On Sunday “Dad’s Taxi” was in operation ferrying one offspring to see another. To avoid running backwards and forwards twice in an afternoon, we decided to spend the afternoon at Salford Quays as we hadn’t visited for a while.

First stop was the Lowry to see the current temporary exhibition – Syzygy – which features works by Katie Paterson.

Katie Paterson was born in Glasgow in 1981 and studied at Edinburgh College of Art from 2000-2004 and at the Slade School of Art from 2005- 2007.

Paterson’s artistic practice is cross-medium, multi-disciplinary and conceptually driven, with emphasis on nature, ecology, geology and cosmology. (source)

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as the blurb on the Lowry website wasn’t entirely clear about the theme of the exhibition and the nature of the works and the only image was of a row of clocks on the wall. Entering the galleries we could hear music playing – the Moonlight Sonata – but it didn’t seem quite right.

We soon discovered that the works in the exhibition were inspired by science, particularly cosmology. So as someone with a scientific education it was of particular interest.

The music was a recording of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata that had translated into Morse code, transmitted by radio, bounced off the surface of the moon and received back on earth. The code was then transposed back into a player piano scroll and played back on a grand piano in the centre of the gallery on a. As some of the radio waves had been absorbed by the Moon’s surface, there were gaps in the recording. A simple idea, but I thought it was interesting and if visitors thought about it they would perhaps learn that radio waves can be absorbed by surfaces.

Earth–Moon–Earth (Moonlight Sonata Reflected from the Surface of the Moon)


On the wall behind the gallery there were a row of clocks. At first glance you might think “what’s the point of that?” Looking closer they all seemed to be telling different times, although the minute hands were all in the same position. On closer inspection it could be seen that each clock had a different number of hour marks – only one with the “correct” number – i.e. 12. This work was entitled Timepieces (Solar System).

Here, each clock represents the number of hours that must pass before each planet in our solar system experiences a full day – that is, one full rotation of the planet equates to two revolutions of the clock face. Setting us up for a comic double-take, at first glance each clock looks as it should; but only the Earth clock takes 12 hours to circumnavigate. The clock for Saturn performs one round of the face every five and a half hours, Jupiter every five, while Mars needs only a small adjustment of the Earth clock, for it is just 20 minutes out, and Neptune requires an extra ten minutes.

An interesting idea that should make viewers think about the representation of time and how the meaning of something as simple as the length of a day changes with context and how something familiar to us, like an hour, is actually a human construct.

On the floor in one of the other galleries there was an object that was clearly a meteorite. A sign told visitors they could touch but that they shouldn’t attempt to move it. Well if they did they would have injured themselves. It was iron and very heavy.


This work was Campo del Cielo, Field of the Sky, 2012. It was a  meteorite, but it had been melted and then re-cast back into a new version of itself – essentially using the original meteorite as the raw material to make a model of itself.

When it first fell, the meteorite was made up of recognisable elements and compounds, but in configurations never found on earth. On melting and re-solidifying, the molecules reformed into their common terrestrial arrangements. While the eventual cast looks identical to the original meteorite, it is profoundly, yet invisibly, different. It has been naturalised, by Earth standards.

So, while outwardly identical to the original, structurally and chemically it has been transformed by the recasting process. As someone who studied Chemistry, this was interesting. 

My favourite work in the exhibition was Totalitya mirrorball suspended in one of the galleries turning and reflecting points of light around the room.


There were10,000 images of solar eclipses printed on the mirrorball which were reflected onto the walls, floor and ceiling.

The images depict almost every eclipse that has occurred since records began, and have been collected from all quarters of the globe, most from photographic sources, although there are some drawings from before the invention of photography.

The term Syzygy comes from astronomy, and is used to describe an alignment of celestial bodies. At the opening, Paterson said: “It’s a coming together of planets in space and time, and relates to how most of my work deals with Earthly time and cosmic time, and our relationship with heavenly bodies and the wider cosmos.”

Standing inside the room, watching the points of light swirl around the surfaces was quite disorientating.

Other works included All the Dead Stars – a stellar map showing the locations of all known dead stars, and Langjökull, Snæfellsjökull, Solheimajökull, a video piece showing three records cast from glacial meltwater, slowly melting while replaying recorded sounds made by the very glaciers from which the ice discs were made.

Some of the other works didn’t work quite so well for me, but another one,  Future Library which was a very interesting project, represented in the exhibition by a couple of drawings.

A forest has been planted to serve as the source of paper for a literary anthology to be printed in one hundred years’ time – the implication being that thinking literally about the materials one uses is the only responsible way to act when complex and occluded networks of production and distribution make it impossible to tell the real impact of one’s consumption. The trees have been planted within an existing forest in the environs of Oslo, its future secured by a forestry commission and a board of trustees. And as the trees grow, so will the Deichmanske library in Bjørvika in Oslo, with an archive box, containing a manuscript contributed by an invited writer, added each year.

web_tree_rings copy

No one, not even Paterson, is allowed to open the archive boxes and read the manuscripts until the work is complete and that will be in 2114

Margaret Atwood has produced the first work for this library and the second has been written by David Mitchell. Apparently all authors will be given a copy of the completed anthology. Unfortunately many of them won’t be around to receive their reward!

