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Archive for the 'North West England' Category

Manchester peregrines return again for 2011 …

 
 

The peregrine pair, who have nested in Manchester since 2005, have returned to the city to raise a family once again.  The two birds have decided to use the original nest box built for them in 2008, at a secret (but tall) building right in the heart of the city centre.  This chosen box luckily has a new video camera pointing right at the nest. It’s a joint operation between Manchester Digital Development Agency and the RSPB and allows live streaming of the nest for anyone who has internet access. The adult female laid the first egg on 22 March 2011, one soon became four and they all safely hatched on 30 April 2011.  Two male and two female.

Since then the little chicks have gained confidence, weight and endured the full range of Manchester weather from heatwave to downpours to gales.  All chicks are still growing and they have had rings fitted for safe tracking by trained RSPB handlers.

I have watched the live stream on the webcam when I can and I do seem to always see the same (yes, the smallest) chick timidly staying at the back of the bunch.  I do hope this wee thing discovers that it is survival of the fittest; it MUST become more assertive or maybe Mum and Dad give it a sneaky extra snack.  I hope so.

Estimates for possible fledging are around mid-June 2011.

Friendly RSPB staff and volunteers have a viewing telescope set up every day during the nesting, the team can be found outside the Triangle Shopping Centre in Exchange Square, Manchester from 11am to 6pm.  To be 100% sure the RSPB team will be there;  you can give them a call on 01484 861148.

The One Show did a short feature in 2008 which is available via YouTube, on the Manchester Peregrines with urban birder David Lindo, it is around 5 minutes long and well worth a watch.

Oh and I nearly forgot, the birds are on Twitter too: @mcrperegrines

Flickr photostream here with photos and video footage.

For my previous blog post and comments from 2010 nesting please click here.

LATEST: Wed 25th May 2011.  Just looking on the live stream and three of the birds are off on a walkabout out of the nest and onto the rooftop surrounding the box.  Hope they come back to be fed!

LATEST: Fri 17th June 2011.  All birds successfully fledged, high chance of spotting them if you look into the Manchester skies.  Popular perch spots on the Arndale and also the Premier Inn.  RSPB and telescopes are there in Exchange Square for closer viewing opportunities of the birds.



“Arty Wow Moment”: Review of Angels of Anarchy @ Manchester City Art Gallery

 

UPDATE ADDED:  5 March 2012.  Tremendous blog post on Francesca Woodman and her work over at Wayne Ford’s Posterous.   Her tragically short life is put under the microscope and the resulting post is a wonderfully informed and a comprehensive look at her background, work and influences.  Thank you Mr Ford!

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It has to be said I probably attend my fair share of exhibitions, but what doesn’t happen very often is that I enjoy one so much I feel a powerful urge to blog about it.  But the “Angels of Anarchy” exhibition currently in residence at Manchester City Art Gallery really does deserve to be seen by anyone with even the vaguest interest in the visual arts.

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My last real big “arty wow moment” in Manchester was back in 1997 at the David Hockney exhibition, the one with all his photocollage stuff.  OK, well yes, I did also have one seeing the footage of Gandhi visiting Darwen at the Procession exhibition (Cornerhouse, Summer09).  But that doesn’t really count as it wasn’t the art that made me hold my breath with wonder, rather the actual event happening at all and being recorded forever by someone with a movie camera.

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To be truthful, the only reason ‘Angels of Anarchy’ even twitched on my radar was due to the inclusion of some of Lee Miller’s photographs.  I am not really a big fan of Surrealism.  A few years ago, when I got to see some of Dali’s best work up close, I could appreciate the beautiful brush work but I didn’t find myself particularly moved.  It was all a bit too clever for me.

Surrealism emerged in the mid-Twenties, a potent, shifting and bubbling period in the art world.  Most of the celebrated artists and thinkers were male (Breton, Dali, Freud, Magritte, Man Ray, Picasso) and these are the names which are inextricably linked with the movement and whose work we have become accustomed to seeing.

Where the curators of this new exhibition have struck gold is by choosing to limit things to a unique viewpoint, namely the part women played as creators.  This helps to make the work relevant, it introduces a much more human aspect and allows the viewer to better understand and feel the emotion pouring out from the artists work on show.

