The Spirit Of Manchester Flower Festival - St. Ann's Church, Manchester.

Today I visited St. Ann's church, almost exactly one year to the day since a terrorist bomb ripped the heart out of the community, killing 22 as they left Manchester Arena's Ariana Grande concert. The church had organised a three day commemoration of this event, by commissioning a flower festival as a fitting memorial. Companies, organisations, community groups, and such all sponsored and donated to help in the creation of these floral tributes.

Last year St. Ann's Square became the shrine to those affected by the tragedy, and the square overflowed with messages of love, solidarity, and flowers. St. Ann's church became an area of refuge and of prayer, and so it is fitting that the church now, one year on, returns the 'compliment' back to the people of Manchester.

This exhibition of some 25 displays is a way of remembering, a way of commemorating, but a way also of celebrating Manchester's unified spirit, resilience, and their overwhelmingly positive response to an event that will be forever etched in the memories of those most affected by it.

Covering the whole length and breadth of the church, along the chancery, in the choir stall, at the altar and in the Lady Chapel, these floral 'monuments' were created with skill and love. It is such a shame that they are so ephemeral.

Each one had been given a title.. 'City Of Courage' , 'City Of Science', 'A City Of Heroes', 'A City United' (both premier league football teams together in light blue and red), 'Cottonopolis - A City Of Industry', 'A City Of Hope And Reconciliation', 'The Armed Forces' (naturally with a strong military theme lying on a bed of camouflage), 'A Diverse City' (using the word 'peace' in many different languages), 'Coronation Street' (a village style water-wheel and garden with a brick wall with the famous street sign), and many more.

My favourites however were 'Suffragette City', a model of a suffragette in her Victorian costume chained to a railing with deep purple and white flowers; 'City Of Transport', stalks and leaves shaped into a train engine and two carriages representing the first trains on the world's first public railway line operating between Liverpool and Manchester; and 'A City Of Pride', two long rows of flowers either side of the choir stalls in the colours of the rainbow interspersed with small Manchester bees.

The beauty and craftsmanship of these designs notwithstanding - it was a beautiful and very fitting tribute to a Manchester that will neither forget nor be defeated. We Love Manchester.

Reportage - Matthew Dougall
on - 23/5/18

Jurassic World - Yorkshire Museum, York.

The Yorkshire Museum is located in the beautiful Museum Gardens in the middle of the stunning city of York. It is home to five galleries showcasing different and exciting treasures from through the ages.

The latest exhibition is Yorkshire’s Jurassic World which was officially opened by Sir David Attenborough on 23rd March 2018. Taking you on a voyage of discovery through 150 million years, this exhibition focuses on Yorkshire and the changes that occurred throughout our prehistoric friends’ journey.  

The exhibition is set into four different areas. The discovery area has a life size Plesiosaur overhead and the lighting in the room gives the feel of being on a real life dig. Visitors even have the chance of becoming a palaeontologist and discovering your very own fossils.  

Following the exhibition through, the Coral Seas zone takes you into a beautiful area where the shallow sea creatures would have habituated. The LED lighting again gives the feel of being surrounded by the animals and their natural environment. Fossils and other artefacts of these shallow sea creatures are displayed here. One fossil of a star fish is of particular interest as they tend to disintegrate after death making them very difficult to find and preserve. The Coral Seas area has a large rock-like area and allows visitors the opportunity to make rubbings of replica fossils.

Deep Oceans is next and this was by far my favourite part of the exhibition.  This area is definitely one that is worth reading the plaques for. I learned that during Jurassic times, most of Britain was under water and therefore plagued with underwater Jurassic life.  The most significant of which, the Icthyosaur. Not surprisingly, Icthyosaur fossils are very common around the UK but what makes this particular fossil special is that it was pregnant and there are between six and eight embryos which can be seen. There have only ever been five Icthyosaur specimens found in Britain containing embryos and only one in Yorkshire itself making this display unique and well worth a visit just for that alone. Inside a huge glass case, which is lighted to give the impression of being underwater, the remains of another Icthyosaur can be found as well as other sea dragon fossils which are brought to life using Augmented Reality. There are iPad’s next to the display and if you pick them up and move them around, you are treated to a life size image of what these creatures may have looked like when they were roaming the earth and swimming the seas.

Dinosaur Country brings you to the end of the exhibition. There is a full size Megalosaur on one wall and fossils showing the size of their teeth and claws, which are quite remarkable. The other wall has a life size Pterosaur and I could imagine one flying above me. Real life dinosaur footprints can also be found here which really does bring the whole experience to life. 'Alan' is in the centre of the room, a Sauropod plant eating dinosaur. Very close to this is a virtual reality experience that allows you to feed a Sauropod, one of the largest dinosaurs to walk the earth.

