There’s a ‘secret garden’ tucked away in a historic Manchester library (just two minutes’ walk from Piccadilly Gardens!)

New exhibition ‘Second Nature: what is nature anyway?’ runs until 6 Jan 2020 at The Portico Library, 57 Mosley St, M2 3HY (

The exhibition also features:

·         The very first writer to identify human-induced climate change plus illustrations of the first ever samples of acid rain (collected right here in Manchester).

·         New artworks by seven artists including Ruth Murray and Joanna Whittle, both just shortlisted for the 2019 Contemporary British Painting prize.

·         New poetry and illustrations by Manchester schoolchildren.

·         A collection of Victorian magic lantern slides from Manchester Museum.

·         A programme of events by artists, performers and speakers in association with Journeys Festival International, Manchester Metropolitan University and Venture Arts.

About the exhibition

The Portico Library presents ‘Second Nature: what is nature anyway?’, supported by the Zochonis Charitable Trust.

Recent studies show that two thirds of UK adults feel they have ‘lost touch with nature’ and our vocabulary to describe it is diminishing. How might new ideas and definitions of nature affect our priorities, and can reconnecting with the living world help us find solutions to current environmental emergencies and broader social divisions?

In the Georgian and Victorian eras, science was called Natural Philosophy. Eighteenth and nineteenth-century naturalists such as Alexander von Humboldt – the first to identify human-induced climate change – sought to understand people’s place in the world while questioning the use of the term ‘nature’ to justify social structures and political standpoints. Today, alternative debates around nature are reshaping how we think about our relationships with the environment.

Second Nature brings together historic literature and artefacts, up-to-date research and new works by contemporary artists and young people to ask what we mean by ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ today and how these terms have been used throughout the modern age.

Victorian glass magic lantern slides 
The Pyre, Ruth Murray, 2018
  De Buffon’s ‘Histoire Naturelle’

The books

  • Authors represented include Alexander von Humboldt, Charles Darwin, Christina Rosetti, Thomas Hardy, Shirley Hibberd and John Muir, with early editions of books including The Glacial Nightmare and the Flood; Climate and Time; Animated Nature; The Manchester Flora; The Dodo and its Kindred; The Descent of Man; Acid Rain; The Goblin Market and Zoophytes (animals that look like plants – including the ‘vegetable lamb of Tartary’).

The artists

  • Navid Asghari is a composer for film and television who has scored BAFTA award-winning features and films with a distinctive blend of musical score and sound design.
  • Jackie Chettur predominantly uses literary classics as the starting point for her photography and text artworks and community-based projects.
  • Oliver East is an illustrator and animator who has worked with poet Paul Morris and students from Levenshulme High School and Stanley Grove Primary Academy on personification of Manchester’s lost rivers and re-naming local wildlife.
  • Louise Hewitt creates ceramic monsters at Venture Arts based on her volunteer work with young people at Hulme Community Garden Centre
  • Jessica El Mal has created a photo series at North West botanical collections with residents with experience of migration or seeking asylum or refuge.
  • Ruth Murray is a highly collectible artist whose large, enigmatic paintings have been shortlisted for the 2019 Contemporary British Painting Prize.
  • Joanna Whittle, also shortlisted for this year’s Contemporary British Painting Prize, creates small, detailed depictions of post-human landscapes.

Manchester International Festival board member, Diverse Actions Project Manager and Jerwood Fellow Amy Lawrence has also created a new performance and video event, WILD LANDS, in response to the exhibition in collaboration with multimedia artist Joe Whitmore.

About The Portico Library

The Portico Library is a 213-year-old independent subscription library and exhibitions space in Manchester city centre. Still housed in its original purpose-built venue on Mosley Street, it is now open free to the public six days a week for an eclectic calendar of exhibitions and events, complementing the unique collection of books, archives and illustrations spanning over 450 years.

Upcoming events

Artists' Discussion: Nature, Mind and Body

Artists’ Discussion: Nature, Mind and Body

Wed 20 Nov 2019, 18:30

£4 including a free drink

Free for students/unwaged

Artists Jackie Chettur, Amy Lawrence and Ruth Murray have all drawn upon ideas around nature and people’s place within it in their work. They share interests in literary and philosophical writings from the 19th century onward, while also looking to their own experiences of ‘wild’ spaces to make work that asks: ‘What is nature anyway?’. Join us for a relaxed and open discussion among their new artworks.

Make your own Play-Doh Garden Centre Monster with artist Louise Hewitt

Make your own Play-Doh Garden Centre Monster with artist Louise Hewitt

Sat 23 Nov and Sat 30 Nov 2019, 13:00 and 14:00 Free

Louise Hewitt is an artist and storyteller whose work focuses on educating children about nature, the environment and gardening. She creates these ceramic models of her central characters, the ‘Garden Centre Monsters’, to use as visual aids for her stories. Join Louise to have a go at making your own Play-Doh creature and hear her stories inspired by her work at Hulme Community Garden Centre and Venture Arts.

BSL Exhibition Tour Second Nature

BSL exhibition tour: Second Nature

Sat 7 Dec 2019, 11:30 – Free

Jennifer Little will conduct a tour in British Sign Language (with no spoken English) introducing The Portico Library’s building and collection, and giving insights into the current exhibition, Second Nature. After the tour refreshments are available from the cafe. Booking is not required for BSL led exhibition tours.

Audio-described exhibition tour: Second Nature 5:30pm, 16 Dec 2019

Audio-described exhibition tour: Second Nature

Mon 16 Dec 2019, 17:30 – Free

Ann Hornsby of Mind’s Eye Description Services will deliver an audio-described tour for blind and partially-sighted visitors. She will introduce the building and collection, and our exhibition Second Nature. Booking not required for audio-described exhibition tours.

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