So, for us, it was a very enjoyable exhibition. A pleasant surprise. I’m not sure every visitor will agree, but the concepts behind the works are very interesting if the visitor takes time to think about them.

Oh, and what about the title of the exhibition? Syzygy – a made up word? No, it’s an astronomical term used to describe an alignment of celestial bodies.

Digital Art at the Lowry


On Saturday we had an errand to run in Salford so decided to take the opportunity to drive over to Salford Quays and visit the Lowry. We’d seen that there was an exhibition of digital art showing there and although we weren’t quite sure what to expect, decided to take a look. A good decision as we enjoyed it.

The exhibition website tell us that Right Here Right Now is

A major new exhibition providing a thought provoking snapshot of contemporary digital art. Featuring the work of 16 international artists, Right Here, Right Now looks at how technology affects our lives – through surveillance, artificial intelligence, voyeurism or online dating.

Created in the last five years, their critical, playful and illuminating artworks challenge our understanding of the digital systems that surround us, while making visible those that are hidden. Prepare to re-think your increasingly connected digital life.

There were a good selection of works; photographs, videos, sculpture and installations.

We particularly liked and enjoyed those works we could interact with.With two exhibits viewers became part of the work.

Snowfall by fuse*, an Italian collective of multimedia artists. was a digital snow storm (quite appropriate as it was starting to snow outside). Entering a darkened room we were faced with a screen showing a digital snow fall. But there were video cameras in the room that detected the silhouettes of people and objects and processed the images, blocking the fall of snowflakes on the screen, creating digital snow men (and women!)IMAG3726

IMAG3720 (2)

Another exhibit, Darwinian Straw Mirror by Daniel Rozin’s, did something similar. In this case an image was produced of people in the room made up a lines or “straws”


Planthropy by Stephanie Rothenberg was another interactive work. This was an installation consisting of plants held in containers suspended from the ceiling. Each container was associated with a particular charity, breast cancer, homelessness, refugees, .climate change Every time someone tweets about one of these causes (hashtags were listed on the walls), the watering system for that corresponding plant was activated.IMAG3724

Colony by Nikki Pugh consisted of two animated “creatures”


a small group of people each carry a landscape-reactive ‘creature’ that uses real-time processing of GPS data to determine its movements. As the group moves across the city, the creatures react to their surroundings depending on their programmed claustrophobic or claustrophilic personalities (exhibition catalogue)

Not all he works were animated. There were three large photographs by Mishka Henner, whose work we’d previously seen at the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool.The three works on display were from the same series (The Fields) we’d seen at the Open Eye. At first glance they look like abstract works, but they are actually aerial shots of oil fields. His images are taken from Google earth. He processes them and stitches them together to form large photographs.

Kern River Oil Field, Kern County, California (2013)

We liked many of the other works on display too. And it was interesting to see how the artists had imaginatively used modern technology to stretch the boundaries of art.


Peter Blake at the Lowry

2013-02-09 15.59.33

I hadn’t been keeping an eye on what was going on at the Lowry at Salford Quays. But when I spotted in a post by John of Notes to the Milkman that they were showing an exhibition of works by Peter Blake inspired by pop music, Peter Blake and Pop Music, I thought I should get along before it finishes at the end of February. So we drove over to Salford Quays last Saturday and called into the Lowry to take a look at the exhibition.

2013-02-09 16.47.22

To be honest, I didn’t know that much about Peter Blake’s art. I guess’ like most people I’m mainly aware of his iconic design of the cover of the Beatle’s Sergeant Pepper album. And, of course, that featured in the exhibition.

File:Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.jpg

Picture source: Wikipedia

I was also aware of his cover design for another album I own, Paul Weller’s Stanley Road.

Stanley Road - album cover

And he has designed album artwork for a number of other bands, and many of them featured in the exhibition together with other works inspired by pop and rock musicians

The exhibition website explains

Blake has worked closely with some of the most influential musicians of his generation, most famously co-creating the iconic album cover for the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. In more recent years his designs for albums by Paul Weller, Eric Clapton and Oasis are equally celebrated, and are shown here against a soundtrack of killer pop music. Peter Blake is a true fan, and this exhibition is a compelling tribute to one of Britain’s most important artists.

The first picture you see on entering the exhibition is his Self-portrait With Badges (1961), featuring the artist wearing his denim jeans and a denim jacket covered with badges, wearing Converse trainers and holding an Elvis album.

Moving round the exhibition space, there were pictures and collages inspired by performers he admired, including several featuring Elvis Presley– Blake was clearly a massive fan. A number of these works were collages and mixed media incorporating “found objects”. There were a number of references to Marcel DuChamp who was clearly a major influence on his work.

One of my favourites in this section was his oil painting on wood and mirror glass featuring Lavern Baker. I also liked his print of Chuck Berry in his trademark “duck walk” pose. Blake had incorporated diamond dust into this print and he’s used this in a number of the other works on display.

