Walking or driving through Beswick, the last thing you’d think you’d ever expect to see is three HUGE silver chess pieces, just sitting there in front of Connell Sixth Form College, but for nearly 10 years now these monoliths of public art have stood loud and proud for all to see and wonder – “WTF are they?!”
Well, fear not, because if you’ve ever asked that question, I’m here to help. Holding your hand through this fact-finding quest for knowledge.
Kicking things off then and I suppose it’s important to look at the ‘WHY’ of these silver things first because it nicely sets up all the rest of the story. It all revolves around the area in which these sculptures are now placed – Beswick.
It’s safe to say that Beswick as an area has had a rather difficult time over the last 100 years. Initially set up and developed in the first half of the 20th century as a residential area for the mass throngs of workers employed in the city’s factories, Beswick quickly became densely populated, packed with lines and lines of Edwardian era terraces and with very little open space. Essentially, slums.
Post-war, and much like vast swathes of England, these slums, the ones which managed not to be blown to smithereens by Hitler, were bulldozed to the ground by local councils, who thought they could see the future – a future which went up, up, up.
Yep, everything was pretty much bulldozed to make way for a series of monolithic concrete multi-storey tower blocks, and, much like the famed Hulme Crescents, Beswick’s own housing project was a right mess from the start.
The Wellington Street area was levelled, taking with it 1,200 homes, more than 100 shops, 10 pubs and a couple of dens where the local stray dogs would go to pee, poo and sniff each other’s private parts. The new estate promised over 1,000 new homes in the form of 24 multi-storey blocks of different lengths and heights, all laid out at right angles to form squares and spurs.
Finished in an attractive “shit” brown, the new estate quickly became known as ‘Fort Beswick‘ and as soon as it started raining, damp set in, taking root in the poorly constructed housing and making them nigh on unliveable. Budget cuts meant that maintenance was non-existent and by 1982, just ten years after they were completed – demolition began.
Even today, 40 years later, the regeneration of Beswick is still an on-going project, after years of seemingly being forgotten and left to rot. As Manchester City moved in though, so have developers, but there’s still an awful lot to do in the area. And so it’s here that we get to these sculptures – which were installed as the centrepiece to the Beswick community hub regeneration project back in 2014.
Named ‘Dad’s Halo Effect’, they were created by renowned contemporary artist, Ryan Gander, a man who was born in Chester but attended Manchester Metropolitan University in the 90s, so probably had a very good idea of what Beswick was like back in those days.
“Dad’s Halo Effect” is composed of three, 3 metre highly polished stainless steel sculptures that represent chess pieces in a checkmate position. Yet, due to each being made of the same material, it is impossible to know which piece is on which side – harking to the adage that it’s not the winning that’s important, but the taking part. A theme that I presume people like to link to the sport and leisure reputation of East Manchester – what with City moving there in 2003 – and, at the time, not being very good.
The design is also based on part of the steering mechanism of a commercial Bedford truck, namely because Ryan’s dad used to work for General Motors, as well as linking to “the heavy industry past of the area.“
The art was part of the joint regeneration project between Manchester City Council and Man City Football Club, hoping to encourage local people to engage with the public artwork sitting at the heart of their community – and “take an ownership of the globally significant piece of sculpture that will link both the industrial heritage of East Manchester to the celebrated sport and leisure present and future.”
Ryan’s reputation as a world-renowned hoped to bring a bit of prestige to Beswick, being only the third piece of public art by the artist following hugely successful works in Central Park, New York, and a public sculpture in London’s Square Mile.
Dad’s Halo Effect still sits on the pavement outside Connell Sixth Form College and the East Manchester Leisure Centre, and although regeneration in the area is still on-going, there’s no denying that they’re a valuable and interesting addition to the area. If they’re still there in two years, they will have outlasted most parts of ‘Fort Beswick’ – and at the very least act as a reminder so that it doesn’t happen again.