Exhibition spaces can often feel cavernous, cold and intimidating.  Manchester Art Gallery have got things right here though.  Subdued lighting, warm rich colours and intelligent grouping of images make for a meandering and intuitive journey.

The work takes all forms, from painting and photography through to film, sculpture, books and poetry.  Many of the pieces can usually be found ensconced within numerous different private collections, there are 150  images from the 1920’s through to the 1970’s.

After viewing the exhibition I came away with much to think upon.  Many images deal with the representation of women as sexual objects; beautified, empowered, sad, disconnected, shackled.  Sometimes it felt like a celebration, stumbling into someone else’s party, women united and enjoying each others artistry, support and friendship (Lee Miller’s portrait work).  This is women experimenting and questioning, using their art to examine traditional roles and their place within a wider world and trying to find a voice.

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It is a privilege to have the opportunity to see powerful work such as Lee Miller’s ‘Severed Breast’ (a freshly removed female breast is photographed served up on a dinner plate complete with cutlery on a white linen tablecloth, the was showcased in Vogue the magazine Miller worked for at the time) and Meret Oppenheimer’s wickedly disturbing “Fur Gloves With Wooden Fingernails”.  I really like the work of Manchester-based artist Rachel Goodyear and I believe her images would feel right at home in the slightly gothic and fetish-themed room where Oppenheimer, Penny Slinger and Josette Exandier’s work is displayed. Within this leatherbound haven you will find a fur teacup, a blonde human hair whip (fairytale/Rapunzel?) and bird skeletons.

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Argentinian painter Leonor Fini’s work stands strong and powerful.  A remarkable women, artist, costume designer and novelist.  I was wowed by her “Little Hermit Sphinx (1948)” with it’s subtle colours and exquisite technique, capturing decay and innocence, a guardian for life and death.

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Batting for the British corner I found Edith Rimmington’s painting “The Oneiroscopist (1947)” haunting, weird and beautiful.

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Photography is well-represented in the exhibition.  I mentioned Lee Miller’s work earlier, but there is an abundance of powerful work.  I discovered the images of Francesca Woodman (Kate Bush a big fan apparently).  This US artist took the photograph chosen for the Exhibition poster and “Untitled” (1977) a self-portrait showing her hanging from a doorway really stayed bouncing round my mind long after I had left the gallery.  Using long exposures she generates a ghostly atmosphere, made all the more powerful when you discover she had a troubled life and committed suicide aged 22yrs.

francesca-woodman_doorway

Dora Maar’s photographic portrait of an armadillo embryo is freakish, spooky and rather innocent, whereas her “Sans Titre” seashell with a hand is classic surrealism, another of her prints hints at her striving towards a more documentary style and one can understand there is a truth to rumours of her appreciation of Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange .  Maar is perhaps better known as Picasso’s muse, but I would love to see more of her photography.

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A big star of the show is Frida Kahlo, probably acknowledged as one of the more celebrated female surrealist artists, her work is vibrant and pulses with it’s own distinctive style,  symbolism and themes.  I must make an effort to see the film “Frida” based on her life,  she overcame huge odds to create such powerful paintings.

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A new discovery for me was Kay Sage, an American painter working mostly with oils.  She created beautiful, linear landscapes filled with futuristic structures all coloured from a sublime palette.  Sage’s work felt decidedly modern and distinctive, her painting “The Hidden Letter” immediately made me think of Phillippe Starck’s famous iconic lemon squeezer (or am I alone in that thought!).

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This really is a feast, an exciting opportunity to see such a range of high quality work in one place.  The Gallery has made sterling efforts to enhance the experience, with a programme of talks and tours, games and interactive websites.  All part of a quietly terrific marketing and social media campaign, steered by Wilmslow agency Wonder Associates. Fantastic to see an arts organisation making such an effort to find and engage with their audience.

Further reviews of the exhibition can be found at the Guardian, Independent, Prospect Magazine, creativetourist.com and for a queer slant try Chroma Journal. Angels of Anarchy continues at Manchester Art Gallery until 10th January 2010 and was curated by Dr Patricia Allmer, MIRIAD, Manchester Metropolitan University.

