The opening of my exhibition New Industrial Space at Norwich Arts Centre (open until 26th March) allowed me to explore the showing of film as part of an artist talk. I showed Chasing the Blues (1947) from the British Documentary Movement collection (BFI). The film shows an early collaboration between industry and the Saddlers Wells Dance Company exploring the promotion of modernisation to mill owners in the post war era. I have watched this short film several times but when showing at the opening i realised how much we take for granted our current work environments: that our work environment in some way mirrors our home environment where we have kitchen and bathroom facilities, a place to take a rest. When this film was made in 1947 the message was to communicate to factory bosses how investing in canteen and rest areas, washing facilities etc would increase productivity. The effect of the film on factory managers according to the BFI booklet that came with the films was said to be unknown.
The second clip was the opening sequences to Saturday Night and Sunday Morning where we see the lathe shed with Arthur the central character talks about how hard he works and the repetitive nature of his work. Its a great film to watch in its entirety but the short extract for me is in such sharp contrast with the industrial environment at Hethel.
The films were used to demonstrate my interest in historical research which is at the heart of my practice. I use and explore a range of new technologies but the work always references the past. I then went into discussing the residency processes much as i had done at the firstiste event again finished on a drawing of a robot. When i had spoken with the sales engineer at the EAME trade event last September he was talking about the increasing use of robots being used in all types of industrial processes.
I was under the impression that the use of robots was relatively new. I knew about them being used in the car industry – there is a great GIles Cartoon from 1988 showing a female car worker upset at leaving her robot for the holidays – to what extent humans and robots work alongside one another is interesting to consider, i had assumed they replaced human labour but perhaps this is not the case.
Anyway i have developed an interest in robots – where they are made and how they can make each other. Derek who i worked with at Hethel had worked on a project in 1978 – called SCAMP – Six Hundreds group Computer Aided Manufacturing Project. So over thirty years ago the computer and manufacturing was being integrated, specifically exploring the possibilities of flexible manufacturing systems. With the aim of relieving the monotony of the assembly line and replacing it with a more automated process was also to encourage the use of higher grade technology. This reduced the need to employ unskilled or semi skilled labour – changing the attributes of the workforce towards skilled labour/people who have the skills to work with newer technologies. What it allowed manufacturing to do was to avoid the fallibility of human labour – the mistakes. The new system would produce good parts or no parts at all so no reduction in quality. This project came from a feasibility study in 1976, which under a labour government was a leap into the unknown – trying to invest in leading edge technologies to encourage industry in that direction. I image this aim could be seen as a success as many manufacturing processes in the UK are now hands off, with intensive human labour processes being carried out overseas.
I watched a program about The British at Work http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00zg047 where they talked about the post war era and how Britain Can Make It’ and how the press renamed it Britain cant have it’ as much of what we made was specificaly for export. Its on Thursday evenings at 9, BBC2.
This will be the last digital making post as i move onto new ideas and develop new projects. A new blog will follow in due course.