As well as the Jurassic World experience, Yorkshire Museum has so much more to offer. You can travel through time to medieval York where you can dress as a handsome knight or a beautiful princess. Roman York gives you the opportunity to explore the empire and discover Roman names for some of the best known places in the country and there is a very interesting fact just outside the men’s toilets...!! (a-hem!)

I truly enjoyed this day with my six year old son. He was very interested in everything and was amazed at some of the things he discovered and learned, but this day was not only educational for my son, I also learned lots of interesting things too. Fun, informative, and very reasonably priced, I would urge anyone visiting York to take the time to visit.

Reportage - Annellen Fazackerley
on - 13/5/18

Annie Swynnerton: Painting Light And Hope - Manchester Art Gallery

Montagna Mia (1923) Swynnerton

A major temporary exhibition of 36 paintings by English artist Annie Swynnerton is now on show on the ground floor of Manchester's Art Gallery.

Born in Hulme, Manchester in February 1844, Swynnerton went on to study at The Manchester School Of Art, The Academie Julian in Paris, and in Rome; and was the first woman to become a Member of The Royal Academy Of Art in 1922.  It was her time in Italy however which is the focus of this exhibition. Entitled 'Painting Light And Hope' the paintings are taken from different periods in Swynnerton's life and large output, and cover a varied array of styles and subjects. But it is painting outdoors and using the natural light that she adored most of all, and it was her time in Italy which truly enthused her to play with and boldly use the light of the sun in her paintings.

Of the 36 paintings on view, all of which are startling and noteworthy, there are moody portraits, Italian landscapes, children, nudes and more. My favourites were 'Jebsa - A Roma Lady' (1874); The Tryst - A Factory Girl (1880); Cupid And Psyche (1890); a large and opulent painting showing Count Zouboff sitting in decadence against an Italian backdrop (1908); and The Sense Of Sight (1895) showing two girls staring accusingly with stark eyes, bold, and hands poised.

There are also paintings of The Rev. William Gaskill, husband of Manchester novelist Elizabeth Gaskill; Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1895); and paintings of a more allegorical nature. Her paintings of children are always stark and it is always the eyes that one notices first, and then their hands; the arms often extended, often open and reaching out. Her later works tend to have more in common with Impressionist paintings, and some of the nudes, like the one illustrated here, have a delicate balance between realism (the body) and ethereal (the background) .

The exhibition also commemorates another side to Swynnerton too. Not only was she undeniably a gifted painter, but she was also a very firm advocate of Women's Rights and was a Suffragette.  There is a small cabinet full of reliquiae of the Suffragette movement, and a short film at the beginning of the exhibition gives a little more detail on this and the influence it had on her life and painting.

I am not an artist, not am I in any way qualified to critique or deconstruct an artists' work; but I do know that Swynnerton was an extremely talented, dedicated and innovative painter, and her name should certainly be more widely known that unfortunately it is. So, redress that balance and go along for yourselves to make your own mind up. The exhibition is here until 6 January 2019!

reportage - Matthew Dougall
on - 13/4/18

Ready Player One: VR and retro Video Games Event - Future Artists Studio, Salford.

Inspired by and coinciding with the release of Steven Spielberg’s latest film, Ready Player One, the Future of Video Games presents an event which will appeal to video game geeks of all ages as well as fans of the Ready Player One book and film. A combination of the latest Virtual Reality (VR) game experiences and retro arcade games and consoles, this event shows how technology and gaming has advanced over the last four decades, while drawing upon the references to and experiences of the Ready Player One world.

The main draw for fans of Ready Player One is the VR Experience of Aech’s Garage where you get to walk around a VR rendition of one of the settings from the film. If you are unfamiliar with VR gaming then this does take some getting used to! Once the headset is on, controllers are in your hands and the environment is loaded, you see a CGI rendered garage full of robots and technologies from the science fiction films: there’s an Ed209 from Robocop, the Iron Giant from the animated film of the same name, what appears to be a pod from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Most of your time is spent walking through the garage, the sensation of which can instil a feeling a motion-sickness, although the ability to teleport helps reduce it. Aech’s Garage does highlight a key difference between an ‘experience’ and a ‘game’: this is something for you to engage with as you would a trip to a gallery or museum, looking around and the various pieces of technology and trying to remember which film you’d seen them in before.

The other VR games on offer were more like traditional games. There was the Star Wars: Droid Repair game, which is clearly aimed at the more casual gamer market than the devoted hardcore gamer. In this game, you play a robot who fixes other robots. The game itself is straightforward and is very intuitive. It’s a lot of fun and once it is over (it takes about five-ten minutes to complete), it can be slightly disorientating when the VR headset is removed and you find yourself not on a spaceship but back on planet Earth! There were also two VR games connected to PS4 consoles: Star Wars: Battlefront, where you are immersed in the cockpit of an X-Wing and find yourself in Red Squadron on an escort mission through an asteroid field and then fending off wave after wave of TIE Fighters - a very thrilling game! - and then there was Gran Turismo VR. For this game, controls were via a steering wheel and pedals (as with an actual car) but there was some delay with the physical turning of the wheel and the game responding (this as due to automatic braking being setup in the game). The VR experience makes the game more interesting but also more disorientating and can produce an acute feeling of motion sickness: whether is down to a trick of the mind due to the disconnect between simulated driving and knowledge of driving in the real world is a debate for psychologists to have!

