 1914-1918. Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council
Cleaner, Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company, 1914-1918. Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council

Grafters is a brilliant little show. Don’t miss it if you’re in or near Manchester this Spring. I enjoyed the exhibition because i’m particularly interested in the Industrial Revolution, in working class culture and in photography. But what makes the show remarkable is the way the museum, the curator and the poet Ian McMillan joined force to source some little known images and gave back some presence and dignity to individuals who, at the time some of these images were taken, had strong arms and strong legs but no names.

Images from the show:

Cleaners, Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company, 1917. Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council
Cleaners, Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company, 1917. Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council

Uniformed workers, London and North Western Railway Company, 1914-1918. Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council
Uniformed workers, London and North Western Railway Company, 1914-1918. Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council

Around the time of WWI, the group photograph of the workforce became more sophisticated, with photographers starting to create compositions that involved time, organisation and persuasion.

0Redundant tyre fitter McCormick’s Tractors, 2008. Courtesy of Ian Beesley
Redundant tyre fitter McCormick’s Tractors, 2008. Courtesy of Ian Beesley

During the closure of the McCormick’s factory in Doncaster, Ian Beesley asked the workers to tell him how they would like to be portrayed. The tyre fitter said: “I would like to be photographed in the tyre bay, in the middle of one of the biggest tyres, as this was the centre of my working life. I would like to be sat down, because that’s what I will be doing now I have been made redundant. Can you keep me in focus, but the background slightly out of focus as, that will represent my memory, all this will slowly go out of focus in my memory.”

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Ian Beesley, Spinner, Listers Mill, Bradford, 1984. From the series Through the Mill

Photos of newly arrived Asian and Caribbean workers at work are rare. It seems that some photographers were reluctant to visually record this development in Britain’s manufacturing sector.

Demolition men, Newcastle. Jimmy Forsyth, 1956. Courtesy of Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums
Demolition men, Newcastle. Jimmy Forsyth, 1956. Courtesy of Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums

George Wagstaff and his dog. Courtesy of Wakefield Council
George Wagstaff and his dog. Courtesy of Wakefield Council

Fairburn Lawson Combe & Barbour Ltd, 1940s. Courtesy of Leeds Museums and Galleries (Leeds Industiral Museum)
Fairburn Lawson Combe Barbour Ltd, 1940s. Courtesy of Leeds Museums and Galleries (Leeds Industiral Museum)

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Name: Eleanor Gardner
Arrested for: not given
Arrested at: North Shields Police Station
Arrested on: 19 February 1909
Photo Tyne and Wear Archives

Smoking chimneys, 1950s. Courtesy of Museums and Galleries, City of Bradford MDC
Smoking chimneys, 1950s. Courtesy of Museums and Galleries, City of Bradford MDC

Victoria Mustard workers, 1880s. Courtesy of Doncaster Heritage Services
Victoria Mustard workers, 1880s. Courtesy of Doncaster Heritage Services

Wigan pit brow lasses, 1880s. Courtesty of Chetham's Library
Wigan pit brow lasses, 1880s. Courtesty of Chetham’s Library

“Some of the early photo examples you get are of what you might call the exotic worker. Victorian gentlemen would collect these,” Beesley explains. “When they outlawed women and children working in mines there was an exception in the Lancashire coalfields, where women were allowed to work on the surface at pits, being known as pit-brow lassies.

The Victorian gentlemen had a little bit of a fascination with these working women and commissioned photographers to take portraits of them.”

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Jack Hulme, Fanny Morgan and her sister, Fryston. Photo Wakefield Council

Pendlebury tripe workers, 1890s. Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council
Pendlebury tripe workers, 1890s. Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council

Mills, Oldham, 1965. Courtesy of John Bulmer
Mills, Oldham, 1965. Courtesy of John Bulmer

Labourer, 1950. Courtesy of People's History Museum
Labourer, 1950. Courtesy of People’s History Museum

The image above was commissioned by the Labour Party to appear on a 1950 election poster. The photo celebrates Britain’s industrial force at a time when they had a huge electoral power. The photo illustrates the ‘Heroic Realism’ genre, a style of propaganda art that emerged in the Soviet Union and Germany in the 1930s. The visual style was later adopted by Western democracies. In Britain it continued throughout the 1950s in the rebuilding and reimagining of industry after WWII.

