I am looking through this new installation out at the Titanic Basin, and I am reflecting on what this cultural heritage really means to me. 

Through the apertures, in my mind’s eye, I see the iconic Belfast red brick buildings with their strong architectural shapes, dating from the Industrial Revolution. The exploration of this era is vital to the current use and subsequent character of the city scope as we know it today. The pervasive mechanisation of almost every aspect of daily life would have a significant effect upon the socio-cultural identity of the city’s inhabitants. Through the establishment of the factory system the people, as labour, became components of a larger hierarchal assemblage which was regulated remotely by the ticking clock. In many of the landmark buildings of the area, you can see an inbuilt clock that would enable all those without a pocket watch to know when the day began, Rather than civic provision, these clocks perhaps were more a tool for the type of control that is now synonymous with the Factory. The clock is somewhat symbolic of their arduous and repetitive daily routines, the signal to action heralded predominantly by the chiming of the bells. Time and labour became equated through the introduction of the wage, and Capitalism as we know it was born. 

The Mills depict the sociocultural effects of the factory system developed during the Industrial Revolution. The architectural language of this great city is an important element in the composition, in that it speaks of Empire, of global trade links, craft, innovation and ambition. 

Within this piece, I would like to draw comparisons with the characteristics of the materials used during the production in the factories, and the celebrated traits of Ulster men and women whose characters show strength, resilience, adaptability, reliability, dependability, the ability for hard and honest work, and above all, a great sense of humour.

The River Lagan which runs through the City stitches a common thread of provision between the two disparate activities of ship building and linen manufacturing. Water is a colourless, transparent, odourless, tasteless liquid, a compound of oxygen and hydrogen,essential for all life - human, animal, fish and plant. Even though we moan about the constant rain in Northern Ireland, where would we be without it!  

Water was essential for the growing of flax, for rotting the plant to obtain the precious fibres, in the finishing and in the dyeing processes. Cotton, the principal textile of the British Isles, was supplanted in Ulster by linen in the early 1800s, when the wet spinning of fine yarns was introduced. It is justifiably famous throughout the world. And water is essential for that “wee cuppa tae in yer haund” as well!

I look at this past with great affection and appreciation, and overall I hear rhythm - human voices, children’s skipping games, the sound of boots on cobbles streets, the sound of clock bells, the banging of the beetles and shuttles in the factories, the sound of chisels on wood and stone, the sound of hammering in the shipyards, the rythm and flow of the mighty River Lagan, and I hear my own heartbeats too, interwoven with the words - “our word is our bond”. To me, this is our cultural heritage.

 

Method:

I have hand-dyed fine Ulster Linen and threads with indigo dye, to replicate the colour of the river and the wee flax flowers. Parts of buildings are seen through the aperatures of the new steel structure, ‘Titanic’. Children’s skipping games and workers going to the shipyards are hand applied and hand quilted.