Activities and Events

Unit X Festival 2017 – Inspired by Ceremony

Words & Images: Aimee Plumbley

Unit X students and staff occupied Bruntwood’s NEO building on Tuesday night. Animation, filmmaking and photography student’s short films were displayed across the enormous digital screens in the lobby area.

The short films were inspired by Phil Collins’ ‘Ceremony’, dedicated to Friedrich Engels, as part of the Manchester International Festival.



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Unit X Festival 2017 – Identity

Words & Images: Aimee Plumbley

First year Three Dimensional Design and Interior Design students displayed their work in Manchester’s quirkiest independent bookshop ‘Chapter One’ as part of the Unit X Festival.

Interior Design students responded to the concept of ‘paper towns’, which are towns or places created by mapmakers that don’t exist, in order to deter plagiarism. Students explored the concept of ‘paper towns’ within the Manchester context. The response to this topic varied greatly; from the placement of fake blue plaques misplacing Manchester’s history, to dreamy visual constructions depicting fake towns in popular culture and the blending between realities.

3D Design students explored the identity of Manchester in their pieces. The prevalent themes were: what Manchester is, its histories, its culture and what Manchester could be in the future. Students drew on things such as Manchester’s architecture; communities; industrial past; homelessness issue; drug culture- to defining events such as the Strangeways riots. Pieces included ‘knuckledusters’ made out of everyday objects and accompanying zine, inspired by the Strangeways riots, to plant pots inspired by Manchester’s connection with its canals and sustainability.

Well done to everyone involved!

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Placement Project – London Road Fire Station

Words: Harriet Redfearn 

Images: Harrier Redfearn, Alicia Hill, Benjamin Green

Undertaking a placement was one of the twelve options for our second year Unit X. I decided the London Road project would offer me a fascinating and engaging placement which would inform my future practice as a maker and/or curator. I was offered the role of the project and research assistant working alongside Jenny Walker. Jenny, my past tutor and now individual practitioner, is currently leading the London Road project in collaboration with staff and students from Manchester School of Art. Jenny is involved with other heritage projects similar to London Road. She is working as the creative advisor for the ongoing Bradford Pit project which aims to commemorate the lives of the miners who worked at Manchester’s Bradford Pit.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the City of Manchester Corporation commissioned a new fire station. No expense was spared. The finest architects, materials, and fittings were employed and state of the art technologies were installed to erect the ‘finest fire station in this round world’. But London Road Fire Station was much more than just a fire station; it was a thriving community at the heart of the city centre. The building was comprised of homes for forty-two firemen and their families, a police station, a coroner’s court, a bank, a club room, a gym, workshops, and more. This building, its fire brigade, police force, and ambulance service safeguarded the city of Manchester for over eighty years. Today, the building is derelict and has sadly been neglected for nearly three decades. However, the recent owners of the building, Allied London, are leasing spaces for the building to be resurrected and transformed into a variety of commercial uses such as a hotel, restaurants and apartments.

Before works on the building begin, there is a small window of opportunity for staff and students of Manchester School of Art to visit the site and gather inspiration for their creative projects in response to the fire station’s history. The intention for the student project is not to just visually respond to inspiration, it is to reveal some of the lesser known stories of London Road Fire Station through their artwork. This is so that future visitors can understand more about the history of the building, beyond what they can immediately see.

One of the London Road project’s aims is to collect and conserve memories of those associated with Manchester’s fire station. Over the past couple of weeks, myself and Jenny, along with volunteers from Manchester School of Art have been interviewing former residents of London Road Fire Station on site, often in the flats they used to live in. I have been recording the audio of these reactions, memories, and stories in order to compile an archive of oral histories. Perhaps these stories will also inspire the staff and student’s artworks which will be exhibited in the future. This exhibition may be held at the Greater Manchester Fire Service Museum in Rochdale but this venue is yet to be confirmed.

As well as recording the oral histories, we have been undertaking archeological style research at London Road Fire Station. We have been collecting and documenting old newspapers, rusted screws, fragments of vintage wallpaper, small pieces of terracotta and other physical material that may evidence what life was like at London Road Fire Station. Our documented findings, along with photographs, literature, and objects that people share with us will be gathered together and put into a digital archive that will preserve the memories made at London Road Fire Station.

Pursuing this placement is really giving me an insight into what is involved in running a creative heritage project and how a project like this can benefit a community. Managing both the public involvement and the student project are teaching me valuable skills that can be put into practice outside of university as well as within my studies. For example, I am learning about the various ways people attribute value to stories. The people formerly associated with London Road tend to recall memories of which they deem to be of real significance or value, stories they believe will inspire the creative students the most, such as the time a milk cart was stolen and driven into a wall of the engine house. But some of the students tend to attribute value to, and seek inspiration from, the more obscure and personal memories too, such as where an individual would seek lone refuge from such an inescapable communal place. Understanding these two contrasting ideas will benefit any further research I undertake. I will be mindful to encourage interviewees to speak of the less conventionally significant stories as well as their momentous memories in order to compose an in-depth primary research file.

