Inspirer Talk – Ian Pollock

Words: Aimee Plumbley 

Ian Pollock’s work is collaborative, playful and irreverent. It is fitting, therefore, that we have Ian delivering one of our Inspirer lectures. It is in the spirit of Unit X.

As part of the Inspirer series, esteemed illustrator Ian Pollock gave a lecture to a packed theatre of students. Ian is a Manchester Metropolitan University alumnus with an extensive illustrative career spanning from clients such as Rolling Stone; Playboy; The Guardian; GQ; the New York Times; New Scientist. Most recently he collaborated with the Pixies to illustrate their album cover. With such an extensive career, it was no wonder the session overran.


Throughout the talk, Ian detailed the ups and downs of being a freelance illustrator, from having no work to having a constant cycle of brief after brief. It became apparent throughout the session that despite his high profile success, Ian’s work is underpinned by a constant flow of self-initiated drawing and scribbling on themes as a source of inspiration.


After the lecture, the students were invited to a Q&A with Ian. One student asked Ian about how he transitions from working to briefs to having his more personal work curated, such as Parables of Christ.  Ian answered that the two in fact run parallel to each other:

“there’s something about the illustrator in me that likes to pick a series and to see the development and progression of my work”

Ian found pursuing more personal work an “antidote to the straight, serious briefs”, that sometimes hindered his creative freedom. It is cathartic.

Thanks to Ian for giving us such an intimate insight in to his career. Check out some of Ian’s work on his website.



Inspirer Talk – Harold Offeh

Words: Clare Campion


Our latest Inspirer talk was provided by artist, performer and lecturer, Harold Offeh.

Harold’s talk focused on who and what has influenced his work, projects he has worked on and the importance of identity and mythology. This was a full on, hour long performance in itself.

A big influencer for Harold is Sun Ra. Born Herman Poole Blount, Sun Ra was a jazz musician and performer from America who created a myth narrative in the late 1950s and adopted this new identity. These themes of myth and identity were of great interest to Harold and inspire his work as an artist and performer.


Previous Projects

Harold talked through a number of his previous projects, again demonstrating the importance of identity and mythology and their impact on everyday life.

Two of his previous projects have involved working with London Underground. The first project was an interpretation of the Underground symbol called Tube Lips to celebrate 100 years of the symbol along with 99 other artists.


The other project saw Harold working with young people from different parts of the city to see their interpretations of different areas. This project was called Transporter and marked the 150th anniversary of the Underground. As this was a celebratory event, the brief for the project was to imagine the next 150 years of the Underground, how it might change/develop, and how the surroundings might evolve around it. Such a theme allowed the young people to be involved in creating something that would be seen by thousands of people. They worked on a sci-fi theme with the idea of commuters moving through space. This theme links back to the Sun Ra influence and ties in with the idea of mythology.

Harold told the audience that he loves the sci-fi theme and made an interesting statement:

‘When I ask people to think about the future they often reflect on the present’

Harold’s next project is very different to the work for London Underground, yet still embodies the narratives of identity and mythology. The project is called Covers where Harold re-enacts images from album covers in order to deconstruct the original image. From this work, Harold was invited to do a live performance of his interpretations of the images. He would take up the pose position and attempt to hold it for the length of a song from that album:

‘My performance is always a failure as it’s impossible to maintain’


Harold shared a curatorial collaboration he worked on for Tate Britain called Radio City, which was a radio, sound and performance work. The Tate’s learning team invited artists to submit proposals for activities that would engage ‘families’. In this instance that is anyone under 16 and anyone over 16.

In collaboration with Marion Harrison, Harold offered the space to other artists as a residency for a set number of days to come up with and produce their ideas. This culminated in a fifteen-minute radio broadcast at the end of their residency.

Using radio and sound as a platform is more enabling as it isn’t visual, and allows for another way to disseminate ideas.

The final project Harold discussed was Snap Like A Diva. (*There is a link to a video on the site, but please be aware it contains strobe lighting)

He was influenced by a documentary from the late 1980s called Tongues United set in New York. The documentary mapped language and the lexicon of movement. From this inspiration, Harold created a collaborative, interactive workshop called ‘Snap Diva’, explaining the finer points of ‘Snapology’.


