manchester blog awards

Some good news to brighten up a particularly grey and damp Manchester day - this blog has been shortlisted for the Manchester blog awards! It's been nominated for the categories of 'best new blog' and 'best personal blog'. Hurrah!

And hurrah also to all the other excellent blogs which have been shortlisted for this year's awards, and especially some of my personal favourites - nine chains to the moon, every day I lie a little, chicken and pies, diary of a bluestocking and quit this pampered town. You can check out the full shortlist here or there's also a list here on delicious, though I have to admit I'm still not entirely sure quite what that is.

observed #1

I am an observer.

I like sitting in the window of a small cafe watching the world go by - and noticing people with particularly pretty shoes. I like sitting on the bus in the morning looking out at the rain, the changing leaves, the people just beginning their day, the shops opening, the city coming to life beyond the fog on the window. I like walking home just as dusk is falling, when the lights in the houses are switched on but the curtains aren't yet shut, catching passing glimpses of the warm yellow-lit portraits of other people's lives. I can't resist taking a sneaky peek into other shopper's trolleys at the supermarket checkout just to see what they are buying.

Most of all, I like noticing the smallest things, the things that no one else seems to be noticing (and I also like reading about the small things others have noticed and noted here and here).

Perhaps I'm just very nosy but it's amazing the things you notice when you start looking.

For example, at Carluccio's in Smithfield, London for breakfast on Sunday, I noticed...

... a Roman Catholic priest in full regalia, popping in for a quick cappuccino, presumably between masses. I'm not sure what kind of a priest he was but he had a fancy black hat with a little tassel, which naturally he removed to drink his coffee.

... two genuine pearly kings with 'Crystal Palace' embroidered on their jackets accompanied by two pearly queens in feathery hats perusing the olives in the deli before climbing into a silver Fiat and driving away.

... an extremely small schnauzer having what looked like a very exciting adventure.

... a girl with spiky hair and leggings looking equally intrigued by all this and asking everyone if she could take photographs of them.

... a group of quite silly people becoming a bit uproarious because they had noticed that the description of the mushroom risotto on the specials board appeared to read 'fresh, wild and erotic mushrooms' as opposed to 'fresh, wild and exotic mushrooms'. Actually, that was us.


I found this fragment of a page in the lane behind my house. Something about it compelled me to pick it up. I’m not sure what book it comes from but it’s very mysterious and intriguing. Finding it instantly conjured up memories of childhood adventures - I felt as if I had stumbled upon a clue, and was about to embark on a part-Famous Five, part-Nancy Drew, part-Treasure Island type quest involving lost treasure maps and strange sounds by night, enigmatic strangers and mysterious happenings. Sadly there have been no further mysterious happenings as yet. However, I’ll keep you posted...

liverpool biennial 08: MADE UP

I feel like I’m still recovering from my 36-hour dash around Liverpool for the opening of the 2008 Liverpool Biennial. My feet are certainly still recovering - I think dancing in very impractical heels at the after-party at A Foundation was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back (or perhaps hoof, in this case?).

Anyway, today I am resting. Currently, I am horizontal, or at least as horizontal as it is possible to be whilst typing.

This year’s Biennial explores the theme MADE UP: the power and richness of the artistic imagination, and the ability of art to transport us to alternative realities. There’s lots of fantastic work to see in both the city’s galleries and public realm spaces, engaging and experimenting with notions of fiction, fantasy, make-believe, myth, spectacle, and the tensions between the real and the unreal. I’ve still got lots to see, but here are a few highlights from my fast-paced, foot-destroying tour on Friday:

MADE UP at The Bluecoat is an enjoyable exhibition exploring the relationship between fantasy and everyday life. Sarah Sze’s installation in The Vide is constructed from a series of banal everyday materials which come together to create a fascinating fragmentary landscape resembling both an intricate sculpture and the residue of a whirlwind or explosion. In the upper gallery, Tracey Moffat’s First Jobs depicts the artist undertaking a series of odd jobs from working as a receptionist through to manning the production line at a pineapple cannery. Acid-bright colours transform these mundane images of workplaces associated with boredom and low-pay into a candy-hued, nostalgic vision of the past. Meanwhile, the wonderful Barefoot Lone Pilgrim (aka artist David Blandy) documents his spiritual journey in search of ‘mythical’ American soul singer Mingering Mike through drawings, artefacts and a brilliant Monkey-inspired video, conflating real life and imaginary adventures and identities. Garbage Day by The Royal Art Lodge - a collective of six artists including Marcel Dzama who are known for producing eccentric collaborative works referencing everything from comics through to science fiction - is a natural companion to Blandy’s work, sharing his playful sense of humour. This installation presents a series of over 200 small panels that lead the viewer around the gallery, offering us a series of quirky stories and surreal characters, characterised by bright colours and a naive, illustrative style.