I am also gaining an insight into the ways creatives and companies collaborate by working alongside professionals from other disciplines such as filmmakers and photographers, cultural institutions like the Greater Manchester Fire Service Museum, and commercial enterprises such as Allied London and Zetter Hotels. For example, I have gained an enhanced understanding of how regional museums can benefit from engaging with student projects. By inviting the students from Manchester School of Art to gather inspiration from their artefacts and paper archives, the museum increases their visitor numbers and improves their profile. This in turn has supported the Greater Manchester Fire Service Museum in its Heritage Lottery Fund bid to extend their Rochdale-based museum, as well as providing invaluable research for the students.

This is also helping me gain an understanding of how projects like London Road are mutually beneficial to all involved, from intergenerational members of the public and students to commercial enterprises and professionals. Gaining commissions and supporting applications for funding are examples of how creatives could potentially benefit from working alongside commercial enterprises. Commercial enterprises like Zetter Hotels could also commission creatives to work on projects which would add significant historical and cultural value to their businesses. Many of the older people we have interviewed on site have brought along younger members of their family who have been eager to finally connect the place with the stories they have been told throughout their lives of London Road Fire Station. As well as helping generations understand each other, recalling memories has been shown to benefit health and well-being, and revisiting the fire station has undoubtedly been a meaningful and emotional process for everyone involved.

In a nutshell, the London Road project aims to integrate heritage, arts and education by combining historical and archaeological research with creative interpretation, approaches, and visual responses. We intend for this interdisciplinary approach to add significant and unique social value to this heritage project. Jenny and I, along with everyone currently involved in the project, are all passionate about connecting people with an extremely significant part of Manchester’s history, with a building that holds so many stories within its walls, London Road Fire Station.

Inspirer Talk – Judy Blame

Words: Aimee Plumbley

Judy Blame is a stylist and art director, his work is tinged by his punk aesthetic. Judy explained his previous projects, ideas and things that have inspired him and continue to do so; “anything can inspire me, from a button, postage stamp to a record”.

Judy highlighted a project where he worked with Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs on customising denim jackets. The brief required Judy to marry the customising aesthetic on top of a hideously expensive denim jacket- it enabled Judy to take a very street idea and to “shamelessly” push it through a posh Paris fashion house. Judy has also worked with Commes des Garcon, and also Neneh Cherry, Björk, Boy George and Kylie Minogue.

“I’m in a position of privilege, I’m chipping away from the inside rather than just confronting the outside. There’s a thin line to my work, and I like to tread on it.” – Judy on his non-conformist attitude.

Throughout his extensive career spanning over 35 years, Judy has taken many stylised photos. However, he admits that his fashion photography is quite simple: “If Ray Petri [I wouldn’t be where I am without him] taught me one thing about taking pictures; is to think about the person first, the photograph second and the outfit last.” “You don’t need everything and the kitchen sink to take a good fashion photograph”.

Most recently, Judy has worked with the Institute of Contemporary Art to put on a solo exhibition. To coincide with this Judy decided to go back to his roots and the time he spent in Manchester in the 1970s, where one of the mediums to find out something about a band or gig was the Fanzine. Judy commissioned what he termed a “posh fanzine” called ‘Riot’ as an alternative to a catalogue. It contains pieces from Judy’s archive and also exclusive contributions from the likes of Massive Attack, Dave Baby, Juergen Teller and so on.

A member of the audience probed Judy more about the collages he has created:

“I’m not that confident about my drawing, and I’m a big fan of collage as a way of illustrating an idea… A lot of my work has a really graphic side to it when I look at something I don’t just look at it as a picture, I like to crop or edit I like to see it not on a page. I like to collect imagery and then put it all together, I’m a bit of a magpie, and I’m always on the hunt for a good idea.  I either stick it in an ideas book, or record it in some other way. For me it’s like building a visual dictionary of everything that appeals to me… Collage just doesn’t have to be made from magazines or stickers. My latest thing is bottle tops in every colour. I’m not sure how to use it yet, but I’m waiting for the collection to inspire a new idea for a project”.

When asked how Judy got to where he is today, he answered: “luck”. Judy was first noticed in the punk/club scene, as “back in the day, we all wore what we were doing at the time- like walking adverts”. Judy scavenged material to make his jewellery, and was commissioned to make one off pieces- this eventually led from one thing to another to where he is today.

“It’s not all been glittery, but I’ve enjoyed waking up every day to do what I do.”

A big thank you to both Judy Blame and Malcolm Garret for their contribution to the Inspirer series, and the Punk workshop they ran.

