This eclectic exhibition brings together artworks by leading contemporary artists and 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.
The exhibition has been curated by Meadow Arts and Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. Curators Anne de Charmant, from Meadow Arts, and Matt Thompson, on behalf of Ironbridge Museums, introduce the exhibition here.
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 Meffreare 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.