Cluster – Manchester Science Festival

On Saturday night I decided to visit the farewell exhibition of works assembled for the Manchester Science Fair 2018 by a group called Cluster. On my way across Salford I saw that the lights had turned red and the traffic had stopped, so I started to cross the road.

A food-delivery boy on a pushbike shot past the line of waiting cars, missing me by inches. Two seconds earlier and we would probably have collided, with his precious cargo of tikka-masala-beansprout soufflé strewn in a long red trail of sticky sauce across Chapel Street while I lay there groaning in agony.

This brush with death left me feeling oddly invigorated, and I headed off to find the AO Studio in King Street where I calmed my nerves with a glass of red wine before inspecting the pictures and objects on display.

In her book Liminal, Frances Roddick gathers images of glass blocks and the resulting abstract patterns they generate from photographs of fashion retail outlets and other standard pictures.

Hand-crafted blocks of clear glass are used to transform and distort the images, creating a new, ambiguous reality where arrangements of blank and coloured spaces create a set of shapes defined by an intellectual algorithm. The refractive index of glass takes on a new significance; the pictures create an illusion of depth and strange liquid movement, enhanced by the absence of scale; this picture could represent the electrical field around a distant star, or it could be an image of the shrivelled-up dimensions that lurk, unseen within the fabric of time.

In contrast to this, two pictures by Simon Davies depict factual scenes; the elements of the pictures are synthetic, but they appear to be perfectly real. In ‘The Trial of Man’ we see a bleak, wood-panelled courtroom where a jury of eight men watch a nude man pleading with the judge. The other picture, ‘Ornithophobia’ shows a white-robed angelic figure trapped in a dungeon with various common birds.

Davies makes us of photographic images to treat psychological conditions such as anxiety and phobias. The pictures have a sharp, nightmare quality and echo the dramatic lighting effects used by Rembrandt. After a few minutes, I was convinced that these were photographs of real paintings; the opening pages of Panufnik Nine could almost be heard in the distance.

In her work ‘Forget Me Not’, Michele Friswell has amended the text of a research paper on dementia by removing the letters A, G, C and T – the base units which, together with the deoxyribose sugar molecule, make up DNA.

The text is broken into small square chapters, each of which is mounted in a blue plastic sleeve on which a DNA dark-band patterns has been printed. Friswell produced the work following discussions with researchers in the field of genetics and degenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.

The letters dropped from the text are collected like dust on a shelf placed beneath the array of pale blue diamonds. This work explores the idea that dementia selectively deletes communication skills in a process not perfectly understood, and for which no treatments yet exist.

Other items on display in this exhibition included a set of pictures showing Yoga positions and the effect on human breathing (‘Yoga and Breath’ by Ting Hsuan, Chang) and Roselyn Edwards’ installation using a flask of drug capsules – a potent visual shorthand for the world of pharmacology and the idea that a safe and effective medical solution exists for every ailment.

Instead of providing a standard exhibition catalogue, visitors were invited to assemble their own booklet using display sheets – using traditional bookbinding techniques – and then to customise the front cover using a personal collage. I added a pair of human legs to a butterfly before giving it a lit candle to hover over; something to puzzle me in years to come…


Rust in Salford

 I walk to work, my C90 tape
Inflates my head with Doves and Liszt. I worry
That if I wait too long
My life will vanish in a cloud of rust…

A young man sits behind the wheel;
He’s heading North, we don’t know why
Behind him you can just make out
The Ship Canal, the Cargill plant; four
Mammoth concrete silos holding up the sky.

One hundred months ago I made my way
Along this path in search of work; the agency
Had promised me the job was mine.
Only temporary, they told me;
And the money’s not that great. ‘That’s fine’
I said, ‘We’ll see what opportunities emerge
When I arrive. My glowing future doesn’t yet exist,
But stop me from drowning and I’ll do the rest.’

 The four big silos are vanished now; I watched
Them being taken down, day by day
Like a film of speeded-up decay. The world
We couldn’t see spreads out before us now
n yet more steel and concrete, a rigid vista of the past.