UPDATE: Nov 2010.  Just found a well-written piece in The Telegraph newspaper (England) today on Francesa Woodman.  It’s well worth a read, particularly  if you have an appreciation of Francesca’s work and would like to learn more about her (sadly) rather tragic and short life.  It also highlights the fact that some of Francesca Woodman’s work will be on display at the Victoria Miro gallery in London 17 Nov 2010 – 22 Jan 2011 and also in the New Year 2011 a major retrospective will be on show at San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art and then on to the Guggenheim in New York in 2012.

Next year, a major Woodman retrospective will travel to San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art, and on to the Guggenheim in New York in 2012. Before that, though, an exhibition of around 50 of her photographs, including some rare colour prints, opens at the Victoria Miro gallery in London on Wednesday.

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Shooting the city @ night with Christina Seely & her “Lux” project …

christinaseely_lasvegas_lux

A few weeks ago I was privileged to help out a wonderful US photographer Christina Seely  shooting her latest project “Lux”.  I became aware of her work after a call out on Mark Page’s excellent Manchester Photography website back in June.

A number of reasons prompted me to answer the request for assistance.

  • I checked out Christina’s website and I really liked her work.
  • Her own areas of interest happen to be ones I share a passion for too; namely the planet, our relationship with nature/the environment and the effect of one on the other.
  • Personally, I have found collaborations are a good thing if one has a gut-feeling to do it.
  • It presented a great opportunity to learn from a successful photographer who has drive, talent and belief in abundance.
  • A  measure of helping is always good for the Soul Department.

The gist of the “Lux” project as explained by Christina (from a blog interview with Plazm magazine) :

“A few years ago I rediscovered the NASA map of the world at night and I kept coming back to it over and over again. I was captivated by the beauty of the light on the map and also the complexity of what this light represents about us.  The conclusion is that this light obviously equals an intensely negative impact on the planet.  However, since it’s inception, man made light has also represented; ingenuity and progress, innovation, growth, prosperity, amusement, romance, optimism and promise – basically fundamentally positive and hopeful things. My real interest lies in this complexity and what it reflects about our current relationship with the planet.

The final body of work will be made up of photographs that document the artificial glow produced by the 43 brightest cities at night.”

This is a 4 year, worldwide project and a great deal of organisation, skill and research has been required for each of the shoots to go ahead.  Many artists mention their process when they discuss their work, when you read Christina’s “Lux” blog, one can gain a very real sense of this being more akin to a quest.   It highlights the efforts an artist has to put in behind the scenes to deliver; including battling an airport theft (Madrid) and a fire (Edinburgh).

My role for the Manchester and Liverpool shoots: location scout, navigator, car driver, equipment carrier, safety-in-numbers guard, torch bearer, stopwatch watcher, umbrella handler, local guide and regional catering advisor.

christina_and_camera

Christina uses a beautiful handmade 5×4 field camera to record her work, modelled by Christina in the above phote.   For “Lux” the aim is that the finished prints will be large and so the rendering needs to be as detailed as possible.    After copious testing, her chosen film for the work was Portra 100T negative, which presented a problem as Kodak decided to discontinue the whole range once shooting had commenced.  I think by scraping Ebay Christina should just get through to the end of the project (however, if anyone knows of any further sources then please do get in touch).  Average time for exposing the film was 3 hours.  This is due to the effects of reciprocity failure.

The spot I thought might work for the Liverpool shoot was Bidston Hill on the Wirral, close to Birkenhead (thanks also to Chris Coles for help scouting locations and research).   However, I must admit I was a little worried about wandering a lonely location such as this in the dead of night.  Due to it’s landmark windmill, it is a popular meet-up place for the local youth.  Thankfully,  despite the shoot starting around 11pm on a Friday night, we were bothered only by moths and a shooting star, a hooting owl provided the odd punctuation mark.  Manchester was captured from a field near the summit of Hartshead Pike, Mossley.  No threat of hassle, just a wonderful night sky, a few curious horses, low-flying bats, great company (Richard Brook from MMU also helped on this shoot) and a tiny bit of drizzle.  Both shoots were surreal, magical and very special.  I do not think I have ever sat and consumed the same scene for so long.

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This project is now nearing completion as regards photography and there is already interest worldwide concerning possible sites to exhibit the body of work.  I cannot wait to see all of the filmic images displayed in one place.   Especially the shoots I tagged along for, will those two sheets of 5 x 4 film reveal the same things I conjured and remember so vividly?  Will they even make the finished cut … as I know some degree of image editing will be necessary.