Punk Workshop

Words: Aimee Plumbley

Images: Zoe Hitchen

Last week, level five students on the option three Punk project stream took part in a process led workshop held by graphic designer Malcolm Garrett, and stylist and art director Judy Blame. Malcolm and Judy are old school punks who studied in Manchester in the 1970s.


The students prepared research in advance of the workshop, which fed into a physical response to image and identity. The brief required students to ask questions such as ‘What inspires/ frustrates you?’ and ‘What do you feel a part of?’ to inspire their physical manifestations of punk.

Our students approached the brief from different perspectives, and the physical responses varied. Some of the ideas explored throughout the workshop included:

  • Punk and femininity acting as masks.
  • The commodification of punk and feminism. Especially conversation i.e. wearing the punk aesthetic, but not actually making any political statement.
  • Does punk still have currency? What is punk in 2017? In this world of hyper-reality, is making conversation with eye contact breaking the norm and rebelling? Could putting away our phones and in fact talking to one another be punk?

Malcolm explained the workshop was a unique opportunity for students to act unprofessionally in a professional setting, the punk aesthetic after all is supposed to be fun. The students were learning in a different style of learning as opposed to usual workshops at University.

“Punk encouraged personal expression and endorsed positive, personal intervention in society.”

We caught up with a second year Interactive Arts student who found the workshop “exciting”, and was inspired by the sense of community in collaborating with various creative students. She felt the workshop “allowed me to express how I’d like to present my work”, and was a welcome break from the academic model.

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Inspirer Talk – DR ME

Words: Aimee Plumbley

DR.ME is made up of Ryan Doyle and Mark Edwards. DR.ME is in fact an acronym of their names. Ryan and Mark met on their first day at Manchester Met, and have continued to collaborate ever since. At University they both decided working for a design studio wasn’t the direction they wanted to be in and instead set up DR.ME, their own personal design studio.

The session covered pieces of work they had done, and tips and insights behind the work that helped DR.ME grow.

The session opened with a film documenting DR.ME’s ‘365 Days of Collage’ project, which invited the studio to commission a new piece of collage every day over the course of the year.

Mark reflected “it started a fire in us, in regards to the immediacy and speed in which we could create collage. We could approach so many subjects in a short space of time”.

On the back of this, DR.ME approached Thames and Hudson to publish a compendium, ‘Cut That Out’, celebrating different graphic designers who are excelling in the field of producing collage. They quickly realised that the preconceived idea that collage just involves copying and pasting paper is wrong. ‘Cut That Out’ demonstrated that collage isn’t limited to one medium, but can incorporate many elements, from photography to fashion design.

Ryan and Mark admitted they did not study curation, but rather it was something they had developed naturally. This was especially enhanced by the one-day exhibitions they put on monthly during their time at University. The Waiting Room was held at Nexus Art Café, and would invite artists from across the UK to hold mini exhibitions and live screen-printings.

“We were reaching out to people we admired, and making connections whilst we were still at Uni.”

Due to their pro-activeness and network of artists they had built up, they landed an exhibition at Urban Outfitters called ‘Like What Kids Do’ after they graduated. This then led on to being invited to curate a month-long exhibition in New York with Mike Perry called ‘Wondering around Wandering’. The experience from the Waiting Room was essential in obtaining these opportunities.

DR.ME also work with musicians and design record sleeves, posters and even a music video for Dutch Uncles. Ryan reiterated the importance of having a large network and getting yourself out there, “knowing people in bands got us some of our first jobs”. It was when they were producing Dutch Uncle’s sleeve they established a manifesto, that is, everything is primarily hand-made with the bare minimum of computer tweaking as it’s “got a more truthful aesthetic”.

“Don’t limit yourself to one medium, if you’re a creative student you can do anything”

You shouldn’t have to work for free, but in some circumstances it is beneficial for both parties. This rang true in regards to the work that DR.ME produces for Midi Festival. Midi Festival lost their funding and sought DR.ME to design their poster and murals. Sometimes “you have to rely on your gut and work out whether… whether you like the commissioner, believe in them and can trust them”. In the long run, it turned out to be a fruitful relationship.

“Failure is more important than successes. You learn from mistakes, and learn not be scared to try new things.”

Ryan and Mark then turned to what inspires them as a collective studio. They referenced ‘Beautiful Losers’ as a source of inspiration. Beautiful Losers is a documentary that follows a group of friends who are making art, it showed Ryan and Mark that you can survive outside of a studio and make money. Watch it here:

They also felt the time they interned at Mike Perry’s studio a turning point. Mike would be in his studio from 7am to 7pm. He taught Ryan and Mark how to run a studio; not just the ‘cool stuff’ but the day-to-day stuff like paying bills and creating because you have spare time.

