Idris Khan at the Whitworth

DSC00701 (2)

A new exhibition of works by the Birmingham born artist Idris Khan has just opened in the at the Whitworth in Manchester. This is the second exhibition of works by the artist at the Gallery. In 2012 they showed The Devil’s Wall (2011) three large, black, cylindrical sculptures, along with a series of works on paper.

For the current exhibition, a new wall drawing has ben created which can be seen on the right in the picture at the top of this post. It was difficult to take a photograph which fully captures the impact of this work which is made up of lines of text in English and Arabic printed onto the wall using rubber stamps – here’s a close up


Like some of his other works, to me, the wall painting resembled a stellar explosion.

Beginning or End (2013), a meditation on Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy and the cyclical nature of life and existence, was created using the same approach as the wall painting. However it’s painted on a dark background


Eternal Movement (2011) was commissioned for Sadler’s Wells Dance House was inspired by Muslim religious texts.


It’s meant to represent part of the Hajj pilgrimage where devotees walk back and forth seven times between two mountains near Mecca.

Death of Painting (2014), a series of five oil works on paper, are displayed on the wall directly opposite the wall painting.


They were inspired by Kasimir Malevich’s iconic black square painting. Khan’s composed  black squares were created by writing a text with thick oil sticks over and over again on paper. Close up it could be seen that the squares were not “pure” black – traces of the writing could be seen.

The Rite of Spring (2013), created from layering photographs of Stravinsky’s score on top of each other.


From a distance the work just looked like a textured black and white pattern. Close up, however, the notes and staff of the musical notation could be made out.

I’ve enjoyed all the exhibitions shown in this new gallery space, created when the Whitworth was renovated and enlarged. The gallery is bright and airy and suits the modern works that they’ve displayed here.

The Mersey Tunnel

Many, many years ago, when I was at University in Liverpool, I always used to wonder what this building, located at George’s Dock, just behind the Mersey Docks and Harbour building, one of the “Three Graces” at the Pierhead, was.


A large Art Deco style structure faced with Portland limestone and decorated with Egyptian motifs that were popular in the 1930’s, not long after the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen. I eventually discovered that it was a huge chimney surrounded by offices built as part of the ventilation system for the Queensway Tunnel (also known as the Birkenhead Tunnel). It’s certainly one of the fanciest chimneys I’ve ever seen!

It was designed by Liverpool architect Herbert James Rowse (1887-1963) and the carved Egyptian style decorations on the portals are by sculptor Edmund Charles Thompson (1898-1961).


The tunnel was opened in July 1934, and at the time, at 3.24 kilometres (2.01 mi) long.  it was the longest road tunnel in the world, a title it held for 14 years until the opening of the Vielha Tunnel in Spain in 1948. It remained the longest underwater tunnel though, until 1955. The entrance is right in the centre of Liverpool and being built in the 1930’s it only has a single carriageway of four lanes, two in each direction.

Mersey Travel, who own the tunnel, organise regular tours of the tunnel showcasing its history and allowing the public to gain access to the old control room, ventilation equipment and the tunnel itself. They also can arrange special tours for schools, companies and other organisations and last week I took part in a visit organised for delegates attending a conference at the nearby Crowne Plaza Hotel on the Liverpool waterfront. Given the theme of the conference – about the control of exposure to hazardous substances – the tour was customised to highlight how the air quality is controlled.

After donning our hi-viz vests and safety helmets, our guides, Alison and Billy, gave us a potted history of the tunnel and described how it was constructed. Billy was a real “Scouser” – born and bred in Anfield (although a true Evertonian!) with lots of stories and plenty of jokes and wisecracks. A true entertainer!


The tunnel cost £8million to build  and employed 1700 men in difficult working conditions under the river bed. 1,200,000 tons of rock and gravel had to be excavated by two teams working from either side of the river. Pilot tunnels were excavated, one starting in Liverpool and the other in Birkenhead, eventually to meet in the centre – less than an inch out of alignment! – on 3 April 1928. The pilot tunnels were then enlarged to create the full sized tunnel.  There’s more information about its construction on the Merseyside Maritime Museum Website and a more detailed description here.

First stop was the old control room, which was in use until relatively recently. This required climbing several flights of steps (you need to be fit for this visit!!)


2016-10-12 13.31.07


Ventilation of the tunnel to remove contaminants from vehicle exhausts, is provided by massive fans located at 6 ventilation stations, including the one at George’s Dock. Fresh air, brought in from above street level, is blown through the ducts beneath the roadway. The air enters the upper half of the tunnel through outlets18 inches apart at roadway level. The air flow is balanced by varying the size of the outlets to ensure an even distribution of air throughout the tunnel. Contaminated air is extracted through vents in the roof of the tunnel to the exhaust chambers at each of the six ventilating stations.

