On the weekend of All Hallows' Eve, visitors to Chetham’s Library in Manchester gathered for an intimate torchlit tour of the medieval museum’s public and hidden spaces. The event, devised by collaborative artists Brass Art - made up of Dr Kristin Mojsiewicz (Lecturer and Director of Outreach at Edinburgh College of Art), Chara Lewis (Manchester Metropolitan University) and Anneke Pettican (University of Huddersfield) - was part of the annual Manchester Contemporary, and brought 200 participants, gallerists, collectors and artists to view the installation Gestured illuminated at dusk.

It was the opening of an exhibition running at the library between 16th October and 8th December 2017.

Employing local drama and art students to lead performative tours by torchlight, visitors were granted access to hidden parts of the building where they encountered artworks and historic artefacts, including the devil’s hoofprint, architectural curios and John Dee’s own miniature marginalia. Tours culminated in the stately Baronial Hall where world-renowned Theremin musician Lydia Kavina performed a selection of works and improvisations from inside a gigantic fireplace. There, visitors enjoyed a smoking, red cocktail created and served by ‘The Alchemist’, in the building forever associated with 16th century scientist and alchemist John Dee.

Gestured is a constellation of artworks inspired by alchemy, transformation and symbolic gesture, hidden within the books and secret spaces of the library. Sculptural hands support objects, fabrics and prints informed by the collection; colourful forms in hot glass are inspired by the alchemists’ search for the transformation of matter; and a series of hand-made alchemical vessels have been reproduced from historical images of apparatus.

Gestured torchlit tour
Image: Jonathan Turner
'The Alchemist'

Visitors were granted access to hidden parts of the building where they encountered artworks and historic artefacts, including the devil’s hoofprint, architectural curios and John Dee’s own miniature marginalia.

Brass Art were awarded an Arts&Heritage commission to respond to the collection at Chetham’s – the oldest public reference library in the English-speaking world. Taking their cue from sources such as Cowper’s The Anatomy of Humane Bodies (1698), Hogarth’s print series Marriage a la Mode (1745) and A Harlot’s Progress (1732), John Dee’s books (1555), and the alchemical quest to create red glass (circa 1540), Brass Art followed playful and shocking narratives as they unfolded through individual gestures in archival imagery. Exquisite illustrations of cadavers in uncanny life-like poses prompted the artists to replicate their own hands at different scales, using both traditional casting and state-of-the-art 3D printing technologies, to mimic, multiply, pinch, cradle, caress and direct.

Gestured torchlit tour
Image: Jonathan Turner
Theremin player Lydia Kavina
Gestured torchlit tour
Image: Jonathan Turner
Gestured torchlit tour

ECA lecturer and co-director of Brass Art, Kristin Mojsiewicz, worked with technicians in the Schools of Art (Ginny Hutchison) and Design (Ingrid Phillips) to test and create works for Gestured.

"Gestured" is on display at Chetham's Library from 16th October to 8th December 2017




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