Landscape with Machines
28 September - 18 December 2015
This eclectic exhibition brings together artworks by leading contemporary artists, including Tony Cragg, John Davies, Jeremy Deller, Richard Long and Michael Landy, shown alongside selected pieces from the Museum's nationally Designated collection of Industrial Art. It celebrates artists' reactions to the social, technological and aesthetic changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution.
Admission to the exhibition is free of charge: open 10am-5pm Monday-Sunday.
Anne de Charmant
Director and Curator, Meadow Arts
The Darbys' first experimentations at Coalbrookdale lit a spark, which led to transformations so profound, they amounted to a revolution that involved almost every aspect of civilisation. In the arts, it led to new narratives, new forms and, eventually, a whole new purpose.
The Industrial Revolution brought about a world of huge complexity and art played a leading role in making sense of it. In this post-industrial world, the struggle for meaning has only intensified. Contemporary artists have stood up to the mark and, dealing as they do in concepts as well as form, they offer a necessary space for reflection.
Contemporary art does not judge but instead demands attention, reveals. And so it is with an impartial and subtle eye that John Davies patiently documented what had happened to this 'Green and Pleasant Land' long after the 'dark satanic mills' had fallen into disrepair. Under this Blakian title, Davies has beautifully captured images of the often-grim reality of post-industrial Britain.
The reaction to the scars left behind by industry has mostly been one of rejection, as Stuart Whipps observed in his documented walk at the border of Blaenau Ffestiniog district and Snowdonia National Park. When the latter was created in 1951, Blaenau was demarcated and left out. Its offense? To have been marked by industry; Blaenau's landscape was deemed inacceptable, almost shameful.
When surrounded by the hard-edged, utilitarian landscape of industry our own purpose can become unclear if we do not match up to the great project of productivity. With Her Furnace, Lancashire born Alison Wilding reveals this struggle and contrasts it to the intimacy and softness of a woman's body, demonstrating perhaps that strength and productivity can reside in human interactions and love.
Similarly Jeremy Deller looks at the cohesiveness that industry brought to society and how some of this remains, even when the purpose is gone and the factories have closed. Martin Parr also sought - and found - amazing social bonds surviving alongside stark deprivation in the Black Country during his 4-year photographic documentation.
Productivity, efficiency, precision, solidity are all qualities that have been assigned to machines. But what happens when the purpose is lost? Inspired by Swiss artist Jean Tinguely, Michael Landy describes the absurdity and senseless repetition that characterise a redundant machine. Similarly, when Tony Cragg piles up circular machines parts in Minster he shows each element for what it is: a redundant part of a whole that has itself been scrapped. Both artists seem to imply that man may just be a cog in the ultimate machine that is industry?
The Industrial Revolution skewed even time itself, pushing humanity hurriedly along. But ultimately a few traces on this planet is all we will ever leave behind. With A walk from Windmill Hill to Coalbrookdale, Richard Long reveals how even the Darbys' mighty iron bridge will eventually join the early South Coast Neolithic site of Windmill Hill in the distant realms of archaeology.
But something is changing; a new kind of lyricism, a new aesthetic is being sought in the vestiges of this era of gigantic structures and outsized, temple-like manufacturing plants. French photographers Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre are part of a group of artists who are now assigning the high status of ruins and meditative vistas to the post-industrial landscape. Like ruined temples in the middle ground, industry and its remains are somehow becoming part of what we choose to call the natural landscape.
Dr Matt Thompson
Director of Collections and Learning, Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust
In the eighteenth century ‘industry', a term that we now take for granted, was something of a novelty; it was new, exciting and full of promise. Throughout Great Britain things were changing; the social strata was in flux as men of humble birth were elevated to positions of power through their knowledge of mining, metalworking and engineering. Fortunes rose and fell; new inventions came rapidly one on the back of other; the very landscapes that people lived in and moved through were altering at a dizzying pace.
It was precisely this novelty, this newness that captured the imagination of so many artists who, from the later eighteenth century on, began to record what they saw. New landscapes of industry were being created; rolling mills, tin works, canals and eventually railways began to appear and, at every turn, people had to rethink their relationship to the world around them.
Landscape showing Ynys-y-Gerwyn tinplate works and river,
Thomas Hornor, wash drawing, c.1814 - 1820
Industry began to infiltrate the previously picturesque views and prospects offered by artists. Thomas Hornor's work in Wales show how industrial facilities such as the tinplate works at Ynys-y-Gerwyn could be comfortably included in an otherwise classical composition which comprised a pastoral foreground and sublime, mountainous background. The pall of smoke, which today carries such negative connotations of pollution, was perhaps viewed in a more positive light in the 1800s as a sign of prosperity and progress.
The landscape was rapidly filling with machines and perhaps the most potent of these was the railway. The steam locomotives, carriages, track and buildings together created a ‘machine ensemble' that not only transformed the look of the landscape in the nineteenth century but also the ability of people to move through it. Once again, such changes brought about new relationships between people and the landscape and in some cases, new anxieties. Turner's Rain, Steam and Speed (1844) highlights concerns at the time that the railway would inevitably force nature to the sidelines; the small, almost insignificant, hare being chased down by the unstoppable locomotive.
Rain, Steam and Speed, R. Brandard after J.M.W. Turner, engraving, 1859 - 1861.
Such a powerful image should be compared with the work of the photographer John Davies whose 1986 work Stockport Viaduct amply demonstrates the impact of the railways and industry on the landscape over the intervening 120 years.
That artists are still interested in the ways industry has shaped the landscape and our relationship to it indicates that this process of shaping is still ongoing. Clare Mitten's fascination with machinery and her transformation of natural forms into fantastical mechanical devices echoes the wonder that must have been experience when people first encountered steam locomotives such as Puffing Billy. The incongruity of Stuart Whipps' Shed (2008) is reminiscent of how out of place the tinplate works looks to us in Horner's wash drawing of the mid-1810s.
From the eighteenth century the world shifted and ideas of what constituted a landscape shifted with it. Today we are still attempting to understand this shift and the impact of industry on the world around us. It is perhaps through art that our place in this shifting world can best be explored.
- Alison Wilding - Her Furnace, 1987
- Clare Mitten - Carousel, 2011
- Clare Mitten - Carriage, 2011
- Clare Mitten - The Pollinator, 2014
- David Nash - Three Black Humps, 2015
- Faye Claridge - Inventive Offspring
- Faye Claridge - Live Event: Weighty Friend
- Jeremy Deller - All That is Solid Melts into Air
- Jeremy Deller - The Last of the Industrial Revolution From Procession, 2009
- John Davies - Viaduct, Stockport, 1986
- Marchand & Meffre - Locker Room
- Martin Parr - Father & Son, Brian & Ross Cartwright
- Michael Landy - H.2.N.Y. Kinetic Apparition, 2006
- Nathan Tromans - Untitled, Coalbrookdale, 2014
- Richard Long - Windmill Hill to Coalbrookdale, 1979
- Stuart Whipps - Fog, 2008
- Stuart Whipps - Shed, 2008
- Tony Cragg - Minster