The MADE UP theme continues at Tate Liverpool where curator Laurence Sillars has taken ‘between the real’ as the starting point for a diverse selection of commissions encompassing painting, sculpture, drawing, video and installation. Artists including Adrian Ghennie and Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler penetrate the layers of histories, narratives and memories, whilst works like Omer Fast’s darkly comic video Take A Deep Breath playfully subvert the boundaries between fact and fiction. My personal highlight of the Tate show was The Drawing Room - a gallery space bringing together a wide selection of work by four artists who use drawing as their primary practice. Amongst them, Charles Avery’s fascinating images document the landscapes and inhabitants of an imaginary island partially inspired by childhood memories, whilst the wonderful Rachel Goodyear’s uncanny and beautiful drawings are resonant with myth and fairy-tale.

FACT and Open Eye Gallery both also have intriguing exhibitions exploring the theme MADE UP: FACT's Creature Creation Station in particular is well worth a visit, offering visitors the chance to re-imagine themselves as a strange, otherworldly creature, whilst upstairs in the bar, Lisa Reihana’s Colour of Sin: Headcase version 2005 invites us to listen to a series of conflicting stories piped through retro 1970s hairdryers.

Meanwhile, in the city’s public spaces, the former ABC cinema on Lime Street is the perfect location for Annette Messenger’s ghostly theatrical installation La Dernière Séance, whilst the back room of The Vines pub, which mixes fruit machines with opulent chandeliers, is a fabulous setting for Gabriel Lester’s film The Last Smoking Flight: images of floating clouds and wafting tobacco smoke are captured and reflected in a succession of mirrors around the room. A little further down the street, Manfredi Beninati’s new site-specific commission offers us a tantalising and uncanny glimpse of a secret life between the facade of an abandoned building covered with posters: a gap in the hoarding allows visitors to peep into an apparently empty apartment, where the remains of breakfast are still on the table and a newspaper lies on the floor. It’s still early days for Yoko Ono’s Liverpool Skyladder, an installation situated in the beautiful ruined church of St. Luke’s, which invites visitors to donate stepladders to create a ‘forest of steps’ reaching up to the sky, but it will be interesting to see how it develops as more ladders arrive. And of course, Richard Wilson’s impressive and wonderfully hypnotic Turning the Place Over is an absolute must-see.

This year's Biennial has received some mixed reviews: Charlotte Higgins, writing for The Guardian blogs, criticises it as "a patchy event" with "an awful lot of dull, indifferent or bad stuff going on that left me feeling underwhelmed." Personally, I can't agree: far from being indifferent or dull, there's no doubt in my mind that the Biennial has been a real highlight of Capital of Culture, and would absolutely recommend everyone to visit. Just make sure you remember to wear comfortable shoes.

reading capital

A fortnightly reading group dedicated to reading Karl Marx’s Capital Vol. 1: A Critique of Political Economy will begin on 6 October 2008 at The Salford Restoration Office. Individuals are invited to join the group to read Marx’s Capital Vol. 1 in conjunction with David Harvey’s online lectures. Harvey, a respected academic and writer, has been teaching open classes on the book for 40 years, and the current set of lectures given at the City University of New York have been filmed and made available on-line. The lectures are accessible to all at anytime but the fortnightly sessions at The Salford Restoration Office will create a structured environment in which to read and discuss this pivotal text.

Reading Capital is open to all who wish to attend and participate. Sessions are free of charge, but space is limited so please contact (click here for email address) if you would like to participate.

Participants are asked to provide their own copy of Capital Vol. 1. The Penguin Classics edition and the Vintage Books edition (ISBN 0140445684 and 039472657x) tally with references. Participants are asked to read the chapters covered in each session in advance. Meeting every other Monday from 6 October between 6.30pm and 8.30pm, the sessions will run until 1 December 2008, and begin again on 19 January until summer 2009. Reading Capital is organised by Duncan Hay and The Salford Restoration Office (James Hutchinson and Lesley Young). For more information, go here.

56 plastic knives and forks

About twice a week I buy a jacket potato for my lunch from a small sandwich shop near my office.

Each time I go in and ask for a jacket potato, the lady behind the counter puts the potato into a styrofoam carton, and then puts the carton inside a brown paper bag with a handle. Also in the brown paper bag are a paper napkin and a plastic knife and fork, which are wrapped in a second napkin.

