Saturday, May 31st 2014
We had two reasons for making a day trip to Manchester, and as we had explored the city in June 2011 and therefore knew our way around (at least, Tigger, with her “inner pigeon” to guide her, did), I was sure we would manage to do it all. We duly arrived at Manchester Piccadilly Station and then set out on the second leg of the journey.
For this, we descended to the lower level of the station to the tram platforms. Manchester has a very efficient tram service and we took the route leading to Salford Quays or, more precisely, to MediaCityUK (yes, written as a single word).
Salford Quays no longer being needed for their original purpose, the area has been developed to create a whole new quarter, principally for the media industries (the BBC has studios there, for example) but with lots of other things as well. In fact, as the name suggests, it is a virtual small city in its own right. The availability of space has made it a good location for business enterprises but also for museums and art galleries.
What strikes the visitor is the space and the open aspect of the views. The presence of bodies of water forces separation between blocks of buildings, leaving views of the sky and a feeling of airiness and light as the sky is reflected from the water. The buildings are modern in design and every one is different from every other. As one who has a prejudice against modern architecture, I was favourably impressed. The designers have somehow avoided the worst excesses of modern “architects”. But the space counts too: cram all these buildings into the narrow confines of the existing city and the result would be nightmarish. Here, though, they are spread out and this eases the burden on the eye.
A map, such as this one, makes the area look compact by it is in fact very spacious.
We first stepped into The Lowry, the art gallery named after L.S. Lowry, the artist who lived and worked in the Salford area. Here I took my first panorama photo of the day. MediaCityUK invites panoramas and I took several – I’ll show you another shortly. This is because wherever you turn you have wide open views and if you attempt to capture that in an ordinary photo, the result is apt to be disappointing. As it happens, I got the above photo a little off-centre. I obviously need to practise using the panorama function… (As usual, click to see a large version.)
We hadn’t gone into the Lowry to see the artworks but because we remembered it was a pleasant place to have a cup of tea. Because there are bodies of water everywhere there are also, as you would expect, bridges by which to cross them. We took this one, MediaCityUK Footbridge, on our way to our next venue.
This was an institution with the catchy title Imperial War Museum North, a member of what I am tempted to call a chain of museums dedicated to the history of war and a sister of the Imperial War Museum in London. Though I hate war and violence and tend to visit these museums only seldom, the year 2014, being the centenary of the beginning of the Great War, has seen the organizing of numerous events and exhibitions and we had come to see one of these, From Street to Trench: A World War that Shaped a Region. The good news is that admission to the museum is free and the bad news, that photography was not allowed, so I cannot show you any pictures of the exhibition.
I did sneak a picture of the girders holding the museum together and…
another of this military tank which was parked outside and was therefore available to be photographed. This one was apparently captured from Iraqi forces during Operation Telic in 2003.
Here follow four more pictures of MediaCityUK, scenes taken more or less at random and therefore without captions. The first is a panoramic photo (click to see a larger version).
We now caught the tram back to the centre of Manchester on the way to our next destination. In passing, we photographed some of the places remembered from our previous visits to the city.
The Classical style Central Library with a pillared entrance was designed by Emanuel Vincent Harris and built between 1930 and 1934.
This rather fine building is called St George’s House. It was built in 1911 to a design by the Woodhouse, Corbett & Dean company and originally accommodate a YMCA hostel. Today it has been refurbished inside as an office block. The front entrance of St George’s House is on Peter Street and beside it runs a smaller thoroughfare called Museum Street. The name puzzles people because there is no museum there. How did that come about? The answer is that the city’s first Museum of Natural History came to occupy a building on this site in 1821 and the street beside it took its name from it. The Manchester Geological Society’s collection was added in 1850 but in 1867 the whole collection moved to Oxford Road under the auspices of Owens College (later the University of Manchester). The museum building was demolished to make room for St George’s House.
The uniquely styled “Edwardian Baroque” Midland Hotel was designed by Charles Trubshaw and was completed in 1903. As its name suggests, it was commissioned by the Midland Railway Company and it was sited conveniently opposite Manchester Central Station. Happily, the Grade II listed building still continues in its original function. A curious story suggests that Adolf Hitler, a keen student of architecture, had earmarked the Midland Hotel as a possible HQ in Britain. It may be for that reason that the area in which it resides was allegedly spared from wartime bombing.
In Albert Square stands a Gothic style monument to Queen Victoria’s much mourned Consort, Prince Albert. This elaborate and, I think, rather splendid memorial was erected in 1862-5, the sandstone canopy being by Thomas Worthington and the white marble statue of the Prince by Matthew Noble. Memorials to royal personages are common enough but it can at least be said of Albert that he did a lot of good for his adopted country.
Facing onto Albert Square is the Town Hall, an unmistakeably Victorian Gothic creation. A competition for the design was won by Alfred Waterhouse and the building was completed in 1877. The medieval theme is supported by appropriate decorative motifs but the building was modern for its time and included such advanced facilities as warm air heating.
Our second destination was Manchester Art Gallery. This fine art gallery has a permanent collection and visiting exhibitions and today had been taken over largely by an artist called Joana Vasconcelos. Already at the entrance we met one of her sculptures, entitled Tutti Frutti. A special exhibition, Time Machine, could be visited separately but works of hers were all over the gallery.
Some of her creations are enormous in extent such as this piece hanging in the stairwell like a strange growth from a tropical forest. All the arts of the dressmaker and furniture upholsterer seem to be exploited to the full to produce forms which hover between the dazzling and the nightmarish.
While the artist uses a variety of materials, including in this work hand painted tiles, her preference seems to be with knitting, sewing and crochet work.
A favourite medium seems to be overlays made of crocheted lace, whether over existing objects or objects made for the purpose. On the left is Bond Girl and on the right, Maria Pia, though I think this is intended to be part of a larger installation.
I quite liked this one which, being in a gilded frame, subverts the usual concept of a framed picture, being composed of a set of cushion-like objects that hang out of the picture as though stuffed into a cupboard that is too small to hold them. I will admit that here, as elsewhere, the connection between the work and its title is far from clear to me but, then again, artists seem no longer to feel an obligation give their works sensible titles or, at least, to make their works be sensible representations of the concept in the title.
On the way out, we met another sculpture, this one called, reasonably enough, Fruit Cake. These few samples do not do anything like justice to the wide range of forms invented by this artist and the materials used by her to create them. Some more examples can be found here.
I have concentrated on Joana Vasconcelos but the gallery of course had plenty of works by author artists. I was amused to discover one that we had previously seen in Brighton at an exhibition called Subversive Design. The piece is entitled Favela Chair and I wrote about it in my post Subversive Design in Brighton.
It was now time to make our way back to the station, and our route took us through China Town.
Manchester is a city that wears its history proudly but also looks optimistically to the future, as shown by the remarkable development of MediaCityUk. For now, though, we had to return to the station to catch our train home but we shall return again, I am sure, to enjoy what the city offers.