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Connections & My Subject is War

Words by Kirsten Hawkins

Culture Warrington presents the work of two emerging artists from the North West at the Pyramid Arts Centre. The exhibition includes Connections, by Pauline Rigby, a quirky look at the surprising similarities in DNA between humans and other species, and Emma Brown’s My Subject is War, a sympathetic portrayal of Warringtonians during the First World War.

Connections is Pauline Rigby’s unique exploration of nature and the links between humans and other animals, taking into consideration DNA and genetics through two photographic series.

One body comprises landscape images featuring humanoid characters donning animal heads. The natural shots are presented in oval-style frames reminiscent of family portraits. Rivington, Lancashire where the images have been taken is also a hangover from the Victorian era, a legacy of the famous benefactor, Lord Leverhulme, a suitable backdrop to highlight the golden age of scientific endeavour.

As well as the characters depicted in the images, the natural surroundings are also seemingly hybrid, with human influence in the form of stone follies enveloped by the woodland shoots. Animal characters take on a playful role in these images, for example in Time to Reflect, a human tiger is relaxing on a branch, sprawled like a feline, yet, apparently enjoying the peculiarly recent human pastime of chilling out. Intelligence Can Be Anywhere similarly places human experience in the animal realm, implying there is more common ground within our DNA than is ever truly understood, with the animal protagonist appearing to philosophise in the foreground of the woodland scene.

These landscape shots employ modern digital photography, which is juxtaposed with cyanotype, the medium of Rigby’s next series of photographs. These present us with portraits of animals in human costume, not unlike traditional Victorian “likenesses” seen in stately homes. The “stiff and starchy” poses of the animals take them out of their traditional surroundings and place them within human confines, whilst the frames for these images are square, rather than oval, which is at odds with the landscapes. Cyanotype lends a blue hue to the shots, and is commonly associated with “blueprints” used in architecture, bringing to mind our “genetic blueprint”.

The names of the individual pieces are suffixed by “sapiens”, for example “Mus Sapiens” a comical nod to a shared genetic history between humans and other forms of nature, the etymology of the word “sapiens” from the Latin “sapio”, meaning “able to discern”.

Meanwhile in her first solo exhibition, My Subject is WarEmma Brown has taken on the mantle of presenting a beautiful depiction of Warrington‘s role in the First World War effort in her multimedia installation featuring line drawings in pen and ink together with a short animation. The pieces were commissioned following the success of a previous mural project carried out in 2014 in commemoration of the World War One centenary.

The line drawings represent nurses of Raddon Court Hospital and recruits of Orford Barracks, and served as preparatory images for Brown’s vinyl mural, which were later scanned and printed to form an eye-catching display that can be seen in the window of local landmark Contact Warrington. The images are testament to the artist’s craftsmanship, and are inspired by stories researched from the archives of Warrington Museum. Among her influences for the composition of the window mural is the Bayeux Tapestry.

As if the line drawings were not stunning enough, the pièce de résistance is an animation, Go It’s Your Duty, Lad: a fictional account which brings WWI to life, both on the home front and in the trenches. It translates a political landscape of optimism and jingoism in the everyday scenes leading up to the war: conscription, wedding ceremonies, the pub, municipal buildings and warm goodbyes at the train station. We are then transported by the ethereal St George’s dragon to foreign fields soon to become the soldiers’ new home.

The animation has been produced using a graphics tablet and Photoshop. The hand-drawn illustrative style is in keeping with the subject, lending a certain integrity often missed in today’s world of CGI.

Brown has succeeded in capturing the spirit of the war effort through research into local history archives including articles from the Warrington Guardian, meeting with locals and her involvement in hosting community workshops.

To see these exhibits and get an insight into the incredible work of local artists supported by Culture Warrington, visit