Harold was also influenced by another documentary called ‘Paris is Burning’.


This workshop ties in with the previous themes of mythology and identity.

‘As artists you are making your own mythology. It’s about branding. You have to market and sell your work, which is mythologizing.’

Harold told the audience that his practice has become very proliferated. Working in performance that can exist in many spaces, working with people from so many different areas, has allowed this proliferation to happen.

‘You have the potential to be strategic and playful. Think about how you position yourself, about how you want to be framed.’

Inspirer Talk – Jonathan McGrath

Words: Aimee Plumbley

In late January, the Unit X blog caught up with Jonathan McGrath who spoke as part of the Inspirer series. Jonathan is an actor, theatre director, facilitator and lecturer (to name a few of his creative guises), with a penchant for creating lo-fi pieces.

“When you have nothing at all you are at your freest… [money] can actually make art restrictive and constipated.”

His most recent piece ‘Smoke’ is a children’s show about dying, and the inevitability that we all turn into carbon. The main components of the show are a wet suit fitted with hosepipe, that he found lying around, and a catering skip fitted with a smoke machine- this all fit into the back of a transit van. Smoke has toured across the UK and across eight different locations in Europe.

“You don’t need to have a big institution or a gazillion pounds from Tate Modern, you can make something in your kitchen and tour all over the world with it.”

Jonathan is developing another piece called ‘Almighty Explosion’. The concept for ‘Almighty Explosion’ came about because of the imminent fact that Jonathan will be a father in a few weeks,  a “gorgeous creative project”.  ‘Almighty Explosion’ will be a very intimate performance, based in a café in Stratford-upon-Avon that has not been touched since the 1980’s. Throughout the show Jonathan will filter though both his and the audiences memories of childhood, and decide which will be injected into the child’s life- as if it were a blank canvas.

Another venture Jonathan is working on is the Fear Project. It’s in its very early developmental stage, but is going to tour from Manchester’s ‘Home’ and conclude in Berlin. It’s going to be very frightening. After all, fear governs everyone’s life to some degree, and it manifests in the human body in a very exciting way. The project will reflect Jonathan’s love of creating lo-fi pieces, as the special effects are going to be analog [see Pepper’s Ghost for reference]. Keep up to date with the progress of the Fear Project on Jonathan’s website.


In terms of what advice he would offer to Unit X Students, Jonathan said identify who is in your tribe:

  • Find a support network you can rely on just to make stuff or have an adventure with, often working through issues can turn into a creative project itself.
  • Making friends sounds so much less awkward than networking- but it’s essential. The friends you make at this stage in your life, especially at University, will likely propel you through the first few years of your career after graduation.
  • Sit around as many different creative tables as possible, go and see each other’s work- so that you can get as much work as possible. Be hungry for as much sh*t as possible.
  • Quite often artists try to magic themselves to the finished product, can’t see it, and are put off. If you just jump to the end, it doesn’t mean anything- but if the process itself is really, really rich, then the end product will mean something, and you will enjoy it so much more.

“Manchester is a really good place to start a career in the arts- it has a really good support network. Places like Bristol, Liverpool and Glasgow are too.”

For more, checkout Jonathan’s website at

If you would like to contribute a memory to ‘Almighty Explosion’, get in touch on his website.

Jonathan is also looking for help with designing the set of the Fear project. Again, if you are interested, contact him via his website for more details.

Unit X 2017

Words: Aimee Plumbley

Welcome to Unit X 2017!

Unit X is an innovative module that aids students’ professional development by working on externally focused projects, and enables the unique interdisciplinary opportunity to collaborate with undergraduate students across Manchester School of Art.

First year students have the opportunity to collaborate with students from other course areas across the School of Art. Collaborations this year include students from BA (Hons) Textiles in Practice, Interior Design and Three Dimensional Design to Film Making, Photography and Animation, whom will be working in interdisciplinary teams to complete a set brief.

