Urban Life displays

Group displays at the Mansfield Cooper Building, The University of Manchester, 2012-13

rubbish and discarded items transformed
Rubbish and discarded items transformed

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 'Urban Life'. 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

Trashformation (It's all rubbish!)

The exhibition title addresses the idea of rubbish being transformed into something of value, either physically, or by elevating it’s status by displaying it in a museum case. The sub-title comes from many conversations or overheard statements about objects both in museums and art galleries.
We are highlighting the throwaway culture of urban life. Our aim is to make people consider the value of the things which they throw away. What gives the items value? Will the detritus of today end up in a museum in the future?

The exhibition case will be split into two; the archaeological museum and the white cube. Both will display 'rubbish' in a formalist manner. The 'archaeological' half will display objects grouped by type, labelled, similar to objects found in the Pitt Rivers Museum. The objects displayed will be collected on an archaeological dig around the university campus and surrounding areas. This will be documented. The white cube will display the artworks created by artists working with, and transforming rubbish and discarded items into desirable objects.


Highlight the public unrest and response to the Manchester outbreak of the riots of August 2011. Aim to look at the riots by using accounts from individuals on social media sites, and news reports, setting the Manchester riots within the framework of the 2011 riots as a whole. Aim to look at the repercussions of the riots in terms of the clean-up operations required, noting the community spirit in coming together to clear up after the events. Aim also to look at the 'I <3 MCR' campaign that was born out of the negativity.

An artistic response was decided upon for the exhibition as a response to the events of August 2011. As some of the content would be drawing on social media, it was decided that the exhibition should have a social media type look. This rationale was chosen as much of the rioting was reported on and indeed organised through social media in addition to being used to convict some of the participants of the riots. Items displayed were chosen to represent aspects of the rioting such as the destruction, the policing, and the clean-up that followed. A timeline will give an account of the events as they unfolded whilst also setting the Manchester riots in context of the riots across Britain.

Dream City

The aim of this exhibition is to explore the possibilities and challenges of creating a utopian city based on the ideals of six rather different people.
The city has long been a subject for utopian longings and hopes for a better future. However, attempts at utopian city-building have often proved a failure, especially for the supposed beneficiaries. This exhibition aims to breathe new life into a discredited idea by using our own cities, and what is right about them, as the starting point for a completely new city. The group members come from six very different cities. Each member of the group has selected an aspect of their home city – a building or an outdoor space – which they would include if they were to design an ideal city. These elements have been combined to form the group’s vision of a ‘Dream City’. We have set up a Facebook group so that other people can join in a debate about what constitutes an ideal city.

Industrial Fantasy; a brief history of urban Life on Whitworth Street, Manchester

The display will focus on Northern English urban life as it evolves within one building; Factory 51 on 15 Whitworth Street. The factory has represented an important part of Manchester’s city life, embodying industry and music. As the original building was condemned ten years ago, this exhibition will attempt to showcase the building’s existence from the late 1800s to the early 1990s. The display will focus on the first and last 'chapters' exclusively to provide a dramatic contrast between the building as a Yacht factory and showroom, and as the most famous night club in Manchester's history – The Hacienda. The memory of the building will populate the collection on display, mainly through quotes and images. Facebook and Twitter accounts have been set up in order to collect memories, whilst also perpetuating the notion of legacy which is inherent in our approach. Both Facebook and Twitter will be advertised through the display to encourage the collection to grow.

As we are in the Hacienda's 30th anniversary year, it seemed appropriate to respond to the brief by honouring the memory of the building. As the brief called for ‘urban life’, we were keen to find a way of representing other aspects of city life which pulled away from the building’s dominant history of the late twentieth century. We have been influenced by the reading group texts and lectures as we have progressed. We came to view the building as having a ‘life’ after reading the Kopytoff text, and were interested with his assertion that the object’s life is ultimately finite. This led us to contrast the first and last chapters of the building’s life story, which provided our desired variety of urban life. When considering the collection of the exhibit, we reflected on contemporary museum collections including information such as written accounts and oral histories as well as physical artefacts. For this reason we decided to start a collection of oral histories/quotes which would stand in place of 'authentic' objects or replicas, and could potentially grow through social media sites.