In addition to the VR games, the event also hosts 1980s arcade games as featured in Ready Player One. There is the stone-cold classic Pac-Man which still entertains and challenges even as it approaches its fortieth birthday in a couple of years! There is also Galaga from 1982, where you control a spaceship fighting against an onslaught of what appears to be space insects; Black Tiger from 1987, which has more of a story and sees you control a knight battling through dungeons (in many ways it could be a precursor to the acclaimed but incredibly difficult Dark Souls trilogy of games from 2011-2016); and, finally, there was Joust from 1982. This game has to be one of the most bonkers games ever designed: you control a knight on an ostrich-like bird and you have to fly and joust against other giant birds! Playing these games after experiencing the current VR games certainly brings home how gaming has evolved: whereas once we stood in front of the glass screens of arcade cabinets furiously hitting buttons, now we can wear headsets and become more immersed in the worlds of games and use motion controls to manipulate objects within the game world. There are also some consoles available to play: a Nintendo Switch with Mario Kart 8 ready to play (great fun, as always), an Xbox with a FIFA game, and the Super Nintendo Mini which features a plethora of 16-bit classics (including the original Mario Kart game).

The Ready Player One event runs until the 15th April and is well worth experiencing for those who love games both old and new. Each session lasts for three hours and those hours will just fly by. 

Reportage - Andrew Marsden
on - 30/3/18

This Vibrant Thing - North City Library, Harpurhey, Manchester.

This Vibrant Thing was a three day festival of music, dance, spoken word and activities, spread over the last three Saturdays in three of the city's district libraries. It was an initiative by Manchester City Council who have a passion for arts and creativity in the community to widen the community's knowledge and usage of the libraries and for the communities involved to develop a greater understanding of the local libraries and to banish the thought that a library is just for educated people to learn more in a quiet and stymied space. Libraries are places for and about the community and can be used as meeting areas, as well as for workshops, discussions, and indeed events. Age, ability, gender, ethnicity or disability really does not matter. All are equally welcome.

This Saturday at Harpurhey the entire ground floor space of the library was made into an improvised stage, and performing on that stage we heard music from Manchester band, 8 Gold Rings; already well known within the music scene as a freelance rhythm section for solo artistes, but today proved their worth on their own as four of their members entertained us with their own unique sound. This was followed by a duet who had formed to make this group especially for the concert and called themselves Blu Steel. Playing steel pans they entertained us with traditional melodies, reggae, a little classical and even a mix of 'Rock Around The Clock' and 'In The Mood'.

More music was heard later on in the day when the 7 women of the WAST Choir, all identically and smartly dressed took to the stage and sang songs about women and empowerment and being recognised within Manchester and being equal. These messages were sung using traditional African tribal rhythms. Interesting. 

The event finished with singer / songwriter HMD singing some of his original songs.

In between all of this MAD Theatre Company presented a performance poem entitled, 'If It's Not Love Then It's The Bomb That Will Bring Us Together'. Three young teenagers; Mia, James and Carter, sang, spoke and danced their way through this paean to Manchester and its spirit. We also heard a poem called 'Language' delivered by Anisha Loco, who talked about the problems facing youths with mental health issues blaming the rise in social media making it easier for young people to hurt others mentally without any backlash.

More music and dance was provided for in the form of Amplify Mcr, a platform for young people borough-wide to express their identity through music; and KYSO, a South Manchester theatre and performance youth group. Amongst the youths taking part in these mini-showcases, were Funyana and Dariah [2 young girls who sang their own composition 'Why'], breakdancing, Jamaican Street dancing, rapping, Tina [a young girl singing 'I Feel Like I'm Ready For Love'], and a singer / songwriter called Swiss singing his own material.

Whilst all of this was happening on the ground floor, upstairs was given over to workshops and children's activities. There was canvas painting workshops, zine and badge making workshops, head-dress and mask making, and storytelling for the youngsters. There was also a digital art exhibition by Wai Yin Youth Group. promoting health awareness within the community.

Free food was provided during the lunch hour by Amy Win of 4lunch, and despite a really poor turnout [the vast majority of the day's audience was family and fellow performers] the groups still went ahead and gave their all, which is full credit to all of them. I applaud the libraries for organising and promoting events such as these, it was such a shame that this particular community didn't really appreciate or perhaps even know about what was happening on their doorstep.  

Reportage - Matthew Dougall
on - 24/2/18