One room featured prints and paintings of his album art and items related to the Beatles and the Sergeant Pepper album cover. It’s hard to believe that he only received a flat fee of £200 for his design. Of course that was a significant sum in the late 1960’s, but given the number of sales of the album I couldn’t help but feel he’d been treated badly.

Another rock artist Blake was connected with was Ian Drury, who’d been a student of Blake at Waltham Forest College. The two became friends and Blake produced album covers for him and painted his picture. Dury wrote a song in honour of Blake – “Peter the painter” – which featured on his album, “4,000 Weeks’ Holiday”. 

No photography was allowed, but he gallery have  Flickr site which includes a set of pictures from the exhibition (including the above photograph).

I’m glad I found the time to go over to see this exhibition. Peter Blake is an important British artist and this was a good opportunity to see some of his work. And as a music fan myself, I the themes certainly resonated with me.

SuzyV at the Lowry

We went to see Suzanne Vega at the Lowry on Monday. It was her first theatre performance of her UK tour, although she had played at the Isle of Wight Festival the day before and had driven up north the day before.  It was a good performance – she was on stage for about 90 minutes, including two encores.  There was a bit of banter with the audience, which made the show seem quite intimate even though the main theatre in the  Lowry is a reasonably sized venue.  Saying that she thought she was in Manchester, she obviously hadn’t been briefed about the relationship between Manchester and Salford! She announced that her husband was in the audience, but he didn’t mind her singing songs about her ex-boyfriends so long as they died at the end!

She was supported by Duncan Sheik, a singer-songwriter from New Jersey. He played a solo set but was supported for a few numbers at the end of his set by Suzy V’s guitarist. He had a good voice. Most of his songs were, to put it mildly, downbeat. There was one song about somebody buried alive and another about someone committing suicide on stage!

Suzy V performed a strong set, starting off with “Marlena on the wall“. Somebody posted a video of her performing this song at the Isle of Wight festival the day before the concert at the Lowry on YouTube. Here it is

She included a good number of her better known songs including “Luka“, “Tom’s Diner”  and “Caramel“. She also included some I’d not heard before. (Of these, “Frank and Ava” was one I particularly liked). She might be 50 now, but she still has a fine, clear voice. You can hear every word she sings. The volume of the band – just a guitarist and bassist, both very competent musicians, – was mixed at the right level so it didn’t overwhelm the delicate singing. There were some good guitar licks and the bassist was excellent on “Left of centre“.

We were right at the back (only one row behind us) and to the right of the stage. But the Lowry is well laid out so you can see the stage wherever you sit. Its big enough for a good atmosphere, but not so big that you’re ridiculously far away from the act you’ve paid good money to see (although I’d have liked to be closer – book earlier next time!) I much prefer the Lowry to the Arena in Manchester. Smaller venues are definitely best. Reminds me of those I used to go to when I was in my teen such as the good old Free Trade Hall.

After a good set she was called back for two encores . Her final song was “In Liverpool” – perhaps not the best song to play in Salford! – but one of my favourites. A great finish to a great concert.

(For the set list and some photos from the gig click here)

Maggi Hambling and LS Lowry – the sea

The Lowry at salford Quays

The Lowry at Salford Quays

Last Sunday we decided to visit the Lowry in Salford to look at the exhibition of paintings of the sea by Magi Hambling and L S Lowry. We’d enjoyed Hambling’s pictures in the exhibition of her paintings of George Melly – “George Always” – that we’d seen at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool earlier this year.

In reality, the exhibition was mainly devoted to Maggi Hambling with a large number of paintings,  with some lithographs and sculptures, she had created inspired by the North Sea in Suffolk. I guess the inclusion of paintings by Lowry was really because the exhibition was  taking place in the gallery named after him and partly created to house the collection of his works owned by Salford council.  The Lowry pictures were displayed very much on their own and separate from Hambling’s and there really wasn’t any attempt to compare them, and the two painter’s different approaches to the same subject.

Maggi Hambling  started painting the North Sea  on the Suffolk Coast in 2002, while she was waiting for permission to build “Scallop”, her monument to Benjamin Britten on Aldeburgh beach. They are very powerful, illustrating a violent, stormy sea.  Rather than paint a seascape, her pictures concentrate on close-ups of the waves – and while viewing them you feel as if you are in the sea amongst the waves – in some cases it is almost as if you are engulfed by them.


In contrast, Lowry’s pictures, which were painted towards the end of his life, take a broader view and are more like traditional seascapes.The pictures were much smaller in scale than most of Hambling’s.  His seas are, in the main, much more sedate. Even where he paints a stormy sea, the waves are viewed from afar so the effect was much less dramatic, and looking at them I felt more like a passive observer than when viewing Hambling’s work. I liked them, but they didn’t engage the viewer and draw you in the way Hambling’s did.

Lowry seascape

"The Sea" by L S Lowry (1963)

There’s an  audio sideshow from the BBC about Maggi Hambling’s North sea paintings.

LS Lowry & Maggi Hambling: The Sea from Rob Martin on Vimeo.