Creative Lab

As we move into our 7th Festival edition, we’re increasingly working with digital technology in new and exciting ways and this is reflected widely across the forthcoming Festival programme.  We’re building digital into our artist development programmes and are delighted to be collaborating with 20 of Manchester’s most exciting artists as part Creative Lab in MIF19. Creative Lab is a space for artists to hack and play with a focus on experimentation, intervention and performativity generating a series of creative responses to MIF19 themes and commissions during July.  These responses will be shared on arrange of digital platforms during MIF19 including MIF’s dedicated channel on BBC Live.

The first Creative Lab will have international artists and companies sharing their knowledge and experience including: The White Pube, Christian Payne, Hardeep Pandhal, Delaval Film, Kate O’Hara – Duck Soup Films, Sparklab – Mel Harris, Alex Rowse – Punchdrunk and Alexander Whitley.

Artists and creative practitioners in Creative Lab have been selected from a wide range of disciplines including film, visual arts, sculpture, performance, dance design, poetry and music. Find out more about them below.

Simon Abbott

Simon Abbott is a visual artist whose work is informed by the places where he lives and works and the people he meets. He makes work at OA Studios and Hot Bed Press in Salford, using mixed media, printmaking and digital illustration. Simon is interested in the function of art and creativity in society, how we value artwork and how it can be used for social change. Having conducted research into the working patterns of artists and the experiences of creatives working in non-arts jobs, his work explores attitudes to creative practice as labour and how creativity can be fostered within all areas of work and society.



Lehin is a British-Nigerian creative and self-taught musician whose music, combining thoughtful lyricism with jazz-laden sounds, has received support from Worldwide FM, Reprezent Radio and Rinse FM. His upbringing in what he calls a ‘hyper Christian-Nigerian household’, is highly influential on his creative output – such as Road to Damascus, a soulful comparison of life’s journey to Paul the Apostle’s journey through Damascus. Due for an August release, EQ explores the different facets of his journey so far, expressing themes such as nostalgia, aspiration, introversion and hedonistic playfulness. He has recently reconnected with his Nigerian heritage, travelling there in December 2018 and April 2019.


Caitlin Akers

Caitlin Akers recently graduated with an MA in Book Arts from Camberwell College of Arts, University of the Arts London. She has recently created a billboard for the 16:9 billboard project for Kingsgate Project Space and a series of prints for the b-side Festival in Dorset. Recent group exhibitions include the MA Select Showcase (Camberwell Space, 2018) and Xhibit (Bermondsey Art Space, 2017). She has artist books and prints in many collections, including the University of West England’s Centre for Fine Print Research Collection. She received a European Cultural Foundation grant in May 2018 and an Academic Residency Fellowship at Scuola Internazionale di Grafica, Venice in 2017.


Natalie Amber

Natalie Amber originally trained as a professional dancer and actress before working for six months with the renowned Double Edge Theatre in the US to further utilise her passion for movement, music and improv to create theatre. Since returning to the industry in 2016 following a spinal injury, she has worked across the board in TV, film and theatre, including with Jenny Sealey on The House of Bernarda Alba at the Royal Exchange Theatre in 2017. Natalie is an avid activist campaigning for inclusion in the mainstream arts industry, and has been on Equity’s D/deaf and Disabled Members Committee for five years.


Sophie Ashcroft

Sophie Ashcroft is a creative technologist who intertwines her multidisciplinary skills with a critical and feminist approach to technology that manifests in objects or purely digital products. Driven to push aside conventional processes of developing digital products or experiences, she turns critical and often cyber-feminist theories to counter the homogeneous process often given for developing the ‘innovative’. At the Great Exhibition of the North 2018, her most recent work focused on how the rituals and artefacts of paganism can be transposed into an Internet-of-Things experience. In 2017, she founded Full Stack of Pancakes, where she teaches the fundamentals of web development as accessible as possible.


Stephen Davies

Stephen Davies is a theatre-maker and machinimatographer exploring the capabilities of video games in the performance space. A graduate of the University of Salford and a Manchester native, Stephen specialises in multimedia performance, working both solo and as half of the emerging theatre company Snapshot! MTC.


Sara Green

Sara Green is a choreographer and movement director working across theatre, film and dance who has worked on projects for Radiohead, London Fashion Week, the Old Vic and the Royal Shakespeare Company, and has received choreography commissions for Scala, Electrowerkz and Corsica Studios. She recently returned from movement-directing an adaptation of Emma in Tampa, Florida, and has just choreographed the latest music promo for C Duncan. BURNT OUT, her latest work, premiered at the Place in January. Her focus currently lies in the relationship between movement and identity construction, particularly subtle behavioural dynamics lost in digital translation.


Tom Halls

Tom Halls is a queer performance artist, originally from Melbourne, whose practice centres on creating works that challenge and test the relationship between audience and performer. He is a co-founder of TomYumSim, a duo known for using unconventional spaces for immersive performances. He has performed and been programmed at Melbourne International Festival, Melbourne Fringe Hub, The Yard Theatre, Camden People’s Theatre, Melbourne Writers Festival, Fringe World Perth, La Mama Theatre and Poppy Seed Festival, and has worked with Guerrilla Museum and The Boon Companions on immersive performance events. He recently completed a REACT development at the Royal Exchange Theatre investigating augmented performance through sound and live streaming.


Michael Jon

Michael-Jon Mizra is a multimedia artist who was born in Cape Town and studied Music at the University of Leeds with a focus on technology and aesthetics. He presents a diverse body of performance art, installations, compositions and applications, connecting his practice with a technical and conceptual consideration of interface and the question of how to dissolve the virtual and non-virtual bodies into a unity. His work has been exhibited in the Design Museum, London (Sounds of a People, 2017) and internationally (Displacement Native, 2018). He also works with youth organisations as an educator in digital arts.