 The young man carries on his quest; it’s cold
Up on the moors, it feels as though
We’re waiting for some drama to unfold. And then
At last, he finds himself with nowhere left to go.
The steel-grey sky and wheeling gulls
Witness the cloud of his parents’ final fond embrace.

Salt-Spray Blues


I am sitting in a café on Oxford Road; over the past ten years I have spent hours in here, killing time, watching the foreign students drift past with arms full of eager books. Across the road there stood for many years the BBC studios and workshops.
Then the BBC departed, and the building itself was demolished to leave shattered brickwork.

Hours, sipping coffee, waiting to go down the road to The Cornerhouse cinema to watch various unorthodox creations: Dogtooth, Singin’ In The Rain, Holy Motors, Lemmy, Weekend, The Artist, Potiche…for a while, it seemed that nudity, bloodshed and subtitles were my touchstones for a quality viewing experience.
The cinema has closed; the BBC studio site has been cleared – it served briefly as a car-park and is now a forest of cranes engaged on the construction of an epic tower block.

31 May: Derby couple arrested on suspicion of murder after their house burned down and six of their 17 kids died. All with names starting with the letter ‘J’.
Andy Coulson (spin-doctor by Royal Appt to D Cameron, MP) charged with perjury during Sheridan trial. Culture sec Jeremy Hunt accused of misleading Parliament.

3 Jun: Gawd Bless Yer, Ma’am! Yesterday was 60th anniversary of HM the Q. Of course it rained all night here, probably as divine punishment for the Bingham Cup gay rugby tournament being held down the road.

20 Jun: Last night posted a message on the OCCA Linkedin page about Alan Turing centenary; the Bombe machines at Bletchley Park were made using huge plates of Tufnol.
In the Times, a huge story about tax avoidance by wealthy people including comedian Jimmy Carr, whose routine once included a gag about Barclays Bank and their elaborate tax management schemes.

Journal Entry, 22 May 13: Another thrilling, throbbing day of decadent madness at the mystic realm of Exova. Dave sent an e-mail to Danny saying (literally)
‘The shit is about to hit the fan’
because we are short-staffed and there are loads of long-term test panels to be withdrawn and inspected and lots of panels to be booked into the system then put on test and they’re all late.

Meanwhile, I sent Danny an e-mail about our company Terms and Conditions, which he now wants permanently embedded in reports – we have these issued in a single sheet of A4, printed in a fabulously tiny script.
Do we (I said):
a)     Include the Ts and Cs so that the page count goes up by five, or
b)     Include the Ts and Cs separately so they don’t actually get given page numbers and could easily be lost if the customer so wishes, or
c)      Produce two separate versions of each report, one for physical despatch, the other for e-mail?

And his response was to say ‘Add the Ts and Cs in a one-page Word format at the end of the report’, which cannot actually be achieved. Only later did it occur to me that the sheet we have been given is the same as the ‘invoice paper’ used at EC Pigments, and all we need to do is arrange for every page of the report to carry a message saying ‘Issued in accordance with the Ts and Cs printed overleaf.’

26 May 13: On Friday Carl at Sherwin-Williams sent an e-mail to D- to ask ‘Where are my reports?’ so D- sent this on to me, saying ‘Have these been sent out yet?’ and I forwarded this on to all the Gods on Olympus (John C, Matt M, Danny, Dean and Robbie) pointing out that we hadn’t yet agreed on a format for the embedded Terms and Conditions.
John C said that we would not have started the work unless our Ts and Cs had already been accepted, so just ‘leave them out’.

29 May 13: This morning we were all summoned to a meeting at v short notice with Mike Pooley, European MD.
He gave us the usual ‘achieving synergies by transferring technology between different departments in order to gain improved efficiency’.
Mentioned ‘Oil and Gas’ about 15 times.Five redundant positions among management following the shake-up, consultation process underway.
Meanwhile, Dave has tracked down four technical reports which had been authored by Dean and approved by Danny but still not sent to clients so they’re 8 weeks overdue.
Littered with mistakes, lazy cut-and-paste, overlooked batch numbers etc.

