Imperial War Museum, Manchester




This exhibition brought together two artists – Stanley Spencer who worked in a Port Glasgow shipyard in the 1940s, and Patricia MacKinnon-Day who worked in a Birkenhead shipyard 60 years later.


Sited alongside Spencer work is an installation by the northern artist Patricia MacKinnon-Day, artist-in-residence at the Cammell Laird Shipyard, Birkenhead in 2000. Working in video, she has projected an image of a piece of torn polythene flapping in the wind onto a stainless steel buttress that resembles the prow of a ship - part of Daniel Libeskind's remarkable design for the extraordinary building that houses this exhibition. This is an eloquent metaphor for the changes that have come about in boat- building practices, from its origins as an intensive, man-centred industry to today's sleek, modern enterprise dominated by computers. Her second video, Water Glass, is a meditative work. Here, she has recorded the choreographic movement of water flowing in and out of a dry dock: the rain and foam playing on its surface, the rusty reflections. This in turn is reflected in the hull-like shape of Libeskind's architecture, which stands, appropriately enough, on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal in Trafford. A dark, semi-abstract grid created by videoing lifting equipment and cranes makes reference to the support structures of the building.


And would Spencer have approved? Possibly not. For while MacKinnon- Day's work has a soft-focus spirituality about it, Spencer made no bones about the fact that his community of workers were participants in the resurrection, united in an endeavour that would ensure their salvation in this world - and the next. For even amid the horrors of war and the hot, heavy work of the shipyards of Port Glasgow, Spencer was able to find a mirror of paradise.


Sue Hubbard

The Independent, London 27 Feb 2004


Copyright 2004 Independent Newspapers UK Limited