Each time, I go back to my office and go to the kitchen to get a proper knife and fork to eat my potato with. Experience has taught me that a plastic knife and fork are just not substantial enough to cope with the demands of eating a jacket potato. I normally just throw away my plastic knife and fork.

However, today I worked out that if I have eaten a jacket potato twice a week throughout the time I have worked in my current job, I have so far thrown away 56 sets of plastic knives and forks. I am beginning to feel a bit bad about this. The plastic knives and forks are dancing around in my head in a slightly malevolent way, looking all spiky and accusatory.

The problem is that I can't really think of anything very useful I could do with all these surplus knives and forks. I don't think they're recyclable, and they certainly aren't any use for eating with.

Perhaps I could preserve each knife and fork in some kind of conceptual artwork, as a statement about the passing of time and a comment on the banality of contemporary lifestyle and work culture. That would work.

Or then again, perhaps I could simply ask the lady in the sandwich shop not to give me a plastic knife and fork anymore.

good stuff

Sound artist and experimental musician Christopher Gladwin has an exhibition opening at the Chapman Gallery this Saturday from 6.00pm. Paramusical Sound Studies with Video will include works which explore our perceptions of noise by generating amplified sound from 'everyday' objects such as... erm... sausages. Or maybe celery. There will probably be balloons and polystyrene making loud and surprising noises. It will be great.

The exhibition launch will be followed by a 'paramusical' live performance at Islington Mill from 8.00pm which will also include electro-acoustic performances from guest artists including Ben Gwilliam and Helmut Lemke. Expect the unexpected and bring your own earplugs.

In other good arts-related news, Maeve Rendle has been longlisted for the Northern Art Prize. You can check out some of Maeve's work here. Also on the list are lots of other fine folk including Simon Blackmore (who is also a member of the Owl Project), Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson, and Suki Chan.

in praise of the penguin

‘Good design costs no more than bad design’ - Penguin founder Sir Allen Lane

Most people know the now-legendary story of how Penguin Books founder, the publisher Allen Lane, on returning to London from a weekend at the Devon home of Agatha Christie in 1934, having tried unsuccessfully to find something to read at Exeter station, suddenly realised there was a significant gap in the market for good quality but affordable paperback books. It was in fact Lane’s secretary who initially suggested Penguin as a “dignified but flippant” name for the new publishing company: Lane himself, who emphasised the critical importance of cover design from the start, devised an early version of the famous three-panel cover, and the office junior was sent to sketch the penguins at London Zoo for a logotype. Over the years, Penguin’s design was developed and refined under the direction of the German typographer Jan Tschichold during the 1940s and the Italian art director Germano Facetti in the 1960s.

Of course, today, we recognise Penguin as being synonymous with iconic design: Penguin mugs and tote bags can be purchased from the Tate Gallery; a Penguin exhibition was shown at the Design Museum in 2006; and in 2007 the company launched the inaugural Penguin Design Awards dedicated to supporting the very best in emerging book design talent. And personally I'm coveting these two beautiful new books all about the very best of Penguin book design:

Penguin by Design: A Cover Story (Allan Lane, 2005) is a comprehensive design history of seventy years of Penguin paperbacks. Author Phil Baines charts the development of Penguin’s distinctive design through an investigation of individual titles, artists and designers as well as typography (got to love that Gill Sans), and the famous Penguin logo itself. Lavishly illustrated, the book reveals not only how Penguin has established its identity through its cover design, but also how it has become a constantly-evolving part of the history of British visual culture, influencing the wider development of graphic design, typography, typesetting and illustration. Filled with intriguing snippets of information (apparently back in the day a Penguin paperback would set you back a mere sixpence - that’s 2.5p - which was then the price of a packet of 10 cigarettes) the book is also strangely evocative: perhaps because of the special place Penguin books (not to mention childhood Puffins) occupy in most of our hearts, flipping through these beautifully designed pages is a uniquely nostalgic and moving experience. Find out more here.

Seven Hundred Penguins (Penguin, 2007) makes an intriguing companion volume: a fascinating selection of seven hundred of Penguin’s most important and influential covers, ranging from the publisher’s earliest days to the end of the twentieth century. Selected by Penguin’s staff, the collection brings together everything from well-known design classics to unexpected and quirky treats - perfect coffee-table fodder. Find out more here.

Perhaps inspired in part by the popularity of these two titles, Penguin have recently published Penguin Celebrations, a selection of 36 of “the best books of their kind to be published in recent years” issued in covers inspired by the original, now iconic three-panel design. As with Penguin books of old, the series takes in fiction (orange), science (blue), mystery & crime (green), travel (pink), biography (blue) and essays (purple) - they are pretty hard to resist, even though they aren’t quite as nice as the originals.

