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 Exhibition Countdown

Words: Abi Goodman / Images: Stills from short film by Kevin Craig showing images from last year’s Unit X Exhibition.

Welcome back to all students returning to Manchester School of Art Next week! We are looking forward to catching up with everyone.

Just over one month now until the final Unit X exhibition, which is taking place in central Manchester at London Scottish House (on Mount Street, opposite Manchester Convention Centre) between Thursday 12th and Saturday 14th of May. The opening night is part of this year’s ‘Manchester After Hours’ creative festival (part of the National Museums at Night Initiative).

In the meantime – the countdown starts here…..

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First Things First

First year mixes it up! This year:

  • Graphic Design students are rubbing shoulders with students from Illustration with Animation.

Presented with a choice – circle or square – what would you go for? As the lecture theatre filled with squares and circles first year students from BA (Hons) Graphic Design and Illustration with Animation made their choice at their Unit X launch last week. The title of the project Circle Square, relates to one of the projects Manchester School of Art are developing around the Circle Square development on Oxford Road. Property developer Bruntwood have approached the School of Art with a view to asking students to develop creative ideas for hoardings to surround the new development as it takes shape over the next few years. We’ll check back in with the first and third years involved in this project as things progress. To start things off first years are currently working in teams to consider what happens when two worlds collide (be that circle/square, penthouse/pavement, static/mobile, spiritual/secular – or any other pairing of their choice)….


  • Three Dimensional Design students are buddying up with Textiles in Practice students;
  • Fashion, Fashion Art Direction, Interactive Arts and Interior Design students are teaming up;
  • Students from Fine Art, Art History & Curating, Fine Art and Art History will be exploring collaborative practice together;
  • Filmmaking, Photography and Animation students are all set to work together; and
  • Film & Media students will be forming connections.

We’ll take a more detailed look at each collaborative group as the Unit progresses.

Tomorrow – a quick insight into what this year’s second years are up to.

Unit X Level 4 : An Introduction

Words: Kate Dunstone
Images: Houda Kaddouh

The final Unit X exhibition is fast approaching (next Thursday, 14th May!) and so we at the blog will be providing you with an introduction to the work on display. Today – Level 4/First Year.

students around a table discuss work
Students from Interactive Arts, 3D Design and Fashion discuss their projects

In the first year of Unit X students collaborate across clusters of courses, working to joint briefs around the city. This year’s projects include:
Interior Design + Creative Multimedia = Mise En Scene, a partnership with the Royal Northern College of Music and Transport for Greater Manchester

Textiles in Practice = Each of Textiles in Practice’s pathways (Mixed Media, Weave, Knit, Print and Embroidery) will be responding to their own themes, including pop-up spaces and passimenterie weave.

Art History & Curating + Fine Art & Art History + Fine Art + Art History = Exhibition pieces set around the themes Time, Memory, Ruins, The Everyday, Appropriation and Chance.

Photography + Filmmaking = The Still… and Moving Image, investigating the ways in which Photography and Filmmaking practices over lap; and how these mediums can be expanded and/or deconstructed.

Illustration with Animation + Graphic Design = 6 Degrees of Separation, creating images in response to objects

Interactive Arts + Fashion + 3D Design = Sensing the City, discovering Manchester’s past and present

Film & Media Studies = Investigating media consumption through blogging, infographics and investigation of social media

Yorkshire Sculpture Park visit- Wednesday 11th March 2015

Words: Kellie Craig

Images: Kristian Bird

Kicking off Unit X with our first trip, Interactive Arts have enjoyed spending the day exploring Yorkshire Sculpture Park. An inspirational start to the unit, students were given free reign to discover as much of the park as possible within a full days’ visit.

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Arriving to a sunny and breezy landscape, dotted with works from Barbara Hepworth to Ai Wei Wei and Henry Moore, students from all years of Interactive Arts course documented their visit through a number of different visual media- sketching, photography and film were some of the most popular techniques used, however many students purely enjoyed the opportunity to gather inspiration from the natural countryside.

“It’s so nice to get out of the city for a change.”

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Having been able to leave the concrete confines of Manchester, this change in scenery certainly evoked a re-charge in creative inspiration. It would seem that Yorkshire Sculpture Park has provided the perfect backdrop for engaging their creative minds in new ways.

With no clear directional method of exploring the park, students were able to explore the park in groups or individually, using a map as a rough guide to where some of the significant sculptures could be found. Some interesting discussions were had, especially by first years, who even started to question the very essence and idea of whether an artwork could be classed as sculpture or not.

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These debates and deliberations will be central to those on their first journey through Unit X this year, collaborating on a number of new and exciting cross-course encounters with Fashion and 3D Design. The enthusiasm and curiosity of those in their first year will be the key to their successes in collaboration, with many more adventures to be had over the next few weeks!

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