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Harriet working in our metalwork workshop

Harriet Shooter-Redfearn: unearthing Manchester’s past through craft

5 June 2018

Degree Show Spotlight series

From accessing the contents of doormats to finding handwritten signatures behind wallpaper: Three Dimensional Design student Harriet Shooter-Redfearn has immersed herself in Manchester’s history throughout her studies. She discusses her Degree Show project which commemorates the city’s historic London Road Firestation.

Harriet is part of our Degree Show spotlight series that explores the work and experiences of a selection of talented students that will be exhibiting in this year’s show. Read the previous profile for Fashion student Zaiton Lamat to hear from a further graduate in this year’s show.

‘I am interested in the ways in which we can use contemporary art practices to capture fragments of our history’

My work is a commemoration of the handwritten signatures found beneath the wallpapers of London Road Fire Station in Manchester.

London Road Fire Station is a building in a transient state. Caught between a former thriving community of firemen and their families, and its long awaited redevelopment. The building has been empty for over three decades, yet traces of those who lived there remain.

Preserving minute details of our past is at the heart of my practice. I act as an archaeologist, seeking out traces of past human activity within disused buildings. The traces I seek often refer to narratives of everyday life; an Oxo cube wrapper silently hints towards a day-to-day domestic life; a handwritten signature evidences the former presence of a plasterer.

Within my practice, I tend to work with both glass and metal. Drawn towards referencing traditional fire brigade memorabilia such as helmets and hose nozzles, I began replicating the signature in brass wire. Through my material experiences, I found that slumping sheet glass over the brass wire, as if it were inscribed within the glass. This process is pertinent to my narrative, as it is the traces found within the building which have inspired my work.

With the intention of contextualising the signatures within my work, I focused my attention towards the tool used to sign them; the pencil. Some of the signatures which can be found around the fire station were signed over a century ago, using none other than the humble pencil. Through casting pencils in enduring materials; pewter and brass, I reference the perennial nature of the names signed in pencil lead. 

‘As an artist living in working in Manchester, I am drawn towards the derelict buildings I notice in the city.’

I am intrigued by the life which once existed within the walls of abandoned pubs…of empty fire stations.

I developed this work through The London Road Project. This creative heritage project is led by Jenny Walker and seeks to document the lived experience and heritage of London Road Fire Station. During my second year of university, I undertook a work placement with the London Road Project as the Research and Project Assistant. This learning experience has been invaluable to me, and has greatly influenced my creative practice.

‘Throughout my course, I have worked with a variety of materials.’

Throughout my course I have worked with a variety of materials. I have primarily worked with glass and metal and have experimented with many different techniques to manipulate these materials. In the past I have worked with hot glass; blowing forms to combine with antique tools and dripping the molten glass onto copper spoons. More recently I have been placing sheets of glass in a kiln, a process referred to as slumping. This is how I have inscribed the signatures of London Road Fire Station in sheets of glass. I have also been using different casting processes, including investment casting and sandcasting to create brass and pewter pencils. This understanding of both material and process will be invaluable in my future practice.

‘As well as exhibiting within the Degree Show, my work will be on display as part of the London Road Project exhibition at Plant NOMA.’

Myself, along with several postgraduate students from Manchester School of Art project will be showing our work which has been created in response to London Road Fire Station.

You can see more of Harriet’s work at our Degree Show from 9-20 June and at the upcoming London Road project exhibition.

You can also find out more about her work on her website, blog and Instagram.