I have three weeks to write a proposal for one of the Factory Nights commissions. My problem can be that I have too many ideas and find it difficult to decide on one. My initial idea I had during the visit was to pose as the Queen presenting at mini book launches in the city centre. I was also curious to meet some of the women who worked in the factory and find out if they could perform there actions from working the machines. I would video the actions made on location at there homes. To make a video on location would be a challenge technically. I just feel with video or film there is a pressure for the image to look HD. I am not interested in the actual filming process more the idea and visual direction. This has got me thinking again about the Queens visit and how I could expand on the idea. In my work I am the performer and the facilitator. What if I hired a Queen look alike? I have been researching royal look alikes and there are some funny looking Queens out there. There was one lady who looked more like the Queen mother. I remember last summer in Manchester city centre there was a David Beckham look alike situated in Barclays bank shop window. He was kicking a football around which drew a massive crowd and you could have your picture taken with him. I have found the best Queen look alike although she comes at a price. We spoke on the phone for ages and she told me how she is going to write a book about her life which I think would make a fascinating read. She kindly knocked £100 off her fee. Although she was very vocal about a famous artist who uses look alikes in compromising positions. She said that she would not perform any actions that would offend the Queen. Of course not your Majesty!
On the train on my way to Walsall I tested out using my iPad taking photographs with it for the first time. I am still getting used to this new piece of equipment that my granddad kindly bought me a couple of weeks ago as a treat. I generally don’t like touch screen technology and have been getting used to typing by gently tapping which feels a bit odd. However the great thing about the iPad is that it’s small and easy to carry around instead of my heavy laptop, ideal for traveling. I particularly like the free doodle app called Zoodle and I am enjoying drawing with my fingers. Before the site visit in Walsall I had seen an image of a two-pin plug, manufactured by Crabtree. The plug is round similar to a door handle shape. This quirky form I think could make an amazing interactive arts educational stand which could be wheeled around museums, art galleries and outside on the street. I am working on an arts education project at the moment and have been thinking a lot about breaking down artwork for children to learn. Although nowadays, would children be interested in playing with switches and plugs? I think very young children probably would. I have been thinking about ideas for new work, as there is an opportunity to propose a project, which has a small pot of funding. The commissions will be available to the participants who attended the Factory Nights meeting in Walsall.
Once a Factory now a Hotel
I arrived a bit early although it gave me time to write up my blog. The pub interiors have a mock period look and felt warm and cosy wth the open fire alight. Factory Nights meeting was in the basement in a long narrow room and Rednile Projects warmly greeted me. The session planned for the evening was only two hours and we started promptly. Rednile introduced themselves and the wonderful Factory Nights they facilitate in the North East and Midlands area. Alan and Roy from the Crabtree Society gave an introduction about how the business started. The factory was founded by John Ashworth Crabtree in 1919 and started with a few employees and grew to become one of Walsall’s largest engineering companies. I was struck by how the humble electrical light had such an impact on working conditions extending employee hours and the quality of what was made in the factory. The impact of this was growth in the business. John Ashworth Crabtree is most well known for designing the first make and break switch. We were given a tour of the pub and hotel, which were part of the factory. We were taken upstairs to a hotel room that used to be Crabtree’s office. The interior decoration of the hotel is mock period and sometimes I am finding it hard to believe that this place used to be a factory. Outside there is another building which houses the ‘honeymoon suite’. At the back of the Hotel is a garden with palm trees.
The Crabtree society was set-up in 2006, which is mostly made up of ex employees and is the face for the archive. When the society first started there were 300 members although most recently this has fallen to around 80 due to people getting older and sadly dieing. Alan and Roy from the society have been working on a book documenting the history of the factory to ensure its legacy. I really struggled to find information online about the factory or get any visual reference. However once the book has been published the society intend to develop the website. We finally got to see the film ‘Factory Day’ which was used to advertise and recruit school leavers. I was really impressed by how many women were part of the workforce and the importance of their contribution in the manufacturing process. As I am interested in performance I was hypnotized by the repetitive actions they performed everyday. One of the female workers is asked about working at the factory and responds by saying:
Do I like it?
