Research from the Department of Drama and Theatre Arts that combines film, audio and digital performance to explore the dehumanisation and alienation of the industrial worker was shown at the opening night of this year’s Algomech Festival (17-19 May).
Taking place at Sidney & Matilda Gallery in Sheffield, the festival brought together creative practices that focus on algorithmic and mechanical movement, with more than 35 artists giving performances, talks, and workshops.
Dr Caroline Radcliffe’s film, The Machinery, combines her solo dance with a digital soundtrack and sensate technologies from composer and digital artist, Sarah Angliss. In the film, Radcliffe’s ‘heel-and-toe’ clog steps are layered with looped sounds taken from a working 19th century cotton mill in Styal, alongside a contemporary call centre, thereby emphasising the connections between the two industries.
Dr Radcliffe said: “The performance identifies parallels in working conditions in nineteenth-century cotton mills and contemporary call centres. It redefines the meaning of ‘industrial’ in today’s workplace by exploring how the cotton of the textile mills has been replaced by data that is collected by call centre workers and digitally processed globally.
“These industrial conditions, while different, affect today’s call centre workers through surveillance, repetitive strain, lack of job security, and mental health concerns. We open the piece by citing John Stuart Mill’s concerns about labour, the human and the machine”
The performance was awarded a Quake contemporary dance festival award in 2008, and received Arts Council England funding to develop the work with digital film maker, Jon Harrison, into an audio-visual, immersive art installation in 2018. Last year it was featured in Compton Verney Art Gallery’s summer exhibition, “The Marvellous Mechanical Museum” and at the World Heritage Festival 2018 at Ironbridge Gorge Museums.
Algomech has been brought together by contributions from Sheffield Culture Consortium, Sheffield City of Makers, City of Ideas, European Research Council, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
The film was also being shown at the Theatre and Performance Research Association (Tapra) symposium at Sheffield Hallam earlier on the same day.