Land girl, 1940-1945. Courtesy of P G Hennell
Land girl, 1940-1945. Courtesy of P G Hennell

Study of two miners’ heads. Courtesy of People's History Museum
Study of two miners’ heads. Courtesy of People’s History Museum

Coal cutter. Courtesy of  the National Coal Mining Museum for England
Coal cutter. Courtesy of the National Coal Mining Museum for England

Miner, 1950s. Courtesy of  the National Coal Mining Museum for England
Miner, 1950s. Courtesy of the National Coal Mining Museum for England

Miners playing with their children, Fryston, 1940s. Courtesy of Wakefield Council
Miners playing with their children, Fryston, 1940s. Courtesy of Wakefield Council

The Black Country, 1961. Courtesy of John Bulmer
The Black Country, 1961. Courtesy of John Bulmer

Man cages made by Vickers Armstrong, 1936. Courtesy of Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums
Man cages made by Vickers Armstrong, 1936. Courtesy of Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums

Blakey's, 1950s. Courtesy of Leeds Museums and Galleries (Leeds Industrial Museum)
Blakey’s, 1950s. Courtesy of Leeds Museums and Galleries (Leeds Industrial Museum)

Building of the Manchester Ship Canal, 1887-1893. Courtesy of Chetham's Library 1
Building of the Manchester Ship Canal, 1887-1893. Courtesy of Chetham’s Library

Building of the Manchester Ship Canal, 1887-1893. Courtesy of Chetham's Library 2
Building of the Manchester Ship Canal, 1887-1893. Courtesy of Chetham’s Library

Building of the Manchester Ship Canal, 1887-1893. Courtesy of Chetham's Library 3
Building of the Manchester Ship Canal, 1887-1893. Courtesy of Chetham’s Library

Building of the Manchester Ship Canal, 1887-1893. Courtesy of Chetham's Library 4
Building of the Manchester Ship Canal, 1887-1893. Courtesy of Chetham’s Library

Grafters: Industrial Society in Image and Word runs at the People’s History Museum, in Manchester, until 14 August 2016.

Check out also this interview with Ian Beesley in Culture24: Grafters: Visions and Voices of Industrial Society offers amazing photos from the past at Manchester’s People’s History Museum.
Related story: For Ever Amber, ennobling working class and marginalized communities.

AL and AL, Incidents of Travel in the Multiverse

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AL and AL. Incidents of Travel in the Multiverse. Installation view. Photo credit Simon Liddiard. Image courtesy HOME

HOME in Manchester have recently opened a solo show by filmmakers and artists AL and AL. Called Incidents of Travel in the Multiverse, the exhibition brings side by side poetry and suspense, art and physics, children book and video art, Greek mythology and Einstein’s theory of general relativity, music by Philip Glass and Tarot cards, spirituality and human cloning. But in a form that is fortunately far more digestible than my introduction would suggest…

I discovered AL and AL‘s work in 2012. When cultural center HOME in Manchester was still located on Oxford Road and called Cornerhouse. The center had launched a call to commission an experimental short film on the occasion of the centenary of Alan Turing’s birth. AL and AL won the competition and produced a spectacularly intelligent and poignant film called The Creator. The 40-minute work hovers between past and future, imagining Turing’s final days and introducing us to the thinking machines of the future who journey through time to meet the man who is at the origin of artificial intelligence.

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AL and AL, Incidents of Travel in the Multiverse. The Creator. Installation view. Photo credit Simon Liddiard. Images courtesy HOME

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AL and AL, The Creator

The film depicts Turing as the exceptional mind we already know but also as a tragic figure who was convicted with gross indecency for being homosexual and forced to undergo hormonal treatment designed to reduce libido.

AL and AL’s film was inspired by Turing’s life and works, and in particular by the distress that followed the loss of the first love of his life, fellow pupil Christopher Morcom who died in February 1930.

Griefstricken, Turing started sending letters to Morcom’s mother. In one of these, he wrote> Personally, I believe that spirit is really eternally connected with matter but certainly not by the same kind of body. The sentence inspired the artists to imagine that one of the reasons why Turing was so intent on creating thinking machines was that they could be inhabited by the spirit of Christopher and would thus help him reconnect with the friend he had lost.

The artists believe that some of the greatest scientific achievements come into existence because of a personal story. During the private view of the show, the artists explained how real human stories affect and shape scientific research by giving the example of John Archibald Wheeler. While working on the Manhattan project, the physicist received a postcard from his brother, Joe, who was fighting in the front lines back in the Second World War. The postcard just read: “Hurry up.” Wheeler then sped up his work so that the nuclear fission experiments could also be used to end the Second World War, and thus bring his brother safely back home.

Turing is one of three key scientists whose work is featured in AL and AL’s Manchester exhibition. The first story travels to the edge of a black hole to explore Einstein’s general theory of relativity. The second chapter is the one dedicated to Alan Turing and the thinking machines. The last chapter is inspired by molecular biologist Francis Crick and takes us across the universe to find the origins of life and a cure for death.

