Factory International: spectacular artwork to light up Manchester night sky in January at new culture hub

Powerful beams of light, dubbed First Breath, will be cast into the sky during the first month of next year in a celebration of new life.

The night sky in Manchester will be illuminated by powerful beams of light at the start of next year as a spectacular artwork comes to the site of the city’s new culture hub.

Luke Jerram’s new work First Breath will light up the city’s skyline in January from the site of Factory International, Manchester’s new arts centre which will open to the public in 2023. The piece is a celebration of new life in Greater Manchester to go with the start of a new year and audiences will be able to get up close and personal to the beams of light as well as being able to see it for miles around.

Artist Luke is no stranger to working in the city-region or to creating eye-catching public exhibitions as his giant globe Floating Earth was displayed at Salford Quays and Pennington Flash in Leigh in 2021.

What is First Breath, where will it be and when will it be on display?

First Breath consists of a number of powerful beams which will be cast into the night sky and will be visible from vantage points all around Manchester. The artwork will be visible between 4pm and 10pm every evening from 1 January to 29 January 2023.

The piece will celebrate new life, with the light beams gently pulsing to represent the first breaths of babies born that day in Greater Manchester. This is the idea from which First Breath draws its name.

First Breath will be located on the bank of the River Irwell at the site of Factory International. a new space for arts, music and culture which will be run by the team behind Manchester International Festival (MIF) and is set to open in June 2023. It is free to visit and access is on Water Street, at the bottom of Liverpool Road.

An artist’s impression of First Breath. Image credit: Lee Baxter

The artwork is by Luke Jerram, whose giant floating globe representing the planet which was 10m in diameter attracted huge crowds to see it in Salford and Wigan in 2021 and whose piece Museum of the Moon has been experienced by more than 20 million people worldwide.

As part of the event hundreds of babies born in the first month of next year will also receive lifetime memberships to Factory International, providing them with perks including priority booking, discounted tickets and exclusive invitations to everything from major exhibitions and concerts to family performances and workshops. Parents whose babies are due in January 2023 can apply for this via the Factory International website.

Factory International has already begun delivering its creative education programmes to hundreds of young people aged between nine and 14, focusing on social and emotional learning, teamwork, leadership and resilience. There will also be a programme of bespoke family activities and early learning opportunities for babies and parents at Factory International, which the team behind the venue hopes will connect a new generation to culture and explore how art can be woven into daily family life right from birth. 

What has been said about First Breath?

Artist Luke said: ”I want to reveal, celebrate and connect the hidden community of people giving birth each day in Greater Manchester. Disconnected and yet going through the life-changing experience at the same time, there are on average over 70 babies born each day in the city.

“This new artwork is designed to celebrate the moment a child is born, the extraordinary moment when they take their first breath and a new life arrives in the world.”

Artist Luke Jerram with his work Museum of the Moon

John McGrath, artistic director and chief executive of Factory International and Manchester International Festival, said: “At the turn of 2023 we’ll celebrating new beginnings with a beautiful public artwork projected from the site of our future home into the night sky.

“As we welcome hundreds of new-borns into the world through Luke’s light sculpture, we will also be breathing life into our new building and, we hope, setting in motion a fruitful life-long relationship with a new generation.”