3 Jun 13: Yesterday’s online edition of the Mail on Sunday carried a shock nudge-nudge-wink-wink report about an impending sex scandal at 10 Downing Street involving somebody very close to the PM.
Super-heavy downpours and flooding in Austria and Poland.

Mon 10 Jun 13: We have been sent some steel bars from Nimet for corrosion testing – very shiny chrome-plated, very difficult to photograph. When I was writing the contract review I had to use the phrase ‘chromium-plated’ which gave me a fit of the giggles as I recalled Cassandra in the Daily Mirror, who described Liberace as

 “The summit of sex, the pinnacle
 Of masculine, feminine, and neuter. Everything
 That he, she, and it can ever want
A deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling,
Chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous,
Quivering, g
iggling, fruit-flavoured, mincing,
Ice-covered heap of mother love”. 

Later on, I e-mailed Jon G to ask about the proper way to measure salt-solution density. Of course, D- barged in with a reply, simply quoting the ASTM text. But our hydrometer is only valid at 15 degrees C, while the ASTM chart doesn’t specify any density values below 20 deg C. So what are we to do?

23 Jun 13: At work we’ve had a new notice board put up in the corridor, made of a vivid blue felt material – very attractive, rather like the IKB panels at Tate Liverpool.
On the board is a huge black poster, designed to resemble woven carbon-fibre, with a list of Exova depots round the world and a series of square blocks in different colours, each carrying the name of a business unit manager together with their specialised field.

Next to John Carter’s name, we find the single word ‘Communicate!’ (JC issued a quotation for a job back in January- the test samples arrived three days ago)
Other coloured notes on this poster include Tim Cornes, Larry Candler, and Mark, all of whom are leaving us as part of the restructuring.

18 Jul 13: For the past few weeks we have been monitoring salt-spray fallout density against chloride ion titration values.
Jon G produced a scatter chart with dozens of data points, mainly 4.0 to 5.0 percent and an average linear trend. Danny promptly asked if these could be correlated to individual cabinets.
Then I pointed out that the range of our measurements (1.033 to 1.040) doesn’t match the ASTM B117 range (1.026 to 1.032) at 20 deg C. What will UKAS say?

22 Jul 13: Today we had our Marine meeting and John C was baffled when we explained to him about measuring the diameter of the funnels used to collect salt-spray, and having four dedicated light-sabres to stir the different salt solutions with. Blue for neutral, green for Prohesion, red for Acetic, and Yellow for artificial seawater. Note: instant ocean or ASTM artificial seawater does not appear to contain any iodide salts. 

Dance Electrique…
Wandering round town, admiring the architecture, I noticed the air-con units clustered like abstract fungi on the sides of hotels and fast-food joints. The standard test for these electrical units is BS EN IEC 60068-2-11 which involves exposing the individual components to five days of condensing humidity, followed by two days of warm neutral salt-spray fog. The resulting corrosion spots should not exceed 0.05 percent of the surface area on the test specimen; or about twelve full stops drawn on a blank A5 sheet.

If the test item in question consists of intimately aligned stainless steel, then crevice corrosion may be observed – caused by the failure of the protective chrome oxide film to regenerate. The items will thus display extensive rusting, but the individual components will not suffer any real damage at all.

These electrical units have been in service for many years on the outside of buildings in Manchester and will carry on cheerfully in the wind and the rain and the frost. However, if they were placed in a salt-spray cabinet, it is certain that they would show extensive corrosion and thus not be approved for use.

Perhaps we should try to obtain a few of these units for use as test samples: after all, many of them would have been used in the construction of large retail department stores. Over the past few years we have seen the collapse of BHS, House of Fraser, and Debenhams, so there may be plenty of empty buildings with redundant air-con fixtures.

It would be interesting to see if the units had sustained corrosion during their years of outdoor service, and if this extent of corrosion exceeded the Ri1 rating (0.05 percent), and if the onset of rusting had impaired their effective operation.