Gallery: Unit X Festival 2017

Images provided by staff from Manchester School of Art

Following a truly fantastic week of events, below is a gallery of images from this year’s Unit X Festival, along with photographs from activities and events that happened during the Unit.


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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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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:


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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Film, Photo & Animation Workshop Gallery

Below are some images from workshops held this week between Animation, Photography and Filmmaking, including 16mm ‘Cameraless Filmmaking’, Projection Mapping and ‘Moving a Still Image’ Cinemagraphs.  

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Visit : Blackpool

Words and images : Olivia Wedderburn

First year students embarked on a trip to Blackpool last week to explore the seaside town off-season. Separated into three groups, ‘Appropriation and Ruins’, ‘Time as Memory’ and ‘Chance and The Everyday’, students were required to explore the town in search of an image that best expressed their chosen theme, with the backdrop of the slightly grey, miserable, garish piers.

In order to ease them into some ideas for the day’s activities, they began by viewing Dance Swine Dance by Matt Stokes at the Grundy Art Gallery, which explored musical subcultures in the north of England. Examining themes of Northern Soul, Acid House and Punk Rock, the exhibition captured through photography, film and ephemera the spirit of these subcultures, and gallery assistant Tom, explained the basis of Stokes work and the processes behind his research.

at the dance swine dance exhibition

Afterwards, students were given time to find images of the town that they felt captured their themes. Blackpool off-season feels a little bleak, vast light displays no longer gleaming, reduced to a mere flicker, buildings missing lettering and desperately in need of a paint job, shops boarded up due to the lack of tourism in the winter season. Over enthusiastic game operators tried to lure everybody and anybody. Students felt that these experiences intertwined with their themes seamlessly, and were found huddled at the end of run down piers, being blown about on the beach, and examining the public artwork Comedy Carpet – a vast granite piece that highlighted quotes from comedy heroes of the last couple of centuries.

students explore the comedy carpet

Engaging with a place like Blackpool offered students a chance to collaborate with one another through not only their scheduled groups, but the crossover that the trip offered. For example, ‘Appropriation and Ruins’ found themselves working alongside ‘Time and Memory’, as buildings that once were glorified establishments on the Blackpool pier now found themselves derelict and abandoned, sad memories of a once exciting time in the hearts of the many people who holiday in Blackpool each summer.

the pier

On the journey home, students discussed the interesting parallels between Blackpool’s infamous Pleasure Beach of south pier, that though hadn’t been open that day, was clearly cultivated and cared for, as opposed to north pier that felt distinctly less impressive and certainly more abandoned. This posed some interesting questions in relation to their own practice and themes that they were going to continue to explore as result of their independent research. The day showed the students the importance of finding something striking and interesting through the dark and dreary scenery, perhaps in an obvious way, but nonetheless a valuable aspect of the Unit X learning experience. It reflected the ethos of being able to create something exciting out of seemingly nothing.

blackpool tower