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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Option 1a Spectrum

Words: Abi Goodman

Students from BA (Hons) Fine Art, Interactive Arts, Art History, Creative Practice, and Textiles in Practice are joining forces with biochemists, environmental scientists, biomedical students, engineers, forensics students and ecologists. Unit X’s Catalyst Option (since renamed ‘Spectrum’ after an introductory Unconference in week one) brings together students from Manchester School of Art with those from the faculty of Science and Engineering (via MMU Futures).

Spectrum is co-designed by the students and staff working together, and is organised by artists Annie Carpenter & Dave Griffiths (Manchester School of Art) with physicist and poet Sam Illingworth (Faculty of Science & Engineering), artist Ella McCartney (MSA) and curator Clare Gannaway (Manchester Art Gallery).

In the second week of Unit X, students were introduced to each other’s working environments. Part one of the session was delivered within the Interactive Arts studio whilst part two took part within a lab. The first engaged participants in an unconventional drawing workshop:

“We are now going to start orbiting around the centre of our galaxy at 220km/sec. Everyone start orbiting around the room while you draw…..”

The workshop asked students to consider the Universe, Dark Matter, Dark Energy, Our Galaxy, the ground beneath our feet, carbon, and then the Quantum world, whilst drawing with charcoal on paper (in the dark, in the light and walking around). Participants were then invited to tear up their drawings and make them into a large co-joined piece in the centre of the room.

Reflecting on the experience and resulting artwork participants were invited to consider what metaphors came to mind and what the resulting piece said about:

  • the universe

“It represents disparate entities that are brought together by a co-joining force.”

“No-one owns it but all are involved in its creation – that is what the Universe is.”

“I think it looks scary and weird like the Universe – intimidating because it is so unknown and chaotic.”

  • the art/science process.

“Once you put something out there you have no control over it.”

“Art/Science works best if everyone is allowed to fail.”

“As with the research process we are building on and tearing down what has gone before.”

“You have to go deep into the pile to find your work.”

The second half of the afternoon took place in a lab environment where students worked in groups to devise experiments with simple objects. The conclusion reached was that hitting on the right question is the hardest thing to do. Sam Illingworth expressed that when he started a masters in science he suddenly realised that he knew how to prepare for examinations but not how to do science i.e. to find the idea that generates the research. The next challenge for participants was to pair up with someone from a different discipline, devise an experiment and share it with the group at the next meeting.

At the end of the day we got chatting with a student of medicinal and biological chemistry who had the following to say:

“I am interested in art. I like to keep that creative part of myself. At the Unconference we were talking about how important it is not to dismiss either art or science. I can draw. The item I brought along to the Unconference was a drawing which had a revision note for my A-level Chemistry exam on the back. It’s always going to be relevant for art and science to be together, to keep them integrated.” (Chelsea Martinez – science student)