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!