Second year students have the opportunity to select a brief from a list of 12 intriguing live project titles. The project options this year include: Option 1 Publishing; Option 2 Placements; Option 3 Punk Project; Option 4 Isokon; Option 5 Narrative Encounters; Option 6 Festival; Option 7 Educator; Option 8 Studio Project; Option 9 Identical Lunch; Option 10 Future Intelligence; Option 11 Miao; and Option 12 Rebel-Tartan.

Third year students will be given support to professionalise their practice through the Enrichment Series, with the outlook that they will have developed as professional artists/designers upon graduation.

The Enrichment Series commences Thursday 9th March and will take place every Thursday thereafter. The timetable of events and activities will be available on Moodle, so make sure to check back regularly.

Unit X officially kick starts from the 6th of March.

Throughout the unit, the blog will be updated with coverage of the Inspirer Series, Enrichment Series and student and staff insights into ongoing projects.

Unit X will eventually reach its climax with the weeklong Unit X festival commencing on Monday 8th of May. We can’t wait!


Words by Hanieh Hazrati

Manchester Met’s Spectrum embarked on an exploration of art and science in response to a major international exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery.

Spectrum was a learner-curated gallery intervention in response to The Imitation Game, a major exhibition held as part of the European City of Science festival, which critically examines robots, computing, engineering, and the impact of such technology on our understanding of life.

The event brought together students from Manchester School of Art with those from the faculty of Science and Engineering, with the aim of expanding Manchester Met’s exploration of art-science practice through teaching and collaboration.

During the process students worked alongside professional artists, scientists, curators, gallery educators, and science communicators, as well as experiencing a range of tours and presentations from people including artist Tony Hall, who demonstrated his table top experiments with Ferro fluid and ink, and Professor Andy Miah who delivered his experiences in science education and public engagement.

Students were introduced to each other’s working environments, operating in both art studios and science labs, exposing them to each other’s curiosities, methods and social concerns.  They continually worked on experiments in both the lab and the studio, experimenting together which in turn accelerated new questions and knowledge that changed learning habits and developed their science and art practices.

Organised by artists Annie Carpenter, Ella McCartney (MSA)  Dave Griffiths (Manchester School of Art), physicist and poet Sam Illingworth (Faculty of Science & Engineering), and curator Clare Gannaway, the art gallery came into life by featuring six exhibitions called; Emotional Training, Eternal Return, Vibrio Fischeri, Nothing, Evolution and Remember Me.

Manchester Art Gallery curator Kate Jesson said: “We felt the evening to be a great success. We are at our happiest when the gallery comes alive with all the creativity of the city’s future artists. The partnerships with young scientists made this year’s Unit X project extra special.  So a huge thank you from us to you, Annie, Dave and Ella and especially the students who rose to the challenge admirably.”

The amazing photos from the MMU Spectrum and the Manchester Art Gallery can be found here –


Unit X Exhibition 2016

Words by Ayah Alshami, Ayesha Mirza and Houda Kaddouh

We have just celebrated the fifth year of Unit X in style with a truly fantastic exhibition of our student collaborations. The exhibition was held at London Scottish House, an ordinary office block transformed by inspirational work ranging from the modern era to classic renaissance compositions.

The students’ work was displayed using an array of techniques, each uniquely developed to the subject matter. From compositions to full office installations, the building was brought to life in the most brilliant of fashions.

Second year students from Illustration with Animation, Creative Multimedia and Fine Art Curating collaborated with renowned composer Peter Byrom-Smith who composed incredible short pieces for each student, which were played live by a 12-piece orchestra. Each animation spoke an intimate story, from the threats of biodiversity, to a Native American folk tale about a grasshopper and a cricket, produced with puppets! Each live performance felt like a personalised experience, as though you were being let into a little secret. It was definitely not one to miss, the energy in the room was incredible and the performance set a wonderful tone for the rest of the evening.

‘I was challenged to work in disciplines that I wouldn’t usually consider exploring’

Tapping into Manchester’s Year of Science, first year Textiles in Practice and Three Dimensional Design students were involved in a project entitled ‘Art Meets Science’. In groups students deliberated on how science and technology have reformed methods in representing the body. Visitors were encouraged to look at every detail within the various fabrics. The embroidered pieces were particularly delicate and intricate. Students also strategically laid out their sketchbooks next to their exhibits, and it was lovely to see the creative process from start to finish.

