Unit X Festival 2017 – Identical Lunch

Words & Images: Aimee Plumbley

Identical Lunch explored food and the act of preparing and eating food, and its intrinsic links to culture and society. Responses to the brief included a bust with quotes depicting anxiety and eating projected onto it; a short film illustrating the disconnect between meat and the animals it comes from; and an interactive green screen exhibition where the food acted as a canvas.

Thanks to the students who contributed for creating such thought-provoking, yet fun and engaging pieces.

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Inspirer Talk – DR ME

Words: Aimee Plumbley

DR.ME is made up of Ryan Doyle and Mark Edwards. DR.ME is in fact an acronym of their names. Ryan and Mark met on their first day at Manchester Met, and have continued to collaborate ever since. At University they both decided working for a design studio wasn’t the direction they wanted to be in and instead set up DR.ME, their own personal design studio.

The session covered pieces of work they had done, and tips and insights behind the work that helped DR.ME grow.

The session opened with a film documenting DR.ME’s ‘365 Days of Collage’ project, which invited the studio to commission a new piece of collage every day over the course of the year.

Mark reflected “it started a fire in us, in regards to the immediacy and speed in which we could create collage. We could approach so many subjects in a short space of time”.

On the back of this, DR.ME approached Thames and Hudson to publish a compendium, ‘Cut That Out’, celebrating different graphic designers who are excelling in the field of producing collage. They quickly realised that the preconceived idea that collage just involves copying and pasting paper is wrong. ‘Cut That Out’ demonstrated that collage isn’t limited to one medium, but can incorporate many elements, from photography to fashion design.

Ryan and Mark admitted they did not study curation, but rather it was something they had developed naturally. This was especially enhanced by the one-day exhibitions they put on monthly during their time at University. The Waiting Room was held at Nexus Art Café, and would invite artists from across the UK to hold mini exhibitions and live screen-printings.

“We were reaching out to people we admired, and making connections whilst we were still at Uni.”

Due to their pro-activeness and network of artists they had built up, they landed an exhibition at Urban Outfitters called ‘Like What Kids Do’ after they graduated. This then led on to being invited to curate a month-long exhibition in New York with Mike Perry called ‘Wondering around Wandering’. The experience from the Waiting Room was essential in obtaining these opportunities.

DR.ME also work with musicians and design record sleeves, posters and even a music video for Dutch Uncles. Ryan reiterated the importance of having a large network and getting yourself out there, “knowing people in bands got us some of our first jobs”. It was when they were producing Dutch Uncle’s sleeve they established a manifesto, that is, everything is primarily hand-made with the bare minimum of computer tweaking as it’s “got a more truthful aesthetic”.

“Don’t limit yourself to one medium, if you’re a creative student you can do anything”

You shouldn’t have to work for free, but in some circumstances it is beneficial for both parties. This rang true in regards to the work that DR.ME produces for Midi Festival. Midi Festival lost their funding and sought DR.ME to design their poster and murals. Sometimes “you have to rely on your gut and work out whether… whether you like the commissioner, believe in them and can trust them”. In the long run, it turned out to be a fruitful relationship.

“Failure is more important than successes. You learn from mistakes, and learn not be scared to try new things.”

Ryan and Mark then turned to what inspires them as a collective studio. They referenced ‘Beautiful Losers’ as a source of inspiration. Beautiful Losers is a documentary that follows a group of friends who are making art, it showed Ryan and Mark that you can survive outside of a studio and make money. Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhS3BjEuGCY

They also felt the time they interned at Mike Perry’s studio a turning point. Mike would be in his studio from 7am to 7pm. He taught Ryan and Mark how to run a studio; not just the ‘cool stuff’ but the day-to-day stuff like paying bills and creating because you have spare time.

They also credit James Victore’s ‘Burning Questions’ webcast (Link), and travelling as a way to gain and engage with different perspectives. And finally, ‘friendship’ ensure you surround yourself with good people. People who will inspire you. Not only illustrators, designers and makers, but musicians, photographers, fashion designers etc.

Thanks to Ryan and Mark for dropping in! Follow them at @DRME_Studio,and check out their exhibition in Leeds ‘Shoulda woulda coulda’ on 31st March/1 April.


Inspirer Talk – Sarah Perks

Words: Aimee Plumbley

The Unit X blog recently caught up with Sarah Perks at the latest Inspirer talk. Sarah is the Visual Artistic Director at HOME and Professor of Visual Art at MMU. Her research spans across curating exhibitions, producing films and writing and publishing her research. Sarah walked our students through some of the projects she has been working on, and the process that she goes through for each.

“These projects can take me into different spheres beyond visual arts… it’s quite interdisciplinary”

Solo Exhibitions

As a rule of thumb, HOME has around 2 solo exhibitions a year. Sarah’s process of selecting an artist for their own solo exhibition is based on a metaphorical “holding pen” of artists of whom Sarah has built a professional relationship with.

The current solo exhibition is John Hyatt’s ‘Rock Art’. It took just under a year to curate. Sarah had been aware of John’s solo work for some time, but from a curatorial perspective she was interested in how John collaborated with other people and wanted to explore how this would translate into a solo exhibition.  Installations include:

  • Club Big: a pop-up club that occurs in the gallery every Friday and is a celebration of collective creativity. It was born based on a conversation based on a mutual visit to Milan between John and Sarah. The queue itself to the club is a piece called the ‘Anticipation’.
  • The lead image is another example of collaboration. John asked people in the bar at Home to draw a skull, and the image features all of these attempts.

La Movida, Arts Festival

A project Sarah has been working on is ‘La Movida’. It is part of the Viva Spanish and Latin festival that celebrates a spectrum of art forms. La Movida, or the transition to democracy, refers to a countercultural movement in Spain following the death of Dictator Franco in the 70’s. There was a sudden outpour of freedom, and the boundaries that once oppressed society became a source of inspiration for creative communities.

Sarah explained that from a curatorial perspective, it was interesting to contrast this movement against the current political landscape; in a world of Brexit and Trump there seems to have been a clamp down of rights and freedoms.

To find work, Sarah starts with traditional curatorial research, like reading and referencing to identify any artists who cover the subject- who could either contribute their existing work or commission a new piece especially for the festival. She worked together with the assistant curator to identify younger artists in Spain who channelled the La Movida aesthetic, although they weren’t present at the time of the movement.

The Festival will also explore parallels with other places at the time like Manchester in the 70’s and 80’s- and will feature work form local artists. Sarah reflected that when curating a project like this, you’re essentially “creating a little world” that can live independently from its original source.

I think it’s important that when you’re curating, you shouldn’t take the concept literally. Take it some ways, and throw away the core, and expand outwards”

Home Artist Film

Sarah established ‘Home Artist Film’ five years ago. It wasn’t necessarily a response to a brief, but an original idea to fill a gap in the creative market. It aims to support with the training and development of visual artists who want to create feature films.

Notable films that emerged from Home Artist Film project include:

  • ‘Swandown’ by Andrew Kötting, which received a lot of coverage at the time as it was a critique of the London Olympics gentrification of the surrounding areas, by two men in a swan pedalo going through the canals between Hastings and Hackney.
  • ‘Art Party’ by Bob and Roberta Smith, HOME tailored a bespoke release so that it would overlap with GCSE results day. Arts Centres across the UK were encouraged to screen Art Party and host their own art parties. This was a dig at Michael Gove, who was then the education secretary at the time.

Sarah’s curatorial role exposes her to many unique opportunities, and we would like to thank her for sharing this with us. Keep up to date with Sarah’s latest projects on Twitter @SarahPerks.

La Movida starts from 31st March 2017 at HOME, Manchester.



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 – https://flic.kr/s/aHskA7XKp3.


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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