Month: July 2015

Kristin Marshall: RE1.23; BL1.27


These delicate frames hewn from cardboard and flaking glue, dried in the warm air, nestled in these metal cabinets. Unstuck, disintegrating and yet poignantly beautiful holding in themselves much more than just frame, number and title, but a memory of a practice now passed in this digital age. Fragments of film and image in celluloid, a plethora of subjects and then, glimpses of sprocket edges through gaping aperture. Held to the light they become gleaming jewels singing with an irreplaceable vitality held only by film. These little things, material, fragile, densely packed with meaning and alive with possibilities, beg to be explored and interpreted, offering serendipitous avenues in which to encounter new ideas, new meanings. This is a place, not a search engine. As such, it is imbued with personality, history, Memory. If you stay awhile, and I encourage that you do, something will bubble to the surface. This is home to a countless wealth of connections and story, your own, those shared by another, or those discovered as you sift through the multitude.

It is interesting to me, reading the contributions both to this participatory artwork and the Project[ed] Voices project that came before, that each is achingly personal as if those who respond to this space feel compelled to share deep and individual experiences. It seems that we, as human beings, find it difficult to not invest a little of ourselves in this space. Is it the materials that inspire this? The physical act of touch connects us to these materials in a way that digital archives never can. Each little jewel offers a window into another world, a portal into memory, a fragment of time. In these fragments perhaps we all, for a moment, see a reflection of ourselves, of our individual existence and in this are fleetingly touched by the fact that we will not remain, that we will disappear as our predecessors before us. Barthes termed it ‘that terrible thing that is there in every photograph: the return of the dead’, but this place is quite the contrary. It celebrates what it is to be alive. William Blake claimed throughout his life that he was witness to visions, epiphanies, if you will, something that Joyce referred to as ‘the most delicate and evanescent moments’. I am drawn to these ‘moments’ offered by the archive, by the countless serendipitous chances waiting to be discovered by the eager and by the allure that each cabinet offers a wealth of possibilities, starting points and potential epiphanies for those open to receiving them.

These little, delicate and fragile slides continuously fascinate me. They hold a damaged beauty and with it a parallel to the fragility of our own lives, always as ever, shown through the layers of history held in the archive. This is film and like our memories it too starts to fade. The archive is us in so many ways, we must allow it the dignity it deserves, let it sing a little longer. Preserve it in its entirety, so that others may experience the delight of the unexpected encounter, the very heart of these collections.

Kristin Marshall
MA Animation, Manchester School of Art


Pick a slide, any slide…

The Visual Resources Centre at Manchester School of Art contains more than 300,000 photographic slides. This collection was once at the heart of the Art School’s teaching practices. Its contents document a century of art education. But times have changed. In the rush to embrace the digital and all it can do, the value of such ‘obsolete’ technologies is in danger of being lost.

Prompted by proposals to dispose of the collection, Adopt a Slide began as a collaborative student project. We invited people simply to browse the collection, pick a slide and respond to it. In two short months, over 70 people have done so. Some are fascinated by analogue image-making processes. For others, it is the collection’s particular history of art and design. Or it is the jolt of the familiar, the unexpected find of personal significance. Such responses have clearly demonstrated the collection’s ongoing relevance, both as historic artefact and ongoing source of creative inspiration.

The Art School has since announced its intention to transfer the entire collection to the University’s Special Collections. So the project continues. Our invitation stands. Adopt a slide. Choose just one – photograph it, write about it – and post it here. There is so much more to discover. Collectively, your response can help document the unique history of this collection, to explore its complex and multi-layered potential, and to ensure its place within the Art School for years to come.

Adopt a slide. Blog it, tweet it, share it on Facebook. Tell your friends. Here’s how.

Felicity Colman: PR5-003; PR5-002; PR5-011

Adoption and Adaption

As a colonial subject, I am always mindful of my migratory status within Empire. I can locate some of the active-points of my collective subjectivity within the slides in this collection.

The colonial history of the control, manipulation of collective existence is located, and complicated in these three slides – to be read together, as enactments of industrialised memories that are never singular events:

A simple reminder on the semiotic nature of our communications principles;

A political marker of the lived materiality of the indigenous topology, after invasion.