It’s incredible to think that the original fans, built and installed in the 1930’s, are still in use. They are enormous, with the largest capable of moving 641,000 cubic feet per minute (315 cubic metres per second).


I was rather pleased to hear that one of the two fan suppliers was Walker Brothers of Wigan who specialised in equipment for mines. In the 1930’s there was little knowledge or experience of how to control air quality in road tunnels so, perhaps not surprisingly, they fell back on the technology used to ventilate coal mines.

Fan in the Queensway Tunnel on Merseyside


This diagram illustrates the operaton of the ventilation system (showing the Birkenhead side). It appeared in the second edition of a short lived British magazine “Wonders of World Engineering”,  published in March 1937.


I found the image here.


We were then taken all the way back down and below ground level to look inside the tunnel itself. It’s very narrow and the cars speeded past only centimetres from where we stood on the observation platform. No photographs were allowed to minimise the distraction of drivers of the vehicles passing through the tunnel – we didn’t want to be the cause of an accident.

Then it was back up the stairs to the ground floor where we handed in our safety gear at the end of what was a very informative and entertaining visit.

Silver How and Easedale


It’s been a good weekend! On Saturday Wigan, against the odds, won the Rugby League Grand Final at Old Trafford, and on Sunday we enjoyed great Autumn weather during a walk in the Lake District.

We set off early to beat the traffic and also to make the most of the day. Arriving at Grasmere before 11, we parked up and were welcomed by a bright and sunny morning.



I’d planned a route taking us up to Silver How, a modest fell that overlooks Grasmere, and then along the ridge to Blea Rigg, down into Easedale and then back to Grasmere Village

Taking the path towards Allan Bank we caught sight of our first objective


It was a steady climb, and with the light being bright and clear we got good views of the surrounding fells

Looking back towards Helm Crag, Seat Sandal and Fairfield


A glimpse of Grasmere through the bracken


The views from the summit were outstanding



Looking east over Grasmere and Rydal Water


Fairfield, part of it’s “horseshoe” and Helvelyn


The view north west towards the Langdale Pikes and Bowfell, which we’d climbed earlier this year


The Coniston Fells with Lingmoor Fell in the foreground


Langdale and Elterwater with Windermere visible in the distance


Leaving the summit of Silver How behind


we set our north west across the moorland heading toward Lang How



The view of the upper reaches of Langdale opened up


Looking across to the fells of the Fairfield horseshoe


Keeping on across the fell towards Blea Rigg


Reaching the top of Easedale we descended down the slope towards Easedale Tarn


The cloud had started to come in


Finally reaching the tarn, where we stopped for a short while. There were quite a few peopl enjoying a pleasant autumn afternoon on its shores


We headed down Sour Milk Ghyll


with its waterfalls


reaching the main Easedale valley



Back towards Grasmere village past Allan Bank


and a flock of Herdwick sheep


Reaching the village, it’s mandatory to stop and buy some Grasmere gingerbread!


and pay homage to Wordsworth


before returning to the car for the journey home.

“If the Ground Should Open” at the IMMA


Another journey over the Irish Sea to spend a week working in Ireland. I caught the fast ferry from Holyhead that would get me over to Dublin for 2 o’clock and planned to drive out a short distance for a walk along the coast. But after a rough crossing I arrived to heavy rain showers with bursts of sunshine so decided to change tack and instead drove over to the Irish Museum of Modern Art.


It wasn’t so long ago since I last visited the IMMA and one of the main exhibitions of works from their collection was still running. The exhibition in the other wing had finished and the next one hadn’t been installed. Two small exhibitions, The Plough and other stars curated by Kate Strain and Historica – Republican Aesthetics curated by Sumesh Sharma, had recently opened. I had a look around and although there were some pieces of interest they didn’t particularly “rock my boat” (mind you I’d had enough of rocking boats a few hours earlier!)

The third new exhibition was on the ground floor in the Courtyard galleries (a series of four interconnected rooms).

DSC00630 (2)

Described as a “new video and sound installation” I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It was created by Jakki Irvine, an Irish born artist and

Her works in film and video, whether in single-screen format or in more complex multi-screen installations, weave together enticing, though ultimately elusive narratives in which image, voice-over and musical score variously overlap, coalesce and diverge.  (Source here)

Although there are some video art works that I have found I liked, in general I’m not a big fan of them. Too often they’re not done well. But that was certainly not the case in this instance.