They also credit James Victore’s ‘Burning Questions’ webcast (Link), and travelling as a way to gain and engage with different perspectives. And finally, ‘friendship’ ensure you surround yourself with good people. People who will inspire you. Not only illustrators, designers and makers, but musicians, photographers, fashion designers etc.

Thanks to Ryan and Mark for dropping in! Follow them at @DRME_Studio,and check out their exhibition in Leeds ‘Shoulda woulda coulda’ on 31st March/1 April.


Inspirer Talk – Sophie Lee

Words & Images: Aimee Plumbley

As we are in the midst of Unit X, Sophie Lee delivered a lecture on the evolution of her collaborative work and gave students advice on professional practice for the future. Sophie works with the medium of photography and film, and her work responds to people and context.

Sophie is a Manchester Met alumnus, and in her final year she produced a photographic series entitled ‘Plain Jane’. For a period of three months, Sophie inhabited an empty warehouse in order to focus on developing the title character, something she picked up from a film module she undertook as part of her undergraduate degree. It was an incredibly private, yet well received piece.

After graduating, Sophie struggled to maintain her full time teaching position and making art as and when she liked. Instead, she sought solace in taking up artist residencies when she could. Apart from providing space away from work, it provided the opportunity to be part of a community of artists and to network, similar to her time at University.

One of Sophie’s most productive Artist residencies was at Sim Artists in Iceland. She felt she developed from a ‘bedroom artist’ to working collaboratively, sharing space and gaining feedback for her work. Her proposal was based upon the Icelandic curriculum on how they teach art. In Iceland, the curriculum encourages a process led approach to art as opposed to a focus on the end product. The mistakes that are made along the way are valued. As a response to this, Sophie created a photo series documenting the mistakes that students made in a ceramics class.


 “It was a really uncomfortable shift to really open up and work with other people, but I wouldn’t have been able to see a way of making more ambitious work without involving people in that process.”

Sophie went full-time last year and so far encountered two funded opportunities. These included:

  • Culture Action Llandudno: The brief required artists to run a free art school that local and national people could attend. Sophie found it easy to convey her passion for the project from her experience from working in schools and the research she conducted whilst she was in Iceland; her research was about modes of learning. Sophie conducted a workshop, contributed to the evaluation of the project, and commissioned a new film called ‘From not known, to knowing’, which drew comparisons to the journey of the creative learning process
  • Outside XChanges: This project brought together artists with learning disabilities and emerging artists. She collaborated with several artists to conduct live interviews and performative pieces, which then accumulated in to a film piece. Sophie reflected that the fee wasn’t proportionate, but the opportunity provided a space in Castlefield gallery and the opportunity to work collaboratively. The work she produced was critically acclaimed and gave her a lot of exposure. Check out the projects at:

Based on Sophie’s experience with Outsider Xchanges, she offered her best advice for being strategic before investing time on an opportunity:

  • Look at the organisation offering the opportunity – who are their partners? Their audience? Who are you going to be building a relationship with?
  • Look at Artists who they have worked with previously – what do their CVs look like? Are they still active or creating interesting things? This will help you to decide if you are pitching yourself in the right place.
  • What are they offering? A fee? Or, something in kind- exposure, networking, gallery space or new skills.

And on making an application, Sophie advised:

  • Be honest with yourself: does it fit in with your interests? If you’re truly passionate about the subject, it will be conveyed across your application.
  • Refer to projects you are working on, or have worked on to show that you’re active. It will demonstrate how their project fits in with what you’re doing.
  • What is the legacy of the project? How is the project going to expand your practice?
  • Keep an up-to-date portfolio; and start documenting the work you’re doing at University now!

Her current live project ‘Make Place’ is a research and development project. ‘Make Place’ was inspired by a story Sophie heard in 2015, about an Icelandic man who had been building wooden houses on an isolated island to prevent sale of the island. The houses are painted blue and yellow, and are named after each of his siblings as a tribute. Sophie was drawn to the story, because the concept that an Individual is so far from the reach of society yet seeks organisation by creating their own infrastructure appealed to her abstractly. It had notions of home and identity.  Following a visit to the site, Sophie played around with the ideas in her studio, which resulted in conversations with people who had similar interests and interpretations. This has formed a programme of public talks, as part of her exhibition. She has also commissioned a new fictional audio-visual piece which she feels is quite ambitious, in addition to her other pieces.

In the spirit of Unit X, Sophie gave these final words of wisdom:

“I’d encourage you to embrace the wealth of different perspectives from different creative courses, and the interesting students and staff all around you. Tap into that resource, you won’t regret it.”

Keep up to date with Sophie at: @SophieMeganLee

Sophie’s ‘Make Place’ gallery installation begins on 31st March until the 9th April, ArtWork Atelier: