From Weft to Wight!

crazy woman

My good self performing in durational Live Art / Dance work ‘The Last Knit’, by Annika Kompart. Image: Natalia Iwaniec

“In weaving, the weft is the term for the thread or yarn which is drawn through the warp yarns to create cloth. Warp is the lengthwise or longitudinal thread in a roll, while weft is the transverse thread. The weft is a thread or yarn usually made of spun fibre. The original fibres used were wool, flax or cotton.

Hand looms were the original weaver’s tool, with the shuttle being threaded through alternately raised warps by hand. Inventions during the 18th century spurred the Industrial Revolution, with the “picking stick” and the “flying shuttle” (John Kay, 1733) speeding up production of cloth. The power loom patented by Edmund Cartwright in 1785 allowed sixty picks per minute.

A useful way of remembering which is warp and which is weft is: ‘one of them goes from weft to wight’.” (Extracts from Wikipeda)

katy7

Image and Textile Installation in Detail: Katy Devereux

Local Textile Artist Katy Devereux, Vocal Artist Georgie Buchanan and myself are soon to embark upon Warp+Weft: a multidisciplinary journey through Textiles, Dance and Sound! We doubt it will go from weft to wight as planned, since creative journeys never do stick to a straight path, but nevertheless, we’re very excited about where it might wander. (Just watch out for the ‘shoddy’*, we don’t want anything getting stuck in that pipe!)

To begin, here’s our 100 word extravaganza of a description for the lovely folk at The Arts Council:

Warp+Weft is a two month interdisciplinary collaborative Arts project, interweaving the skills and experiences of local women in Art and Industry to create a multi-layered journey encompassing Textiles, Dance and Sound. Through a series of workshops with a group of local ex-Mill working women aged 55+ the project will engage with Calderdale’s rich Textile heritage to explore wider themes of womanhood, work and industry. It will culminate in a residency followed by a Live Event and Installation reinterpreting local heritage though experimental art and sound, taking place at the 1830 Gallery at The Artworks during Heritage Open Weekend. The project will be documented through a diverse range of media, including blog, film & photography.

Since there’s no word count on this blog, I’ll begin at the beginning. Three ’emerging’ artists (that’s what they call us!), sat in a room. Look out at hillside and mills. Consider collaboration. Put heads together. Goes a little something like this…

Apparently, landscapes remind a person of who he or she is. In the belief that we can only begin where we are, we asked; what about the Mills that are written across our local landscape? Such man-made industrial environments and machinery were at the forefront of a revolution which changed the way human beings lived and worked forever, not only in our local region, but across the world. What of the women who worked in them in years gone by; our families, our ancestors, our sisters across time? We make Art, they made Industry. What’s the connection between past and present, people and place, art and industry? How can we explore those loosely bound threads and weave it all together anew?

Through a process of excavating the stories of a group of local women, combined with construction, occasional deconstruction, and live performance, this collaborative project aims to re-envisage and re-animate The Artworks’ 1830 Gallery, formerly Shaw Lodge Mills (one of the longest running Textile Mills in the local area, owned by the Holdsworth Family, it remained open until as late as 2008).

The Artworks; left, exterior of the building, right, interior of the 1830 Gallery

things fall apart

Things Fall Apart, Exhibition by Katy Devereux, 2010

Based in an understanding of the often under-appreciated embodied intelligence present in all kinds of physical work, the project will explore the experiences of a group of women who worked in Calderdale’s Textile Industry. We want to listen to their stories and experiences, and yup, you guessed it, interweave these with our arty shenanigans!

Perhaps we’ve been reading too much Studs Terkel (author of bestseller ‘Working: People talk about what they do all day and how they feel about it’. Check it out, it’s fascinating and we highly recommend), but we want this project to offer a space for the re-interpretation of the humanity and poetry of the Mill worker in texture, sound and motion, as remembered and lived through the body by local ex-Mill workers.

We want to explore the relationship between man (or woman, in this case) and machine. Between community, industry, transience and transformation. Between three art-forms traditionally associated with the feminine, and the inner workings of the factory floor in the once great Textile Industry of our local area.

Once upon a time in the days of old, workers kept time by song. When the industrial revolution arrived, mechanical time took over and workers would lipread over the sound of heavy machinery. Repetitious and laborious tasks were not universally hated, although they were by some (we have already gathered many a tale of health & safety nightmare, accidents and incidents occurring none too infrequently at times); yet several women have already spoken to us about their enjoyment of this work, of being ‘tomboys’, of it’s smells and sounds.

GEORGIE

Vocal Artist Georgie Buchanan making magical sounds with a ragtag of instruments and her exquisite voice in an attic somewhere. Sneaky peek of her tones on the link below:

One woman who worked in the Mills in latter years even has a theory that certain classic Northern Soul dance moves originated in the movements made by Mill workers! We wonder, can we as live human performers become an art machine of sorts, a human choir choreographed, with machinery all mingled in with the found sounds and noises made possible by the next step in the industrial revolution – electricity! For this, electronic musician and multi-instrumentalist Anthony Smith, who produces under the name ‘Ruma Gilah’ (Malaysian for ‘Madhouse’), will join us.

We’re not sure what it will look or sound like, because there’s still so many stories to hear and experiences to encounter, but we hope you enjoy following us, from weft to wight or wherever we go.

Too rarely is the honest work of local people in industry honoured. So many things these days are boxed up and prettified, dissociated from where they came from, and much gets lost in the process. This project is a chance to tell some stories differently: it won’t be the same, because everything changes, but it will be a little bit of a lot of things, all woven together again.

I’ll leave you with a little dance I did a while ago. Complete with the dulcet tones of our very own Yorkshire born David Thomas Broughton, on forgetting where you come from and returning, along with some words of wisdom on the value of movement by the legendary Dance Artist Steve Paxton.

 

*A local lady we met at an art group told us about ‘shoddy’ getting stuck up the pipes where she worked. Here’s the Wikipedia definition: “Recycled or remanufactured wool. Historically generated from loosely woven materials. Benjamin Law invented shoddy and mungo, as such, in England in 1813. He was the first to organise, on a larger scale, the activity of taking old clothes and grinding them down into a fibrous state that could be re-spun into yarn. The shoddy industry was centred on the towns of Batley, Morley, Dewsbury and Ossett in West Yorkshire, and concentrated on the recovery of wool from rags. The importance of the industry can be gauged by the fact that even in 1860 the town of Batley was producing over 7000 tonnes of shoddy. At the time there were 80 firms employing a total of 550 people sorting the rags. These were then sold to shoddy manufacturers of which there were about 130 in the West Riding. Shoddy is inferior to the original wool; “shoddy” has come to mean “of poor quality” in general (not related to clothing), and the original meaning is largely obsolete”. (Source: Wikipedia)

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