Nicola Dale ‘The Things That Look Back’ The Portico Library


Nicola Dale at The Portico Library 11th Jan – 10th Feb 2018

Nicola Dale
Nicola Dale – ‘The Things That Look Back’

The Portico Library is one of Manchester’s most iconic buildings. Opened in 1806 as a Library and Newsroom and inspired by a visit to The Athenaeum Liverpool some 10 years earlier by surgeon Michael Ward and his friend Robert Robinson, Thomas Harrison’s classical revival design has stood the test of time.

Although The Portico has hosted art and craft exhibitions since the 1960s the current Gallery area is a relatively new addition, having formally opened following the construction of the present floor in 1987. The first exhibition to be shown in this dedicated space was Contemporary Book Arts which covered the work of illustrators, designers and bookbinders. Since then the Portico has hosted many art events. The latest of these being:

Nicola Dale’s ‘The Things That Look Back’


Nicola’s installation considers the points at which text, symbol, sign and meaning collide. The viewer is presented with a series of fragile plaster sculptures scattered throughout the library. Some are familiar, others remain a mystery, and yet all have their origins in the images and texts Nicola has studied. As library visitors walk, sit and read amongst these fragments they are invited to think about the past, the present and the future of language.

“I’m really excited to show the next phase of my project “The Things That Look Back”. I’ve spent months covered in plaster making the 89 individual pieces that make up the installation and I’m looking forward to seeing them displayed in The Portico – it’s such an unusual and resonant setting for artwork. I’ll be presenting the sculptures beyond the usual exhibition area, making use of the ground, mid and upper levels of the room. I can’t wait to find out what people make of the work, how they read it, especially since it has been inspired by archival material from The Portico, John Rylands library and The Warburg Institute, London.”

The Things That Look Back is the latest instalment in a project that includes performance, sculpture and film. The work is inspired by archival research at The Portico Library*, John Rylands library and The Warburg Institute through which Nicola considers how changes to how knowledge is transferred (from illuminated manuscript to printed book, to smartphone) affect our sense of touch, texture and time. How do the disjointed ways in which we now share knowledge affect our ability to communicate?

  • with a particular focus on Samuel Laing’s 1889 essay collection “Problems of the Future”



Workshop: Introduction to Performance Art    3–5pm, Tuesday 16 January 2018

Panel discussion: Does information + technology = knowledge?    6.30–8.30pm, Thursday 25 January 2018