Raheel Khan

Raheel Khan, aka Taurtollo, explores the arrangements, rhythms and textures between house, jazz, hip hop and broken through live/electronic instrumentation and samples. He has released music on Manchester labels Ad-Hoc and Banana Hill while holding a residency on local community station Reform Radio. His 2018 guest mix on BBC Asian Network led to him receiving an invitation to perform as a guest DJ at the BBC’s Maida Vale studios during the Asian Network Residency’s End of Year Gathering. Raheel has also previously performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Brighton Fringe, and was recently accepted on to the Royal Exchange Theatre’s REACT programme.

David McFarlane

David McFarlane is a musician, community arts practitioner, interdisciplinary artist and composer whose work often explores creative use of technology. His recent work has been around the subject of synaesthesia, and has included Seeing Sound: A Chromesthesia Concert, presented in October 2018 in the Carole Nash Hall as part of Manchester Science Festival. Other recent composition projects include a bass clarinet quartet for Etherow Reeds and a piece for chamber ensemble No Dice’s Last Christmas concert, themed around Christmas and the apocalypse. His production work for Hannah Ross’s what are the natural forms? EP featured on Mary Anne Hobbs’ BBC Radio 6 Music show.


Jessica El Mal

Jessica El Mal is a visual artist. Covering a range of media, from film and photography to found objects and installation, rather than a material explanation, Jessica’s practice is best described contextually. Whether visual projects, social protests or participatory arts, her works vary but are always rooted in the intention to have agency past the point of production, often testing the boundaries of usefulness, authorship and cultural/creative democracy.


Sophia Malik

Sophia Malik is a Structural Engineer at Arup who uses her architectural background in her practice, combining her skills to be both artistically and technically creative. She has worked on projects involving international development and has a special interest in disaster relief and community engagement. By approaching engineering with the same creative and open mind with which she approaches art, she hopes to bridge the gap between engineering and architecture and become more equipped to solve the problems of tomorrow. Sophia also paints and draws, and hopes to build upon her work by exploring the interplay between the digital and physical realms. Find out more about the creative response which Sophia created during MIF19 here.


Ali Matthews

Ali Matthews is a performance maker, writer and musician who creates participatory experiences from text, song and scenographic environments, exploring states of intimacy, distance, desire and alienation. She is currently developing The Ballad of Isosceles, her performance for two people, into a VR film experience, and is also working with online quick-video formats. Her original work has been presented across cabaret, one-to-one and large-scale performance formats at venues including the Royal Exchange Theatre, Contact, Emergency Festival, Lancaster Arts, Bristol’s Arnolfini, York’s SLAP Festival, Dublin’s Project Arts Centre, London’s Toynbee Studios, Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Belfast’s Catalyst Arts and Berlin’s Universität der Künste.


Clare McNulty

Claire McNulty is an artist, sculptor, performer, writer, singer, music-maker and theatre-maker. Promoting beauty and unity indifference is at the core of her varied and surreal creative expressions. At the moment, Clare is co-creating a queer dystopian space musical through which she hopes to better elucidate neurodiverse perspectives and examine the barriers that disabled performers face in achieving equality.


Josh Mellor

Josh Mellor is a filmmaker with an interest in documentary and a love for all things related to graphic design. His films aim to impact the world around him, making the most of the scope that film offers to share an experience. His work wanders between disciplines, and his experimentation with graphic design, hand-drawn elements and collected textures results in a creative process that celebrates the fusion of both traditional and digital techniques. Music has a huge influence upon his practice, and is the focal point for a large majority of his personal graphic design projects.


Hannah Miller

Hannah Miller has performed and composed for immersive site-specific theatre company Periplum, pioneering puppet and physical performance company Touched Theatre and Zu Aerial Dance. She’s currently working for the third time with inclusive dance company Stopgap on a new work that plays with ideas of gender roles and identity. Through Moulettes, the group she co-founded, she’s worked with creative powerhouses across diverse disciplines and genres, from rock and pop to indie and folk. Seasick Steve chose to support the group for the Bush Hall launch of The Bear’s Revenge in 2012, and the Levellers sought her out for their recent album We the Collective.


Holly Phelps

Holly Phelps, aka IORA, is a multidisciplinary artist working in music, theatre, art and film. IORA’s work has been described as ‘impossible-to-pigeonhole… majestic’ by the Manchester Evening News, and her debut single Thieves’ Den won support from the likes of BBC Radio 6 Music’s Tom Robinson and BBC Radio Manchester’s Mike Sweeney. Past residencies include Sage Gateshead’s Summer Studio and Brighter Sound’s Both Sides Now (with Beth Orton), while future projects include eYes Of a bEAst, which has received support from the PRS Emerging Artist Fund. Hollie also delivers music, songwriting, theatre and art workshops, many focusing on personal wellbeing and creativity.


Jo Portus

Jo Portus. Creative coder, problem solver, maker of Internet of Things things before it was a thing. Lover of technology and its ability to give superpowers to mere mortals. Operator of lasers. Seeker of symmetry. Developer of apps, games, Instagram filters and chatbots. Player of pianos. Lead Interactive Developer at McCann Manchester and winning team member of Facebook’s Berlin AR Hackathon 2018.


Melanie Roberts

Melanie Roberts is a maker of sculptural ceramics with a background in three-dimensional design. She became an artist, maker and performer in the carnival arts sector about six years ago, specialising in headdresses, and is now an associate artist at Global Grooves, a carnival arts association. In the last three years, her commissions have included large-scale illuminated puppets; a white hare, a horse and a winged Valkyrie horse (first seen at Bluedot Festival); and, most recently, a translucent fibreglass face puppet for an Arts Council England project combining back-projected film and animation with puppetry and sculpture.