24 Apr 2017

Q&A with Look Up artist Claire Barber

Made from digitally printed vinyl panels installed on fourteen arched windows  – The Train Track And The Basket by Claire Barber is an exploration in to transmigration and the notion that craft skills and belongings also cross routes of passage, as well as people.

Between 1848 and 1914, more than two million people arrived into Hull by ship from mainland Europe, and left by train to the transatlantic ports of Liverpool and Southampton, seeking new lives in the New World. This mass movement of people, who were in Hull for just a few hours, ended abruptly with the outbreak of the First World War – many of whom carried with them handmade weaved baskets.

Inspired by the patterns seen through double weaving and the intertwining layers crossing over layers from these baskets, Claire’s work mirrors the patterns of people weaving in and out through Hull Paragon railway station.

Here, Claire tells us more about where the initial idea for the installation came from and how she hopes people will respond to The Train Track And The Basket.

If you could explain the installation in one paragraph, what would it be?

My work explores the meeting of two seemingly disparate objects, the basket and the train track, to articulate a tangle of poetic metaphors relating to transmigration through Hull 1836-1914 that evolves out of my woven textile creation.

What is fundamental to your practice as an artist?

My work is developed through the written word – what I find out from research – or spoken word – talking directly to people in the field. Location is fundamental to my practice and I often gain inspiration through an intuitive response to the space.

Carrying a camera or note book is imperative to me as I never know when that inspiration may come – sometimes from the least likely places or people;  So grasping the phrase, sentence, idea, poetic nuance or visual reference as it is happening is a very important part of my ongoing process.

The Train Track And The Basket © Patrick Mateer

Where did the initial idea for your Look Up piece come from?

I was offered the opportunity to respond to indirect passage through Hull during the historical period 1836-1914 known as transmigration.

Initially I referenced Victorian social narrative painting made at that time particularly a painting by the British artist Abraham Solomon called ‘Second Class – the parting: ‘Thus part we rich in sorrow parting poor‘ 1854. It is a sentimental painting of a boy sitting in a train carriage with his luggage of carpetbags and fabrics. He is about to go on a long journey to Australia, and suffers from both loss and excitement at a new beginning.

I also looked in to my own travelling experiences, and my creative responses to my journeys through Outer Mongolia, Australia, New Zealand and Iceland.

How would you like people to respond to the installation?

The railway station provides an entrance designed for contemplation the open glass doorways suggesting beginnings, endings and entry to another space. The First World War memorial plaques installed on the walls reinforce this. The list of names of people from Hull who never returned from war marks a shift in daily perception and offers an emotional introspection.

The station entrance is a busy in-between space as people pass through the glass doorways to get going towards their destination. As individuals weave themselves in and out of the space, they may look closer and see the link between what they carry, and recognise they are also adding and taking new influences with them on their journey.

The Train Track And The Basket © Sean Spencer

Do you think your work will challenge beliefs?

I see it as a location for understanding textile creation.

The process could be compared with the action of double weaving composed of independently defined layers. Every time people enter and exit the building and move from the back to the front of the open glass doorways, countless invisible patterns are created.

People are a live interactive element of the work, whether they are aware of it or not. – Claire Barber

The rhythm and continuous movement of warp and weft threads as they recede from view from the front, and then reappear on the back inspires similar ways of thinking about how communities navigate the space while retaining their individualism. The influence of this likeness stimulates further reflection on the migration of actual woven technique.

Some migrants traveling through Hull from northern Europe between 1836 and 1914 would have known the technique of double weaving well taking the knowledge of how to make double-cloth with them on their journey. They would then pass on the skill as well as absorbing those of others, adapting their own techniques to the materials available to them in a new country.

Which specific Hull related places/people/things have inspired your work?

Paragon Station in Hull influenced my work, specifically the railway platform located to the side of the main station (where immigrants would have boarded to take direct trains onto Liverpool).

Riverside Quay, Victoria Dock and Victoria Dock Heritage Trail, and the views of River Humber – this is where I like to imagine immigrants arriving by steamship into Hull. Maritime Museum for paintings of steamships on the Humber during the period 1836-1914 and exhibits of actual tickets issued by the Wilson Line for peoples direct passage to America.

Also Dr Nicholas J. Evans research into the subject of transmigration through Hull, particularly his PhD dissertation ‘Aliens En Route: European Transmigration Through Britain, 1836-1914’ University of Hull, 2006.

The Train Track And The Basket will be on display at Hull Paragon Interchange until 29 June as part of Look Up.

The Train Track And The Basket © Patrick Mateer

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