A final footnote, Christina has been in touch to tell me about another project she is involved with called the Civil Twilight Collective who have been busily working on a fantastic idea: Lunar Resonant Streetlights.  It has been nominated for the prestigious Index Award (the world’s largest design award 500,000 euro prize-money) in the Community category.

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There are some amazing ideas shortlisted, all along the theme of “Design to Improve Life”.  It merits a blog post of it’s own and if you have an interest in this subject you will find it well worth a visit.  Whilst there, you can cast your vote for the People’s Choice (I have) but be quick as voting ends tomorrow Friday 28th August when the winner is announced.

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Cutting Room Experiment: the aftermath @ #smc_mcr

cuttingroom_smc

I managed to make my second appearance at #smc_mcr earlier this month.  In an exciting departure from the norm, the event was held at the BBC on Oxford Road and many thanks to all the organisers for making it happen and run so smoothly.  These meet-ups are always very open and welcoming; fashioned from a happy blend of creative wannabees, digital sages and the odd normal earthdweller snuffling up the crumbs.  (I am  a paid-up member of the first category).  This time we had some home-made cakes (awesome apparently), Teletext bingo and a subsidised bar.  Who could ask for more.

From the #smc_mcr wiki: “The Social Media Cafe is a place for ALL people interested in social media to gather, get acquainted, and to plot, scheme, and share.. emphasis on open and interesting conversation!”.

Given the Network’s copious skillsets, some great tweets and blog posts are always on offer if you are not able to get down on the night and you want to catch-up with the fun.  Check out Tim Difford’s extensive coverage on One Greener Day for more on this last meet-up.  I am going to concentrate on giving some feedback on the Cahoona and Ear to the Ground session which dealt with the groundbreaking “Cutting Room Experiment” which took place on 20th June in Ancoats.  To use their own words they were aiming to put on “the biggest user-generated event in the world” aiming to publicise the opening of a newly designed square in New East Manchester called The Cutting Room.

First off, I was a little torn on the night as I also fancied the Twitter talk (being a relative newbie into Twitterworld) and the fact that the session was delivered by an artist and writer (@thecharmquark) gave added interest.

In the end, I opted for the Cahoona fellas as I had heard a little of the experiment and wanted to find out how it all panned out.  Plus I’ve always found a good de-brief is often a worthwhile use of half an hour.

The session began with details of the Cutting Room Experiment’s inception and aims, then the plan of attack was mapped out, to hopefully ensure the experiment’s success.   It was clearly demonstrated that key online tools were utilised with creativity and skill, the resulting spread of publicity and visitors to the website, testament to the guys picking a winning strategy and social media playing a starring role.

However, things did seem to fall down a bit on the day of the experiment, 20th June 2009.  Though the target of 400 people attending was achieved (though the photo’s shown during the session didn’t illustrate that very well) the vibe was,  I think, that a larger audience was expected.

© TST 2004. http://www.space-hoppers.co.uk

© TST 2004. http://www.space-hoppers.co.uk

One can only conclude that different strategies are required to engineer different responses to any campaign.   The hardest deliver of all is real people.  Ones who wear out their own shoe leather, co-ordinate their day and put themselves out to attend an event.  The poor weather on the day may explain some of the problem ; sadly a common issue for outdoor promoters living in a rain shadow.  I guess that the harsh truth is that the user-generated ideas chosen were simply not a big enough pull.  Despite a fun-looking Spacehopper race and Manchester Science and Industry setting up Alka Seltzer rockets.

Sometimes, if enough buzz is created, then people will make an effort as they don’t want to miss out on an exclusive and potentially trendsetting event (moreso if something is free).   Maybe a band plays a secret hometown gig,  celebrated writer reads from a latest novel or respected thinker delivers a talk on an engaging subject.  The aim is to make those at the event feel they are lucky and are attending something with real pull.

I guess the Cutting Room Experiment showed that great publicity and user-generated ideas are not quite enough when the aim is to deliver a big audience on a wet Saturday in Ancoats.  Once the event date was drawing closer I wonder whether even more time and effort should have been concentrated on targetting the local population and reaching them using the more traditional routes?  Maybe the public still want a bit of old-fashioned entertainment once the avatar has been allowed the day off.  A bit of bribery might help too …. 50 free spacehoppers anyone?