ICARUS: At the Edge of Time – Official Trailer

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AL and AL, Incidents of Travel in the Multiverse. Icarus at the Edge of Time. Installation view. Photo credit Simon Liddiard. Images courtesy HOME

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AL and AL. Incidents of Travel in the Multiverse. Installation view. Photo credit Simon Liddiard. Images courtesy HOME

Icarus at the Edge of Time is the first film made for the trilogy. The story is a kind of space opera based upon a children’s book written by physicist Professor Brian Greene who, in 2008, updated the Greek mythological story of Icarus to explain Einstein’s theory of relativity to his 5 year old son. The story transforms the mythological Icarus into a boy who defies his father, builds a spaceship and leaves planet Earth to make the first interstellar journey. Curiosity drives the boy to a passing black hole where he quickly forgets that general relativity predicts that the massive gravitational fields slow down time drastically for anyone or anything that finds themselves at the edge of the black hole. Because of this time dilation, young Icarus has thus been projected into what constitutes ‘the future’ for people on Earth. When the boy finally returns to the mother ship, he discovers that 10,000 Earth years have elapsed, he learns that all his friends and family have long died and that he has become a mythical figure, just like the classical Icarus.

Icarus at the Edge of Time takes the form of a three channel video triptych in the gallery, and of a live concert hall performance which took place at the Royal Northern College of Music on the 6th of February, with visuals by AL and AL, score by Philip Glass, and music from the BBC Philharmonic. Green himself flew in to narrate the story in front of the audience.

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AL and AL, Incidents of Travel in the Multiverse. The Demiurge. Installation view. Photo credit Simon Liddiard. Images courtesy HOME

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AL and AL, Incidents of Travel in the Multiverse. The Demiurge. Installation view. Photo credit Simon Liddiard. Images courtesy HOME

The third journey, The Demiurge, commissioned by the Wellcome Trust and receiving its world premiere at HOME, was inspired by Francis Crick’s panspermia speculation, a rather weird hypothesis to explain the origins of life on Earth. The theory suggests that life may have been distributed by an advanced extraterrestrial civilization in the form of DNA encapsulated within small grains.

The work is also feeding on discussions that the artists had with Bart Hoogenboom, the nanobiophysicist who created the world’s first ‘real’ images of DNA using the Braille-like technique of a super powerful atomic force microscope. AL and AL explores the origin and destiny of DNA (and thus of life itself) through the tale of a scientist mourning the loss of the woman he loves. Accompanied by a crew of genetically modified clones, the scientist travels across the universe searching for a way to bring his dead wife back to life.

Interestingly, all the roles in the film are played by only one actress. Sophie Linfield portrays more than a dozen different roles, often playing against or in dialogue with another of her many selves. She played in front of a blue screen, and had no props, no set, nor fellow actor to engage with.

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AL and AL. Incidents of Travel in the Multiverse. Installation view. Photo credit Simon Liddiard. Image courtesy HOME

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AL and AL, Incidents of Travel in the Multiverse. Vestibule. Installation view. Photo credit Simon Liddiard. Image courtesy HOME

The exhibition walls of HOME are part and parcel of these extraordinary journeys through space and time. The walls are painted jet black and as you enter the show, the screens, light works and drawings look like distant stars. It feels a bit like a planetarium. I found the delicate drawings particularly stunning. They were etched in white on black music paper, the same paper especially printed for American composer Philip Glass to make his notations. Made over the last five years, the drawings worked both as planning-and-development support while preparing the films and as artworks in their own right.

As for the light works, they embody perfectly the coexistence between concepts and ideas that, elsewhere, would seem to be completely antithetical and contradictory: objectivity and emotions, logic and irrationality, etc. At the entrance, a high neon sign spells “I Love You” in binary code…

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AL and AL. Incidents of Travel in the Multiverse. I Love You. Installation view. Photo credit Simon Liddiard. Image courtesy HOME

A few meters further, another neon reproduces an equation related to time dilation:

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AL and AL. What Time Is It?, Incidents of Travel in the Multiverse. Installation view. Photo credit Simon Liddiard. Image courtesy HOME

Incidents of Travel in the Multiverse investigates in the most subtle and poetical way the fascinating, life-transforming but also the dark sides of technology. It is one of those rare exhibitions that push me out of my comfort zone, and thus make my life as a blogger so interesting. One moment i was sitting down, watching the film, being moved by the stories and sharing feelings with characters whose struggles had nothing to do with mine. Next i was furiously texting my boyfriend, sending him blurry screenshots of the screen and exchanging facts about black holes and DNA imagery with him.

If you’re lucky enough to live in Manchester (which in my book is the coolest city in Europe), do take advantage of the free entrance and enjoy the show bit by bit. One film at a time. I wish i had stayed another day in town to fully enjoy each film.

The exhibition launches AL and AL’s new book, Incidents of Travel in the Multiverse, a travelogue in the artist’s words and images, featuring essays on the Multiverse by Professor Brian Greene, graphic novelist Grant Morrison as well as author and mythographer Marina Warner. Designed by Dan Streat. The publication is available from Cornerhouse Publications online shop.

Incidents of Travel in the Multiverse is at HOME in Manchester until Sun 10 April 2016.

Previously: Al & Al: The Creator.