'The Machinery' to start in Ironbridge

This month (September 2018) sees the unveiling of ‘The Machinery’, a new sound and visual installation developed by University of Birmingham academic Dr Caroline Radcliffe, composer and digital artist Sarah Angliss and filmmaker Jon Harrison. It will be premiered on Friday 21 September 2018 at Enginuity, one of the ten Ironbridge Gorge Museums in Shropshire.

This immersive, challenging and dynamic work explores how industrial workers react(ed) to the dehumanising and alienating effect of machinery by interacting with it and mimicking its motions. It will be featured as part of the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Festival 2018.

The three-screen installation layers a film of Radcliffe’s performance of a clog dance, based on one that can be traced back to the early 19th century, onto looped sounds and multiplied film clips taken from a working 19th Century cotton mill and a modern call centre, a working environment that shares with the cotton mills many characteristics and impacts on workers.

This clog dance, also known as The Machinery, was created by the machine operatives – mainly women and children - working in the mills. Its steps – ‘the pick’, ‘over-the-tops’, ‘two-up-two-down’, ‘weaving’, ‘shunts’ and ‘the cog’ – replicate the mechanical components and actions of the machines they were operating in stifling, noisy conditions.

The workers conceived the steps as they worked. Tapping their heels and toes in time to the machines’ rhythms, they devised steps that emphasised the machines’ rhythmic repetitions. Due to the restrictive movements imposed by the body's close proximity to the machines, and with the hands busy working them, the heel-and-toe style evolved. Its small, intricate steps use all the areas of the wooden clog soles as opposed to other, more active, travelling styles of clog dancing that covered a wider area.

After its launch, the plan is to source funding that will enable The Machinery to tour UK industrial museums and arts festivals.

This installation represents an evolution of an earlier, performance version of The Machinery, developed by Radcliffe and Angliss in 2007. This received its premiere at the ‘Repeat Repeat’ Conference, Chester University on 20 April 2007.

Subsequent performances followed at cabaret venues in London and as part of the Brighton Festival Fringe, 2007. It was then selected for a Quake contemporary dance award and performed as part of the 2008 Quake festival hosted by Derby Dance and Dance4. Other performances include the Science Museum London, 2015; the 2016 Algomech Festival in Sheffield and at Café Oto in 2017.

A film of the Algomech performance was recently featured in the ‘Marvellous Mechanical Museum’ exhibition at the Compton Verney Gallery in Warwickshire, with it being singled out in several reviews as one of the highlights of this popular exhibition.

Dr Radcliffe says, “Many theorists, including Marx, witnessed the machinery of the Industrial Revolution replacing human actions, demanding that the people operating them became mechanical, with workers reduced to human automata. The same could be said of contemporary call centres, many of which occupy the spaces that once housed the textile industries, with global outsourcing a shared feature of the 19th and 21st Centuries.

“The Machinery offers an extraordinary example of a creative challenge to automisation and alienation in the workplace. Rather than allowing herself to be subsumed by the machines she operates, the worker coalesces with the machines by appropriating their sounds and movements. In the performance, through the use of sensate technologies, we see and hear the dancer embodied in the moving machinery, literally dancing with the machines.”

Editors’ notes

For more information please contact Oliver Blackburn, Research Communications Manager (College of Arts and Law), University of Birmingham - + 44 (0) 121) 414 3932/(+ 44 (0) 121 414 8730

  • Private View and Launch Event: On Friday 21st September 12.00 – 1.30pm there will be a private view and launch event for The Machinery in The Engine Shop, adjacent to Enginuity, Ironbridge – please sign up via this Eventbrite page and contact Oliver Blackburn if you have any questions or if you would like request filming/interviews at another time.

Reviews for the earlier version of The Machinery

  • “…a brilliant 2016 film called the Machinery by Caroline Radcliffe and Sarah Angliss in which the former performs a heel-and-toe clog dance that was once tapped out daily by female workers in Victorian cotton mills. Industry turned them into automata, almost. The dancer resembles a latterday Coppélia.” The Guardian, 29 June 2018; The Observer, 30 June 2018.
  • “One of the standout pieces of the exhibition is the collaboration of Caroline Radcliffe and Sarah Angliss in The Machinery. It was inspired by women working in 19th century Lancashire mills who devised a clog dance to directly mimic repetitive sounds and movements of cotton mill machines. The ‘heel and toe’ clog dance is juxtaposed with a modern-day call centre. Mesmerising and melodic, it taps into the debates of how technology can dehumanise the workplace.” ‘Just a platform’, 8 July 2018.
  • “Lancashire clog dancing was far from a rural tradition; it was a response to the sounds of the cotton weaving mills. In Radcliffe and Angliss’ reading, the repetitious rhythm of weaving looms forms a proto-Industrial music soundtrack to a mechanoid dance.” ‘Science Museum Group Journal’, Autumn 2017.
  • ‘The Machinery’ will be available to view from Thursday 20 to Wednesday 26 September (10.00am – 4.00pm). Entrance is free of charge
  • A film of the performance of the first version of The Machinery at the Algomech Festival can be seen.
  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 5,000 international students from over 150 countries.
  • Caroline Radcliffe is a theatre maker, musician and theatre historian. She performs nationally and internationally and is a senior lecturer in Drama and Theatre Arts at the University of Birmingham. She is also a clog dancer, taught by Pat Tracey, specialising in the East Lancashire ‘heel-and-toe’ style of dance. Radcliffe danced with Tracey’s clog team, ‘Camden Clog’ and now dances with ‘Castle Clog’. 
  • Sarah Angliss is a composer, performer, sound historian and robotic artist. Her composition combines ancient instruments with electronics, field recordings and her own robotic creations. Her music often explores the uncanny, the automaton and the connections between folklore and early machines. Sarah performs live and creates music for theatre, film and installations - her work has been heard throughout Europe and the USA.
  • Jon Harrison is a filmmaker and creative director of Lovebytes Digital Arts. He has been involved in digital arts for over 25 years, commissioning and producing a wide range of innovative projects combining creative technology, arts education, heritage and digital preservation. He has recently produced films for Bradford Museums and Galleries, National Arts Education Archive and the Children’s Media Conference and co-founded of the Algomech Festival of Algorithmic and Mechanical Movement in 2016.