The Hive Gallery is pleased to exhibit for the first time in Birmingham, ‘ The Machinery’, an audio-visual instillation capturing the earliest known machine dance.
The dance, performed by Dr Caroline Radcliffe and captured by film maker Jon Harrison is augmented with the sounds and movements of the Industrial Revolution’s textile industries, by composer and digital artist Sarah Angliss and Caroline Radcliffe; evoking the conditions of the 19th century factory worker with those of the 21st century call centre worker.
‘ The Machinery’ is a ‘heel-and-toe’ clog dance passed on to Caroline Radcliffe by clog dancer, Pat Tracey. Mill workers tapped their feet in time to the rhythms of the cotton machinery while they operated the machines with their hands. They developed these rhythmic patterns and steps into dances which they shared with their families and communities. ‘The Machinery’ copies the mechanical components and actions of the cotton machines through the dance’s steps.
These machines were mainly operated by women and children; by imitating the machines, they found a way to combat the mental and physical constraints of repetitive factory labour and to literally dance with the machines.
‘The Machinery’ is the earliest form of machine dance we know, predating the Futurist dances of the early-twentieth century by over a hundred years. Taken back to its original solo context - one dancer, alone with the machines – ‘The Machinery’ reflects the individual’s relationship with work and technology.
The ‘heel-and-toe’ clog steps are layered with looped sounds taken from Quarry Bank Mill, Styal, a working 19th century cotton mill, and a 21st century call centre, emphasising the connections between the two industries. In the call centre, the powerful machinery of the mill has been supplanted by digital technologies. The cotton of the textile mills has been replaced by data that is collected by call centre workers and then digitally processed.
Caroline Radcliffe: “After a year in which our working lives have changed beyond recognition, The Machinery takes on an uncanny resemblance to the now familiar home ‘zoom meeting’. When John Stuart Mill and Karl Marx commented on the relationship of technologies to the worker they could hardly have foreseen the point we are at in 2021. Far from just being a dance imitating machinery, the steps speak to us now - as they did to the nineteenth-century factory workers who devised them - about our ability to be creative in the face of adversity. I cannot express how wonderful it is to be part of Birmingham’s cultural reawakening as artists, galleries and museums reopen their doors, allowing art back into our lives.”
Sarah Angliss: “It’s great to be bringing our piece The Machinery to Birmingham, home of metal music. Whether it’s in the factories of Digbeth or the car plants of Detroit, people have always found a way to make music that dances with the overwhelming noise and relentless beat of the factory machines. And I’m proud to have had a hand in reinterpreting a dance that did so 180 years before Kraftwerk, Black Sabbath or Cybotron - a dance that was created by women."
‘The Machinery’ was conceived as an original piece of contemporary theatre; the primary aim was to recontextualise clog dancing for a contemporary audience. It could be seen as a dance about technology or as a comment on our post-industrial age. The performance was awarded a Quake contemporary dance festival award in 2008 and in 2018 The Machinery received Arts Council England and Heritage Lottery Funding and funding from the University of Birmingham to develop the work with digital film maker, Jon Harrison, into an audio-visual, immersive art installation.
The Hive’s Exhibitions and Heritage Programme Manager Rachael Cooksey explains: “We are so excited to finally bring ‘The Machinery’ to Birmingham. This exhibition had been due to open last Spring, so to have this as one of our first exhibitions to re-open with, makes it extra special. Visitors will be able to completely immerse themselves in the film and sound… a moment to forget about everything happening in the real world. Not only does it highlight the traditions of clog dancing, but we can also link it to the heritage of Birmingham and the Jewellery Quarter. During the 18th and early 19th Century, the area was full of factories, not only Jewellery but also pen nib production which Birmingham was famous for. Many of the workers were women who would themselves develop rhythmical patterns to combat the mental and physical constraints of repetitive factory labour.”
The Machinery exhibition coincides with The Hive’s Saturday Sessions, in which the building, gallery and public spaces open on a Saturday for tours and events. June’s open Saturday coincides with a café takeover by The Real Junk Food Project, saving food from supermarkets which would otherwise go to landfill and creating exciting dishes for our visitors on a donation basis.
The Hive is a community hub for Birmingham in an historic building, with an organic cafe, craft workshops, exhibitions, and event spaces. It is part of the Ruskin Mill Trust family.