Click through to Technical Fault’s blog where you will find a link to the whole #smc_mcr Cutting Room Experiment session, his own on-the-button thoughts, plus an excellent critique of the night.

LATE ADDITION.  Link to @MartinSFP ‘s freshly uploaded video of the Teletext Bingo session.

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Manchester Artist heads off to “Th’Arctic” …

As ever Kate @ the Manchizzle shows she has the proverbial finger on the pulse of all things interesting and arty in the Manchester region.

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Kate gave a mention to local artist Rebecca McKnight and her mission to explore the icy beauty of “Th’Arctic” (that’s Lancashire for The Arctic in case you were wondering).

A place so cold that the Ocean frequently freezes solid and only the hardiest of animals and plants survive. It is here the Polar Bear, Arctic Fox, Wolverine and Arctic Hare find their natural habitat.  For much of the year things are so unbearable that most living things hide away til the warmth of the short summer gives them a nudge to briefly explode into life. Though, if you are lucky, you may catch sight of the Aurora Borealis to take you mind off the biting wind!

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I got to know Rebecca last year as we both had work displaying at the Chorlton Arts Festival. This was May 2008 and she was already focused, excited and working hard on plans for the trip, so I have seen first-hand how dedicated she has had to be to make this project happen.

The logistics of pulling something like this together requires nearly as much determination and effort as surviving the Arctic elements. Sponsors and funding, website, journal, publicity, technical gear, experienced mentors, involvement of the community, travel plans, flights, visa’s, communications … not to mention a map and route! I’m sure that’s only the half of it.

She is hoping to become one of the first British people to ski up to 300 miles pulling a pulk (sledge) from Resolute Bay to Grise Fiord, the most northerly Inuit community in the Canadian Arctic. So, getting supremely fit prior to the attempt has been one side of the preparation, plus this trip is also a live art project which aims to “explore personal identity in relation to situation and environment.”

The use of the word ‘live’ was not a mistake. Check out Th’Arctic website, which has regular updates from the location, a live tracker map showing the groups progress and there is the ability to send the Team a text or email to keep them all on their toes and gain a real insight into the experience. There are no photo’s on the website just yet but as they have only just arrived at base camp I am sure some amazing work will surely follow.

The actual trek starts tomorrow (1st April) and the latest weather conditions sound tough (-60oC and blizzards). So best of luck Rebecca and everyone else, what a fantastic effort to bring such a dream trip to life.

You can follow things and send messages of support via:-
Th’Arctic website
Facebook page
artist’s talking a-n website
The Big Screen Manchester

plus there will be a live-link up with the team which is being co-ordinated with the guys at the Cornerhouse on Saturday 18 April.

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Spring Snowdrops @ Rode Hall Gardens, Cheshire …

Just as the green fields here are being invaded by crocus and daffodils, I thought I would post up some shots I took a few weeks ago featuring two of the earliest British native spring flowers.  Can you believe it is the start of summertime next weekend and nature is certainly doing its best to cajole us all into life.

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The shot above is actually a snowflake (I think?)  from my very limited knowledge I believe it is unusual to see it facing upwards.

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The extensive National Trust gardens at Rode Hall, near Congleton, are famous for their spectacular displays of the delicate snowdrop.  The sight of the bobbing white bell-shaped flowers heralds the end of Winter and the beginning of some warmth.  The shot above is a section from a wonderful swathe of snowdrops in a sheltered spot quite close to the main house, these plants were right at the peak of their powers a few weeks back.  On close inspection you can start to discover the subtle differences which signal the different varieties.

The names are fantastic, sounding more like racehorses than flowers including “Lady Beatrix Stanley”, “Merlin” “Primrose Warburg” and “Mighty Atom”.  The study of snowdrops seems to attract those with a competitve nature, followers are called ‘galanthophiles‘ (taken from the flower’s Latin name) and some collectors think nothing of spending £150 for a rare bulb.

If you fancy a trip out to see one of the lesser-known Cheshire Gardens it’s well worth it and after strolling the grounds, be sure to leave time for the wonderful pairing of a pot of tea and homemade scone, jam and cream before you head home.  You know you want too!

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