Responding to Ceremony, sculptor Phil Collins’ commission for Manchester International Festival 2017, where a Soviet-era statue of Friedrich Engels was salvaged from Ukraine and relocated to Manchester. The aim was to explore the story of Mary Burns, a working class woman of Irish descent who became Engel’s life-long partner after meeting during his time in Manchester. The little information on Burns that survives, suggest that this fiery and politically engaged woman was Engels’ first contact with the conditions working class people endured during the industrial revolution, and as such largely responsible for his subsequent writings, resulting in the Communist Manifesto co-written with Karl Marx.
The multidisciplinary installation included a life-size statue representing Burns, addressing the disparity of sculptures depicting women in Manchester, with the abstract steel sculpture designed by Jasmine Walne and fabricated by Nicola Ellis. In addition, Natalie Linney utilised her skill in natural textile dying on a traditional Victorian nightdress inspired by that time’s imagery. Burns’ story is told through a six-verse poem written by Ella Otomewo and Kofi Gyamfi from Young Identity poetry group, and narrated by Bridie Breen of the Manchester Irish Writers group. The poem is included in the six artist films created by Jamie Starboisky, inspired by photographs, images, archive films and locations relevant to Burns’ life. The film score and sound design was created by Manoli Moriaty, who also recorded cello by Chris Lyon, the poetry, and the statue’s manufacturing process.
Mary Burns was presented on Wednesday 12th July at the Elizabeth Gaskell House, photographed by Nick Harrison and filmed by Christian Payne. The film, poem and photos of the pop-up installation are available to view in an 180 degree immersive film installation on the Edge screen at the University of Salford Media City from 18th September 2017.