Return to Ritherdon is a Research and Development residency at Ritherdon & Co Ltd, a manufacturer of  steel electrical enclosure and clever metalwork in Darwen, Lancashire. During the residency I will investigate all areas of the factory ecosystem, fully embedding myself within its working culture, studying efficiency and lean manufacturing philosophy in everyday production, business, marketing and distribution operations. The project will develop my relationship with the family owned manufacturer over a period of 18 months, resulting in a new body of multimedia works.

My relationship with the factory will be contextualised by research into the Artist Placement Group material at Tate Archives, with a view to identify new ways in which an artist can work with a manufacturer.

The project, developing methodologies and artworks will be discussed during a series of free public discussions taking place throughout the timeline of the project. These discussions will be held at galleries in various post-industrial locations in the North of England, along with public festivals and at the Ritherdon factory itself.


Originally programmed for July 2020, a solo exhibition of work by Nicola Ellis will open at Castlefield Gallery in March 2021. To mark the occasion of what would have been the public preview, on Thursday 2 July we are releasing: a podcast with Ellis and Matthew Pendergast (Castlefield Gallery Curator and Deputy Director) talking about Ellis’s work and artist placement at Ritherdon & Co Ltd; a sound piece produced in collaboration with Manoli Moriaty and an e-publication featuring photographs and paintings by Ellis, which will be available via this webpage:

Ellis’s work includes site responsive installation, sculpture, painting, drawing, video and photography. Recent projects have seen her operating within existing workplace ecosystems; making artworks which respond to the relationships between people, materials and processes. Some works feature loaned or exchanged waste materials, which are temporarily transformed, often into large scale sculpture.

The exhibition of work by Ellis at Castlefield Gallery will mark the end of her two year placement at Ritherdon & Co Ltd: a manufacturer of steel enclosures based in Darwen, Lancashire. Following a short Art in Manufacturing ( residency in 2018, Ellis discussed continuing her placement with Managing Director Ben Ritherdon and after securing Arts Council England funding was welcomed back to the factory in February 2019. Throughout the Return to Ritherdon project she has been observing, participating in and at times disrupting the ecosystem of the factory and its associated business operations. New works and methodologies have been informed in particular by studying the application of Lean Manufacturing philosophy – a philosophy aimed at the reduction of waste in the form of time, energy or materials.

The nature of Ellis’s project resonates with the activity of the Artist Placement Group (A.P.G.). Founded in 1966, the organisation sought to reposition the role of the artist within a wider social context, including government and commerce. A.P.G material at Tate Archive has informed Ellis’s thinking throughout the project.

Ultimately Return to Ritherdon has created opportunities for an artist and a manufacturer to witness each other’s work in the factory, studio, gallery and respective communities. Site-responsive works are being developed for the exhibition at Castlefield Gallery which will continue this process, connecting the factory and the gallery space and sharing the project with wider audiences.

Castlefield Gallery has supported and followed Ellis’s work over several years. She has taken part in numerous exhibitions at the gallery including: LAUNCH PAD: Meanwhile See This (2012) ,  Nicola Ellis & Aura Satz (2013) and Oh, it is easy to be clever if one does not know all these questions continues at DOX Centre for Contemporary Arts (2018). In 2019 we celebrated our 35th anniversary with the exhibition No Particular Place to Go? 35 years of sculpture at Castlefield Gallery which included work by Ellis and later that year we took her work to the Manchester Contemporary Art Fair where Dead powder series: Yellow, (2019) was selected by The Manchester Contemporary Art Fund for acquisition into the public collection of Manchester Art Gallery.

Special thanks to: the Ronnie Duncan Art Foundation and Castlefield Gallery Commissioning Patron Prof. Chris Klingenberg.


I have been editing film, sound and making works on paper during the COVID-19 lockdown. Working from photographs, the drawings/painting has helped me separate out the objects I feel have an additional secret life as sculpture, within the manufacturing environment. Suspending them in clean white backgrounds removes them from the manufacturing context. It becomes possible to temporarily detach them from their functional role in the factory ecosystem. A useful exercise.


Follow the link below to see a few more:


As part of my investigations into the manufacturing environment, I have called upon my good friend and now collaborator Manoli Moriaty to help carry out some sound recordings. The initial intention was to produce sound documentation of the factory floor which doubled up as base material to be developed into sound works. Manoli also suggested other forms of technical wizardry which involved strapping a modified Wii remote onto a willing Rhys, in order to monitor his arm movements along with the vibrations of tools and steel during grinding and polishing processes.

After Manoli’s first visit to he factory, we settled on the idea of our first (undoubtedly of many!) collaboration being the production of an audio ‘walk-around’ of the factory. Keeping our first collaboration modest and achievable in the remaining timeline of Return to Ritherdon, this work will function as a documentary style track, giving a kind of remote sound experience of the factory when played in external venues. It also gives us the opportunity to spend time weedling out and celebrating all the glorious and somewhat more gentle sounds that contribute to the regular factory soundscape.  More on this to come!

Take a look at Manoli’s website for further information about his projects, research and teaching to date:

Pew Pew! Manoli shooting the shotgun mic at the Trumpf