And as if this wasn’t enough, other recent Penguin projects have included My Penguin, a series of classic Penguin titles ranging from Alice in Wonderland through to Crime and Punishment with blank, “design it yourself” covers. Six bands(Razorlight, Goldspot, Dragonette, Johnny Flynn and Mr Hudson & The Library, in case you’re wondering) got the ball rolling by designing their own unique covers, which you can view on the My Penguin website. There is also a gallery of reader’s own cover designs (sadly, submissions are now closed) which you can browse here.

And you've got to love the recently-issued series of classic adventures with Boy's Own-inspired covers designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith, like the cover for John Buchan's Greenmantle above. You can check the full set out here on the excellent Première de couverture blog - a must-read for anyone with an interest in book design.

Given all this it’s perhaps unsurprising that Penguin books have become a key source of inspiration for artist Harland Miller. His recent monograph International Lonely Guy (Rizzoli, 2007) brings together a series of works inspired by literature, and by Penguin cover designs in particular, together with a series of essays and interviews with the artist by both fans and critics including Jarvis Cocker, Sophie Fiennes, Gordon Burn and Ed Ruscha. Nostalgic, bitter and witty by turns, Miller’s book is a million miles away from the Penguin mugs in the Tate Gallery bookshop, but what remains evident throughout is the artist’s intense interest in language and literature: paintings are rife with play-on-words, puns and textual experimentations combined with reappropriations of cover and author images (Ernest Hemingway, featuring in a painting entitled I'm So Fucking Hard is perhaps especially memorable) in a contemporary riff on Pop art.

The Penguin: as they say, there really is "no other book like it"!

rob bailey @ rogue studios

The most excellent Rob Bailey had a special "for one night only" exhibition at Rogue Artists Studios & Project Space on Friday night to show work created during 10 weeks at Rogue as their first artist-in-residence.

The new works developed during the residency make good use of Rogue's project space, with unexpected things to see everywhere, from a delicate paper butterfly casting a pink shadow on a white wall, to a rainbow of coloured beetles parading along the windowsill and an orange bird peeping in from the ceiling. Rob's time at Rogue has clearly provided him with a valuable opportunity to develop his practice and experiment with new approaches, extending his illustrative work to explore 3D sculptural forms. However the new work remains very much the product of his own very distinctive visual aesthetic, influenced by 1950s design and animation, his characteristic use of colour and the keen sense of playfulness which is always evident in his work.

The new work also marks a logical development from the wonderful Hello World exhibition earlier this year, in which Rob transformed Common bar into a fantasy rainbow-coloured encyclopedia-come-to-life, featuring dinosaur bones, a giant piano keyboard and a cross-section of the earth to name but a few highlights. I couldn't resist the temptation to post a couple of my favourite images below...

Look out for more exciting things to come from Mr Bailey - future projects include co-producing a short film commissioned by North West Vision and a group exhibition at Cornerhouse later this year exploring drawing and animation.

les vacances

As promised here are some pictures of my holiday.

I suppose there's probably something very boring, and perhaps even rather egotistical about posting one's holiday photos on one's blog, somewhat "ooh, look at me and my fascinating life".

My holiday photos are sadly, not very fascinating, but I make no apologies. I was hoping to use my time away to write stories and other wonderful and interesting things which I could have posted here; however somehow I didn't quite get round to it (possibly because I spent so much of my time eating and sleeping instead) so you'll just have to put up with photographs.

Actually, I'm quite proud that I managed to take any at all given it rained for most of the holiday. The sky is even blue in some of them.

Excellent wellington boots. Essential for walks in soggy French woods.

Mmmmm, tasty vegetables - a present from our friendly neighbours from their garden.

Dinner - a very important part of the holiday. This is a picture of some boeuf bourginonne which was extremely nice. It is a slightly blurry picture, but possibly I had already had a glass of wine at this point.

Spooky ruined tower - la tour du rochefoucauld.

Flowers from the garden.

back home

I'm back home now.

I had a lovely holiday. It rained every day, but that was very good practice for coming back home to Manchester. Later I will post some photographs which I took in spite of the fact that it was raining, and maybe even write something about what I did.

Today I am back and I have been to work, also in the rain. My kitchen ceiling is leaking.

In other news, I seemingly now have a surname! How novel.

Also, this blog has been mentioned here on the Manchizzle. I suppose this means I am now a proper, official, grown-up blogger. Greetings to anyone wandering here from the Manchizzle. Thanks so much for visiting, especially given the many other fine new blogs there are out there to tempt you (even a blog written by a cat !) and I hope you'll come again soon.