It’s difficult to describe the work but I’ll try.


In each of the four rooms there were two “boom box” video screens. Music or spoken words were coming from the speakers with accompanying images of musicians playing their instruments, singing or speaking with occasional text. The sound playing and images showing from each “boom box” were different but were all part of a musical piece. It was as if there were 8 musicians spread out across the room. But the viewer/listener, rather than taking this in from a fixed position, could move around the galleries leading to different perspectives of the music and visuals.


There were 11 songs in all, played sequentially. They were inspired by the story of two working class women Elizabeth O’Farrell (a midwife) and Julia Grenan (a furrier and dressmaker), “lifelong companions” who were participants in the Easter rising along with more than a hundred other women who performed key roles as couriers, delivering dispatches and ammunition, and nursing the wounded. The majority of them have been ignored by history. Yet Elizabeth performed a significant role at the end of the Rising, delivering Padraig Pearse’s surrender to General William Lowe on Moore Street under gun fire. She stood beside Pearse as he capitulated in person to General Lowe.

Image result for If The Ground Should Open

The songs are performed by 9 musicians – all women – and reference aspects of the Rising counterpoised with references to meltdown of the “Irish Tiger” economy, in particular, the collapse of the Anglo Irish Bank.

The eleven tracks were composed by Irvine using the canntaireachd system – originally developed as an oral scoring system for Scottish Highland pipes. The basic musical motif in classical piping (piobaireachd) is called ‘the ground’ of the piece, which is then built upon with additional notes and melodies. In If the Ground Should Open… the names of women involved in the 1916 Rising, form the ground. In this way they are performed and remembered, becoming part of the ground we walk on in 2016.  The project was also developed from the leaked Anglo-Irish bankers taped conversations. (IMMA website)

and Jakki Irvine tells us

“the legacy of 1916 is reconsidered in the light of a contemporary Ireland broken by corporate greed. Both the past and the present are reflected through a lens that is complicated, joyful, furious and hopeful”.

I found the work very moving and inspiring, and enjoyed picking up different aspects of the songs as I moved around the galleries.

Unfortunately there are no recordings of the work available – but there will be a live performance in the Chapel at the IMMA in December. I’d love to see this, but won’t be in Dublin. However the exhibition is on until January and as I’m likely to be over in Ireland again before then, and would like to see the Lucien Freud exhibition that opens there at the end of October, there’s a good chance that I’ll revisit.


There’s a recording of the introductory talk by Jakki Irvine on the IMMA Soundcloud channel and an interview with Jakki who talks about Elizabeth O’Farrell, Julia Grenan and the other women who participated in the Easter Rising in the Irish Independent.

The performers are – Vocals Louise Phelan, Cats Irvine, Cherry Smyth, Bagpipes Hilary Knox, Piano Izumi Kimura, Violin Liz McClaren, Cello Jane Hughes, Doublebass Aura Stone, Drums Sarah Grimes.

Art? In Wigan?

IMAG5802 (2)

It’s well known (by me, at least) that Wigan is something of a cultural black hole. It’s a great town for sport but the Local Authority have no real interest in art and culture (unlike Wakefield, a very similar town over the other side of the Pennines). They closed the only gallery in town a few years ago.So I was surprised to pick up a leaflet advertising and Arts Festival in Wigan. Turns out that it was organised by a local Arts group based at the Old Courts building at the back of the Parish Church. One of the things they’d organised was an exhibition of works by local artists, so last Saturday I popped in to take a look.

It wasn’t a large exhibition, and I wouldn’t say that any of the works were ground-breaking, but there were a number of pictures I liked.

This painting by Mike Fahey – Mill Girl Wallgate 1907 – referenced the town’s history as a centre of cotton production. I like the way he’s superimposed his figure and cotton spinning machinery on top of a map of the town.


This mixed media abstract landscape by Sharon Barnes – Sylvan Twilight  – is based on the coast at Sefton (Formby and Southport). I like the way she has incorporated found objects and the colours are very atmospheric, suggesting a stormy afternoon.


This Untitled work by Joyce Carlton is made from folded paper. The individual pieces are perhaps a little slim to represent books. But they rather reminded me of my collection of vinyl record or, possibly, CDs.


A sample of other works on display

Crompton’s Nog and acrylic painting by David Stanley


Shrinkining Shelters – Tripytch by Georgia Marlowe


Over mountain and dark sea, the sun made our wings bronze by Elaine Philips


I enjoyed the exhibition and hope the Old Courts group can build on their efforts. Good luck to them!