Mimi-spirit models of women becoming cat-fish

Felicity Colman
Professor of Film and Media Arts
The Manchester School of Art
Manchester Metropolitan University

Steve Hanson: No number given (Hulme)

This image of Hulme is so powerful. I worked at MMU last year. I got involved in events for students around the official opening of the new Birley Building in Hulme. I offered a short talk about Epping Walk Bridge, next to the Birley Campus. This bridge was the location of a very iconic picture of the Manchester band Joy Division, which was taken in 1979, by the photographer Kevin Cummins, for the New Musical Express.

I tried to pull people into the talk via the musical history of the bridge. But I also wanted to explore a constantly changing Manchester, through this single location, for new students. I only had one taker, but he was a happy customer, so it was worth it.

The bridge is located near to where T.J. Davidson’s rehearsal studios used to stand, which Joy Division used regularly. Those rehearsal studios were where the band shot the video for ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. Nearby is Royce Road, where the Russell Club, home of Tony Wilson’s night ‘The Factory’ used to stand. This is where Joy Division launched their career. The studio and the Russell Club – like much of the landscape in this slide – have both been demolished. The bridge is the only thing that remains in the area. In 2010 it was suggested that the bridge be renamed The Ian Curtis Bridge. The singer committed suicide in 1980.

The Hulme Crescents have also been demolished. Some of the old flats in the area can still be seen in the Kevin Cummins shot. The aesthetics of the Cummins photograph show the band, and Manchester, as bleak. The photograph has a cold war feel to it, suggesting a darker, northern English version of the European motorways of Kraftwerk’s ‘Autobahn’.

There’s a strong connotation of post-war Europe to this Hulme slide too, but also, I think, post-bomb Hiroshima. If Epping Walk Bridge speaks to the idea that Manchester is now a post-industrial, cold war city, an idea that has become a lightweight trope in many ways, precisely through the simplistic idea of Joy Division as a ‘post-industrial band’, this image of Hulme speaks to the violence of capitalist accumulation. It is a direct map of Neil Smith’s concepts of the ‘revanchist city’ and ‘uneven development’: MMU grabs land in Hulme, and wins new build funding. It sells its aesthetically and historically attractive campus in Didsbury, a place now gentrified, and shifts into this zone of former clearances. It employs McAlpine Civil Engineering to create the new campus, a company ironically begun by ‘Concrete Bob’, Robert McAlpine. The obsessive narratives about what could or couldn’t be done with the ‘high quality’ concrete in Birley seem like a strange reflection of the anti-modernist narratives against the use of raw concrete, narratives which partly cleared the way for the new building.

Looking even further back, it starts to become tempting to claim that history repeats itself. Because a series of terraces designated as slums were flattened in order to create the Crescents, during the post-war concensus around housing and modernist urbanism. These cleared terraces are often still referred to as ‘back-to-backs’, though this is a myth. The Cresents themselves were then designated as places of deviance and criminality, in their own turn, and flattened. This does have a long and sadly rich history, most obviously to be found in Engels’ Conditions of the Working Class in England. I wrote a piece with Mark Rainey recently, on how the new Co-op building and Angel Meadow, the site of some of Engels’ most reviled slums, can be explored in similar ways to this Hulme slide:

Again, the cliches tend to cover the complexity, but the start date of postmodernism, according to Charles Jencks, is very precise. He says that the dynamiting of the Pruitt-Igoe housing estate in St. Louis, USA, at 3pm on March 16, 1972, marks the end of the modernist project. If you take Jencks at his word – I’m not saying that I do – I only lived for two months and 22 days in modernity, albeit completely unaware of the fact. The point I am making is that The Crescents were part of a much larger narrative of the ‘failure’ of modernism, and via its detractors, of municipal socialism, which led to the dynamiting of Pruitt-Igoe. The postmodern ‘play’ which characterised Factory Records, then, could be said to begin with these violent clearances. Clearances to break though into new forms of capital accumulation, which always need their symbolic, cultural components. The cogs and gears of what we now call ‘gentrification’.

This scanned, faded slide gives a slightly nostalgic, melancholic cast to Hulme. Pale faded greens seem to plug the image into the currently fashionable zone of ‘Hauntology’, a critical-theoretical strand taken from Derrida, which has also become popularised, via bands like The Mount Vernon Arts Lab – who I designed for – and the Ghost Box record label. All of this, in turn, feeds into a John Wyndhamesque sense of a comforting future dystopia.