I love it
I could really see the importance of manual work and the process of making something as a collective from start to finish. From watching the film I got a sense of everyone working for each other and a community spirit that has been sucked out of society today. It is dawning on me the impact the death of manufacturing has had in this country.
The Queen visited the factory in 1962 and was documented on film by the employees. I liked how the women put decorative flags ontop of each of their machines. The film is black and white although I did get to see colour stills in the page layouts of the book. To coincide with the Queens Jubilee and the visit 50 years ago a copy of the book will be given to her. During the visit I got quite excited about the Queens visit and had an idea of doing mini book launches in the city centre dressed as the Queen. This morning all I keep thinking about are the wonderful women who worked in the factory.
Welcome to Walsall
Stepping out of the train station I see a sign for New Art Gallery Walsall. The gallery is really close by and it is an impressive modern design. In the ground floor window looking onto the street there is a large Mark Tichner print. I really like how the work is displayed allowing new audiences to see the work. As I entered the gallery I could hear the sound of laughing children, it’s half term and it’s busy with them making rockets. The space is cleverly designed subtly guiding me through the Garman Ryan Collection progressing upwards to contemporary art. Along the way I see lots of different mini work stations for children to make stuff. I particularly liked the mirror desk were you can sit and draw your own portrait. I thought being able to make an image of the artwork from the wooden relief was another clever idea.
Martin Parr had an installation titled Black Country Stories a photographic exploration of the area and the people that live here. Alongside the photographs there are displayed objects made in the region. My favourite object were the beautifully made pork pies. I discovered a new artist called Zarina Bhimji who is showing a film titled Yellow Path. The film was shot in India with the soundtrack added in post production. Visually she picks out subtle details, skillfully moving the lens through the fields. I was encouraged to see Paul Winstanley’s paintings framing net curtains with ghostly landscapes piercing through. They reminded me of my Burning Blind video, I do feel the beauty of video means you can play with scale. Gathering my thoughts before I try and find my way to the Lyndon House pub for the Factory Nights meet.
Burning Blind Video:
Flick the switch
I am really looking forward to the Factory Night at J.A.Crabtree & Co. Ltd in Walsall tomorrow evening. I have never been to Walsall before and I plan to visit The New Art Gallery, which is showing new work by Martin Parr titled Black Country. I always enjoy looking at his work and how his photographs capture the performance and vibrancy of everyday life. I haven’t seen the Rednile team for a long time although I have always admired their individual work and the opportunities they create for other creative people. Rednile Projects were working at grassroots level with students in the North East, myself included and showing work in unusual spaces:
Back in 2006/2007 this way of working was great to see happening in the area and really inspired me to make my work on my terms and explore showing outside of a gallery context. When I first graduated in 2007 I worked with two of my friends Anna Puhakka and Sarah Stamp aka BaseNorth. Rednile gave us studio space and the chance to get involved with the New City Art programme. Please follow the link to our first blog we published on a-n:
It’s so funny looking back at the blog and the kind of work I was making. I feel there is a show in there ‘The exhibition we never had in Sunderland’. Reflecting on my work from 2007 to now I still make in the same way, which is ‘situation specific’. I want to move away from the idea of ‘site specific’ as I feel that it refers too much to architecture and fixes the work to that place. If I have learnt anything in my practice is that some work can exist in different contexts. Shock horror! I just worry that there is a tendency to get a bit sacred about ‘site specific’ practice.
Thoughts so far about tomorrow evenings meet is to just see what happens. I particularly want to watch the video of the factory that was used in schools to promote working for the company. I have tried to Google a look at the light switches design although I can’t find the brand online. However I did find a few strange, minimal designs. I am not sure what equipment to take with me. I don’t want to be weighed down by my laptop. I might take just take my iPad and camera.