I’m 48 hours into a residency that’s as focused upon manufacturing timelines and heritage-based narratives as the Fourth Industrial Revolution and competitive strategies.

Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and supported by arts commissioners Super Slow Way, the Art in Manufacturing residency is generating a densely layered and dynamic set of conversations. Spanning decades as well as materials, these dialogues are intergenerational in terms of their environmental impact and historical significance.

So far I’ve met the management team, warehouse operatives, and tonight, the lovely lady who cleans the offices. I’ve also learned that one of the company directors shares a similar family background to myself as his father worked in the mouldings industry during the 1950’s. As a child he remembers waking up to a revolutionary new toy in the form of a plastic gun (minus additional component parts).

Unbeknownst to me, until today, we even share an acquaintance as he knows a former employer of my dads. So between us our families have worked within the industry for at least 67 years. With relationships spanning Lancashire, the West Midlands and beyond.

Contemporary coincidences concerning geographically diverse counterparts like this are built upon monumentally solid 18th Century foundations. Firmly situated in the mechanisation of the first Industrial Revolution where agrarian and handicraft economies were rapidly overtaken by a burgeoning world-wide trade with enhanced material efficiencies. From socioeconomic to cultural impacts via mass-production and factory-systems, rapid technological growth equalled rapid expansion in terms of population centres and the workforce required to service such new demands.

A visit to the Lancashire Archive today also provided many a symbolic manifestation of these developments. After reviewing a map from 1892 I was able to count over 36 mills spanning the length and banks of the Leeds to Liverpool canal. Radiating outwards from these power-houses were what look like banks of terrace housing for the workers needed to power the revolution.

A review of the trade directories of the time further adds to the story with listings such as Carriers by Canal, Cotton Spinners, Cotton Waste Dealers, Iron and Brass Founders, Millwrights & Engineers and, finally, Loom-Makers to name a few.

Tomorrow brings day three at the factory and I can’t help but think about the impending Fourth Industrial Revolution and its impacts. From Smart Factories to computer automation with cyber-physical systems which communicate and cooperate with each other, alongside humans, in real-time.

Q: Will such expansion lead to a more sustainable product where waste is minimised, or even cancelled out? And Triple Bottom Line objectives are championed in terms of the equal value of planet, profit and people? Time will tell regarding such meta-questions but what remains physically and emotionally, from memories to maps to waste, tells us as much about who we are as individuals as the values our culture champions. Here’s hoping the planet can sustain it all, and us.


Further information:

Triple Bottom Line http://www.economist.com/node/14301663

Fourth Industrial Revolution https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/the-fourth-industrial-revolution-what-it-means-and-how-to-respond/

MGS Technical Plastics http://www.mgsplastics.co.uk

Lancashire Archive http://www.lancashire.gov.uk/libraries-and-archives/archives-and-record-office.aspx

Artists Website http://robynwoolston.com

Festival of Making https://festivalofmaking.co.uk