The most disturbing thing though, for me, about Day of the Triffids, is how guiltily attractive the idea of a cleared space is. I get a sense of that in this image. If ‘starting again’ in a post-apocalyptic fantasy does seem desirable, it is surely desirable for individuals who wish to be ostentatiously at liberty, at the expense of, essentially, the victims of the disaster that liberated them. Hauntology often conceals this, it is one of its many dirty, dodgy secrets. But this image of Hulme draws me back to the real issues I think we should all be concerned with, and they are old questions: How should we live? How should we organise? What do we need to do in order to reproduce the future? Under all of these concerns lies the idea that one might need to clear away small or very large parts of the past, in order to ‘progress’ into the future. This image is an incredible cipher for that idea, with all its histories, problems, acute ethical anxieties, and almost inevitable abuses.

I think the Birley site, and this image, speak of the individual subsumed. They don’t really talk to me about a ‘mass’ ravaged by capitalism. Walk from Oxford Road through the MMU campus at All Saints. Go West. A sign under a campus archway states ‘No Public Access’ on the Hulme side, but this is not repeated on the student side, the Oxford Road side. There is much to be made of this, and Birley itself is a self-sufficient island of high-tech energy production, with its own heat pumps and power. Only a little gas is piped in. This is more than a metaphor: Birley mirrors the ways in which the public and private have moved in this era more widely, and not just in this area.

This image of Hulme, and the Cummins image, in retrospect, seem to premonitor our current landscapes. Our hyper-real pornographic spectacles of consumer individualism, something that can be traced back to the point when the Industrial Revolution had to invent, through sheer seat-of-the-trousers necessity, ‘Manchester Capitalism’. The Cummins image seemed to want to tell us that the money and will of industrialism has thawed. But its attack was double-edged. On one hand it is deeply, morbidly mournful, and yet on the other it seems highly critical of socialist mass planning. This image is too.

None of this is just incidental detail. This worn photograph of an ‘atomised’ and atomising landscape, in a city that contributed a great deal to the development of the atom bomb, is for me also a cipher for atomised individualism. We may all think we are individuals now, but that illusion itself is mass. Deleuze suggested that institutions of control and biopower, the factory, prison and hospital, are finished. It is only ‘a matter of time’ before they wither and vanish. He described the production of the ‘dividual’ in this context. As he explained it, the mass-individual binary is breaking down into a kind of tyranny of multiplicity. Control is always short-term, but without end.

Man (sic) is no longer ‘enclosed’, but remains indebted. Here is a rare, beautiful and terrible trace of the continuation of that idea in physical form.

Steve Hanson is the author of Small Towns, Austere Times (Zero Books).


Natalie Bradbury: No number given (Building the Mancunian Way)

This September it will be ten years since I first arrived in Manchester as an 18-year-old undergraduate. We swept down into the city from the Mancunian Way towards my halls of residence at the University of Manchester’s then-North Campus (formerly known as UMIST), with my parents’ car, like so many others we had passed on the motorway that day, laden with all my most treasured possessions, ready to settle me into my new life. After the five-hour drive from the flat, green landscape of Kent, industrial, urban, cultural Manchester looked incredibly glamorous and exciting spreading out beneath us and I couldn’t wait to get to know the city better. I felt at home in Manchester straight away, and I’ve never forgotten the excitement of that elevated introduction to the city which has since become my home.

Over the years I have learnt more about the history of the motorway and its significance in Manchester’s post-war history and townscape, including tours and talks organised by Manchester Modernist Society, along with a memorable film about the building of the road’s construction. It still makes me smile every time I walk past the 1968, pop-letted Concrete Society Award (who would even knew such as thing existed unless it was pointed out to you!). I guess the slides in the Visual Resources collection must have been used to demonstrate to students that it was an impressive piece of engineering at the time, and how such projects were changing the skyline of inner-city Manchester forever.

I’ve even lurked in a quiet corner of the Mancunian Way listening repeatedly to a track by nearby resident Lonelady through headphones temporarily embedded in the concrete, demarcated by an unobtrusive bit of graffiti. The repetitive hum of the Mancunian Way, and the incessant human movements of the city going on around you, provided the perfect backdrop for Lonelady’s insistent indie-dance, and it’s still one of my favourite ever public art projects.

