Manchester on display 2008-9

Group displays at the Mansfield Cooper Building, University of Manchester.

Small-scale experimental machine
Small-scale experimental machine.

Students in the core course 'Managing Collections and Exhibitions' curated in four groups, a display case installed in the foyer of Mansfield Cooper Building at the University of Manchester. Each group developed a mini display on the broad exhibition topic ‘Manchester’. The purpose of this project was to:

  • Offer students an opportunity to critically reflect on the themes, lectures and readings of the course by developing an exhibit
  • Provide students a practical aspect of the course’s teaching and learning
  • Develop students' team working skills
  • Provide a showcase for students' work

Watch video footage of the exhibition and its installation


This exhibition is based on the idea of hidden Manchester: a selection of objects unseen, overlooked, or with hidden histories that contribute to the identity of the city. It draws on Lewis Mumford's idea of the city as museum ('in its own right, the historic city retains by reason of its amplitude and its long past, a larger and more various collection of cultural specimens than can be found elsewhere'). Collecting diverse, often-overlooked objects reflects this urban layering. Yet the definition of these objects as 'hidden' reflects equally their lack of interpretive context: without documentation they are unexplained, unidentified, nameless. The decision to leave the objects uninterpreted - in contrast with presentation in the museum or gallery - refocuses the onus on the viewer to construct his or her own history. An imaginary web is thus suggested, whereby the spectator conducts his/her own research in the wider museum community: library, archive, internet.

My Manchester

Eight curators, eight objects, eight snapshots of Manchester. Group's 2 exhibition, titled 'My Manchester' is about Manchester through the eyes of the eight members of the group. As Hayden White discusses, we tried to avoid the authoritative viewpoint often taken by museum professionals by including all of our voices which are all clearly different from each other. As a result there are many narratives running through the exhibition for the viewer to pick and choose from. The aim of the exhibition is also self explanatory, no matter which part the viewer looks at or reads first, leading them to make their own path around the exhibition space. Again this emphasises the importance of other peoples opinions and as we wanted to know other peoples favourite places in Manchester we have decided to provide post it notes with our exhibition to encourage people to write and tell us what their places are and stick them onto the exhibition case. As a result our exhibition will change with time and no longer be about our original starting stimuli but it will be about the visitors thoughts and experiences of Manchester.

Small-scale Experimental Machine

Our model of Manchester is a small scale experimental machine for living in. The contemporary city is a product of the digital age where meanings proliferate through communication technology. Our interpretation of Manchester is as the birth-place of the first stored-programme computer, known as 'the Baby' or the 'Small-Scale Experimental Machine'. 2008 marks the 60th anniversary of the creation of 'the Baby' and across the city Digital60 celebrations are taking place, so this year our digital city holds special relevance'.

Peep Show

Our exhibition is about the representation of sex and sexuality in Manchester city centre. But you won't know that unless you peep. What you will see inside the case will not be shocking or crude; it will be the everyday evidence of sex and sexuality woven into the fabric of the city centre. The aim of this exhibition is to implicate our audience in the act of 'peeping'. We are transforming their gaze from the 'passive' to the 'active'. Displayed in the case will be objects and images that we pass every day and may have become immune to in our experience of the city. We are inviting our audience to look at them with new eyes. Only one person can look through a peephole at once. By turning them into the 'voyeur' of their own private exhibition experience we hope to challenge their assumptions and raise questions about representations of sexuality in Manchester.