First Breath @ Factory International – review

First Breath at Factory International. Credit: Tomasz Kozak.

“On average, nearly 78 babies are born daily in Greater Manchester, disconnected and going through this life-changing experience at the same time.”

To commemorate the life-changing moments of conception and birth, and to bring together all expectant families in Manchester, Luke Jerram created First Breath, a mesmerising installation shining over the city. Inspired by the above statement, his daughter’s birth and people’s fascination with light, he’s designed an illumination that offers a profound experience to its observers.

The light tower connecting the ground to the sky represents new life and a strong bond between families awaiting the perfect, magical moment of their child’s birth. Intense light beams that slowly pulse in time with one breath symbolise a baby’s first gasp of air. Screens alongside the light exhibition show names, images, quotes, and locations of the newborn babies’ homes, reinforcing the message of the piece and giving hope to future parents. The piece is a perfect introduction to a community of parents, who are experiencing and sharing a moment of such significance, and welcomes newborns to the new city.

With First Breath, Manchester is entering 2023 on a positive note with a sense of beautiful beginnings in the city. The piece sits on the construction site of the soon-to-emerge venue of Factory International; the installation therefore nods to the emergence of this venue, a new vibrant organism in Manchester.

Credit: Tomasz Kozak.

The powerful beams of light navigate to a given place and aim to mark the introduction of a long-term engagement project with expectant families, providing a year-round programme of free family events offered by Factory International. The activities intend to create a moment of celebration and introduce art and culture to the everyday life of a newborn, even from its first breath. These events seek to strengthen community ties and contribute to the city’s lively character. This installation and the opening of the new venue in the heart of Greater Manchester therefore indicate the city’s aspiring future, full of exciting opportunities.

First Breath is not only limited to families expecting children. Multiple entrances are available to everyone, allowing people to walk in and around the light beams and witness them from different points up close. If you are far from the illumination, you’ll pay attention to the reflection of light in the water and on the buildings. However, being inside of it, you’ll note a changing sense of scale and the feelings evoked by it.

Credit: Press Association – Anthony Devlin

As Luke Jerram encourages us to reflect: “How does it feel to be standing next to a column of light that connects the ground to the sky?”

Everyone will find the answer to this question based on their own aspirations. Maybe the beams symbolise a bit of extra light in one’s life as we enter a new year? It might be a message predicting hope, new opportunities or welcoming something unknown?

All you need to make your own statement is to dress warmly and take a walk in Greater Manchester between January 1st and 29th. The answers with unique and thought-provoking experiences are waiting for you.


First Breath is free to attend and will run from 1-29 January 2023 from 4-10pm. The artwork can be accessed on Water Street, at the bottom of Liverpool Road.

Expectant parents due in January 2023 from all backgrounds and pregnancy journeys can sign-up to First Breath at