I spent many miserable years trying and failing to learn to drive during my teens and early twenties. As every year passes, living in Manchester, I feel more and more glad that I don’t drive and have the responsibility and stress of driving, running and maintaining a car. The only time I ever feel a pang of regret about failing to pass my test is when I am a passenger in a vehicle going over the Mancunian Way, and I wish that I, too, could experience what it’s like to drive over Manchester’s own ‘highway in the sky’.

Natalie Bradbury
‘The Shrieking Violet’


David Haley:TFS-15G-008

I saw Fritz Lang’s film, Metropolis, for the first time, two months ago. This was in its original, un-cut form, accompanied by a Wurlitzer organ, at the Royalty cinema, Bowness, Cumbria. The two-hour experience was totally immersive and very poignant.

The image on my chosen slide was used for the poster of the film, and although this is an iconic image of German Expressionism, the slide was archived in ‘Science Fiction’, a genre known for its perspective on the future.

Indeed, it seems that much science fiction has become and is becoming science fact. Many of the images from the film pre-empted scenes of the Nazi concentration camps that followed Lang’s escape from Germany in 1934.

The materiality of film has specific qualities that are different from digital images. Like vinyl, and acoustic sound, these analogue qualities are being appreciated again as valuable forms of knowing, not from a nostalgic point of view, but as forms not to be lost or erased from the beautifully complex cultural whole.

In the film, Metropolis, fundamental cultural values are finally restored to the populous. The Visual Resource Centre represents an important archive that is both historic and futuristic that should not be lost or erased from our cultural memory at the very time it finds its renaissance in new materialism.

Dr David Haley
Senior Research Fellow
MIRIAD Research Centre, Manchester School of Art


Liz Mitchell: TJ1.1.2; TJ1.1.6

How curious. There I was, thinking about wild flowers after my latest visit to the VRC, when up popped Lin Charlston’s adopted slide. Ragwort, coltsfoot and rosebay willowherb – such resonant names for these renegade colonisers of abandoned spaces. I, meanwhile, am pondering the fritillaria meleagris, otherwise known as the snakeshead fritillary. A more delicate variant of our native flora, the fritillary was once abundant in the wild, but changes in agricultural production after World War II destroyed much of its meadow habitat. The fritillary does not naturalise easily and is now rarely found in the wild, though it remains a popular garden flower.

Looking back through this blog, I am struck by how many people have responded, in spite of themselves, to images that carry them home. Not looking for them, but snagged unexpectedly on involuntary memory. The chance encounter, the serendipitous find, that only occurs when browsing, open-minded. Rajesh Patel expressed this beautifully in his choice of slide when he said ‘in order to stimulate creativity it is necessary to be distracted’. And maybe, in allowing this to happen, we learn a little something about ourselves.

I couldn’t wait for John to email me the photographs of my chosen slides, the pair of images shown above. But when I opened the files, I was disappointed. These wild flower pictures don’t reproduce so well in digital format. Something of their enduring fragility, so perfectly captured on slide film, is lost in the transformation from film to pixel.

But the originals… ah well. When I found them at the back of the cabinet, I was immediately captivated by the contrast of these tiny sheets of coloured film (so appropriate for their delicate subject matter) with the weight of their heavy plastic mounts. Holding each slide to the light felt like looking down a telescope. And at the end of the tunnel, so far away and yet so close, there is a tightly framed glimpse of my childhood, replete with 1970s colour cast, a faded rose pink that is somehow the temperature of the ‘76 heatwave. In fact, the grass is almost sepia. These are not 21st century fritillaries.

Of course, this isn’t a picture of August ’76. Fritillaries like moist earth, and they flower in May. I am mixing up my memories. But taken low down, the foreground scribble of grass and clover is carefully delineated by the camera. This is the sightline of a small child, hot, bored and alone, out of sight of the adults.

There is a whole sheet of these pictures in the filing cabinet. Coltsfoot and willowherb are probably there too. Are they reproductions from a book or a commercial slide set, made specifically for educational purposes? Are there other copies in collections elsewhere or is this the only one? It’s hard to tell. I must ask John.

Liz Mitchell
PhD researcher and freelance curator
Manchester Institute for Research and Innovation in Art and Design