‘Working with people with other skills gave me the opportunity to produce a product that looks more complete. My ceramic vessels look a lot more interesting with the textiles features.’

On the second floor, work by Filmmaking, Animation and Photography students, expressed their brief with pieces relating to the English National Ballet, thereby accompanying the world premiere of Giselle, choreographed by the renowned Akran Khan, which will be performed in September. This had the audience walking through a series of projectors, much like an American drive-in movie theatre, except that one was able to navigate through many different movies in the same space.

Property developer Bruntwood asked students to develop original ideas for hoardings to surround the new Circle Square development on Oxford Road, and reimagine spaces within Blackfriar’s House.

As we become infatuated with the advancement of Manchester’s development, it is crucial that we are able to reassess how we occupy the city.

By working on this brief, students had to pitch, create proposals and liaise with Bruntwood representatives to develop their own ideas.

Unit X has continuously proven to be ingenious and resourceful.

The work produced was extremely professional and I could easily see any of these designs being cultivated in Manchester.

Another enterprising brief involved developing 12 looks for client James Long, who has quickly become one of the most sought after fashion designers. Long has recently won the Fashion Forward Award, an initiative set up to promote emerging design talent, a wonderful opportunity for those who selected to undertake the Fashion brief for their Unit X project. Students experimented with different materials such as foam, and produced sample pieces alongside sketches. The exhibit attracted many visitors who came to marvel at all the bright colours and exaggerated shapes. The students curated each outfit with aesthetics very much at the forefront of contemporary fashion.

Out of the four floors of installations and art, it would be impossible to choose a favourite, however first year students from Fashion, Fashion Art Direction, Interactive Arts and Interior Design definitely came close. This collaboration played with ideas of temptation and escapism, creating environments that heightened your senses and immersed you into alternative surroundings. Students experimented with different materials and delved into themes surrounding the question ‘Can space affect your behaviour?’. Each installation evoked feelings from the public, be it tranquillity, or an unsettling sense, as each atmosphere was unpredictable, flicking quickly from one emotion to another.

‘It was challenging to work with courses that work in a completely different way to how we work. I am doing Interactive Arts and working with Fashion students that are used to strict timescales and deadlines, I felt pressured in a productive way. I had to make quick decisions and be selective with my ideas.’

For me, the highlight of the evening had to be the educator workshop. A student who had worked on this project explained that students from a variety of courses had worked together to develop and deliver engaging workshops in public settings. Most of the students who chose this option would like to go on to work in schools.

It was therapeutic to escape from the busy exhibition, have a chance to unwind and make pompom key-rings, and visitors were able to create their own collaborative piece by throwing darts at paint filled balloons.

Overall, I was exceptionally overwhelmed with the high standard of quality, professionalism and how the eclectic mix of courses harmonized. It was truly interesting to see how everyone approached each notion in a different way. Students have raised the bar, and expectations next year will be high. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Unit X 2017!

‘As an alumni of the Three Dimensional Design course at Manchester School Of Art, the Unit X exhibition is always a highlighted date in my calendar. It is just incredible to see how the students developed their unique approaches to the collaborative briefs this year resulting is this phenomenal transformation of the London Scottish House in the city centre. It is notable that the standard of the work across all courses is creeping up each year. The experience from the initial introduction to the unit through to the final exhibit is invaluable for the students careers beyond university.’

‘From the inspiring talks, trips and workshops to the opportunity of engaging with an external organisation, Unit X offers the perfect package for students to experience working as a creative in the real world.’  

You can access a gallery of works from the exhibition here.

There are also lots of posts detailing the processes our students went through to get to the exhibition here.



Gallery: Unit X Final Show 2016

Images provided by Staff & Students from Manchester School of Art, and visitors

This year’s final exhibition was a perfect end to a truly full on ten weeks for our students. The standard of collaborative work produced seems to improve year on year, and we are incredibly proud to share their results with you.

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