Sculpture on Salford Quays

To celebrate it’s 10th anniversary in 2010, the Lowry commissioned a number of artists to work with local people to create a number of sculptures that are located around Salford Quays. The sculptures are meant to represent aspects of the history of the Quays – at one time the third busiest port in England. The project – Unlocking Salford Quays – was funded by The Heritage Lottery Fund.

Nine Dock by Mor (a team of experienced landscape architects, public artists and spatial designers) celebrates the history of what was, at one time, the largest and most important of the Docks in Salford

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It opened in 1905 and was home to the passenger and shipping company, Manchester Liners. At over half a mile in length 9 Dock was big enough to hold 10 large container ships, enabling the Port to remain internationally competitive.

The dock is quite different now – with the Lowry on one side and the concrete and glass structures of Media City on the other.

My favourite work was Casuals by Broadbent.

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The work comprises large scale representations of dock workers union cards, which were needed for them to qualify for work on the docks. However, they were casual labourers and had to turn up to the docks in the morning while the employers selected which particular individuals they would employ that day. The rest returned home disappointed, without a wage. Unfortunately, we’re effectively seeing a return to such awful practices with the growth of the so called “zero-hours contract”.

A number of former dockers and their families gave interviews for this project and some of them are featured on the individual “cards”.

This is Erie’s Rest by Ingrid Hu


The sculpture, which is decorated with ceramics showing drawings of dockers at work, is meant the ebb and flow of the Canal. The artist was inspired by stories of an ancestor who claimed to have walked on both the Canal floor during its construction, and the Canal surface when it froze to ice.

Where the Wild Things Were by Unusual, was created with the involvement of children from Primrose Hill Primary School, Langworthy Road Primary School and Seedley Primary School.

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It takes the form of giant blades of elephant grass which are meant to suggest places beyond the Canal, where ships sailed to and from. Each steel base is engraved with drawings by local children, who imagined the landscape and wildlife of far-off lands.

Factory Girls by David Appleyard celebrates the women workers of Metropolitan Vickers, once the largest factory in Western Europe.


The forms are inspired by products made at the electrical engineering firm in Trafford Park. Each enamelled figure is named after a former employee.

Just down from the Casuals sculpture, there was a large collection of objects representing the type of good, materials and equipment that would have been found on the quaysides during the hey day of the docks. They’re very realistic and look as if they had been left behind when the docks were finally closed.




They’re not part of the Unlocking the Quays project and I couldn’t find any information on the artist. However they’re a pertinent reminder of the decline of a once important, major industry in Salford and how the area has changed.

Salford Quays

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Despite being about 40 miles from the sea, at one time Manchester was the third buiest port in England. This was due to the Manchester ship canal, opened in 1894, which allowed ships to sail almost into the city centre. However, their heyday didn’t last long. With the move to containerisation in the 1970’s the Port of Manchester began to decline as larger vessels couldn’t get up the canal, and they finally closed in 1982.

The biggest docks on the ship canal were in actually in Salford, covering 120 acres of water and 1,000 acres of land.  After their closure a substantial proportion of the docks were purchased by Salford Council and redevelopment began in 1985 under the Salford Quays Development Plan. Improvements were made to infrastructure and water quality and the derelict docks were developed for leisure, cultural and commercial use.

The first landmark building – the Lowry, which contains theatres and art galleries – opened on 28 April 2000 followed by the Imperial War Museum North, designed by Daniel Libeskind, in July 2002 (although that’s actually over the water in Trafford).


Residential property has been constructed on the waterside


and the most recent development is “Media City”, which spans both sides of the canal and it’s tenants include the BBC and ITV


After we’d had a look round the Lowry we had a mooch around the quays, looking at the buildings and bridges and snapping some photos.











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.

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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.

The Crusader


Gerry Judah’s The Crusader (2010), A striking sculpture displayed at the entrance to the exhibition space in the Imperial War Museum North.

The Crusader is his comment on modern day wars, and it also resonates with the history of world conflict.The towering sculpture is covered by a network of war-damaged buildings. This devastated urban landscape echoes the themes within the museum’s architecture of a world shaped by conflict.

Spot lit,hovering above us in a darkened space, it made a very strong impression as we entered the exhibition.

Libeskind’s Imperial War Museum North

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We’ve not been over to Salford Quays for a while, but on Sunday we were showing our young Japanese friend, who we met when visiting the Bauhaus in Dessau last year, around Manchester. She’s an architecture student so a trip to Salford Quays to see the Lowry and the Imperial War Museum was a must.

The Imperial War Museum stands on the Trafford side of the quays. It’s a striking aluminium clad structure designed by Daniel Libeskind standing by the waterside.


Liebskind is renowned for his dramatic metal clad buildings including the Jewish Museum in Berlin, his first major international success, which we’d visited last year. He also designed the Grand Canal Theatre in Dublin which I made a point of going to see during a recent visit to the city.


The architect’s website describes the concept of the building

The design concept is a globe shattered into fragments and then reassembled. The interlocking of three of these fragments—representing earth, air, and water—comprise the building’s form. The Earth Shard forms the museum space, signifying the open, earthly realm of conflict and war; the Air Shard serves as a dramatic entry into the museum, with its projected images, observatories and education spaces; and the Water Shard forms the platform for viewing the canal, complete with a restaurant, cafe, deck and performance space.



Inside, the architect has deliberately employed the curves of the building, sharp angles and sloping floors to disorient visitors to simulate the effects of war and conflict.The design of the lighting, long angled luminaries, which are very similar to the arrangement of the windows and lighting in the Berlin Jewish Museum, contribute to this.


The air shard – the tower – is an aluminium clad skeleton, which is empty other than a viewing platform about two thirds up that is accessed via a lift or stairs. We didn’t go up this time for the views over the Quays. It’s a little scary as the floor of the pattern is metal gridding which you can see through – right down to the ground many metres below.


Manchester Dock Offices

Despite being a good few miles inland, the building of the ship canal meant that, for a while, Manchester used to be one of the busiest ports in England. No longer. Today the docks has been revedeloped as “Salford Quays” with retail and office developments plus the Lowry gallery and Theatre and the Imperial War Museum north, all housed in modern buildings.

But there is still a reminder of the area's former use. Standing a little neglected at the former entrance to the docks there's a distinctive Aart. Deco building, the former dock offices.

The building was designed by Harry Fairhurst and Son, a firm of northern architechts who were responsible for a number of buildings in Manchester.



Peter Blake at the Lowry

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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.

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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.

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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)

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain at the Lowry

We went to the Lowry in Salford on Sunday to see the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain in concert.  We first came across them when they appeared on Jools Holland’s “Hootenanny” on New Year’s Eve in 2004 when they played “Smells like Teen Spirit”.  They’re an eccentric group of individuals, in formal evening dress, who play versions of pop and rock hits, jazz standards and classical tunes on ukuleles of various sizes.  They’ve been going for 25 years now and have developed quite a following., selling out their shows. They even made an appearance at the Proms last year.

The idea of playing tunes on ukuleles might seem like a one note trick, but they introduce enough variation into their work to keep up interest and its put across well with nice comic touches.

Their set on Sunday included “Silver Machine” (Hawkwind’s hit from the 70’s, “Life on Mars”, “Wuthering Heights” (sung club singer style), Saint Saens “Dance Macabre” “Monster” and the song they performed when we first saw them on TV – Nirvanah’s “Smells like Teen Spirit”.