The arrival of the Industrial Revolution brought with it an era of social upheaval and transition, whose echoes continue to reverberate throughout our culture even today. As curator of a new Hayward Touring exhibition, Jeremy Deller, who represented Britain in last year’s Venice Biennale, takes a personal look at the impact of the Industrial Revolution on British popular culture and its persisting influence.
Taking place at Newcastle’s Laing Art Gallery, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air explores how the traumatic processes, both of industrialisation itself and the chaotic transition to a more urbanised society that went with it, affected British society. Deller approaches this wealth of material like a social cartographer, revealing the ley lines of cultural history.
A key technique he uses is to focus on emblematic figures whose lives shed light on the era, including the story of Adrian Street. Born into a Welsh mining family, Street rejected a life in the mines to become a flamboyant and androgynous international wrestler. Also featured is James Sharples, a 19th century blacksmith and self-taught painter from Blackburn, famous for his much- reproduced image, The Forge.
The exhibition also makes use of music from industrial towns whose roots can be traced back through generations of workers in factories and mills – from folk music to the way in which the incessant rhythms and racket of the factory floor later came to influence heavy metal and glam rock. Music permeates the exhibition in sound installations and film. It also makes use of film and photography with a vast range of 19th century images and objects.
The radical transformation of the landscape in the early industrial era is powerfully evoked in Victorian images of factories ablaze at night, shown alongside the Laing Art Gallery’s own 19th century apocalyptic painting, The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by John Martin.
Hayward Touring, part of the Southbank Centre in London, produces exhibitions that tour to galleries, museums and other publicly-funded venues throughout Britain. It collaborates with artists, independent curators, writers and partner institutions to develop and tour imaginative exhibitions that are seen by approximately half a million people in over 100 cities and towns each year.
All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, 12 July – 26 October 26
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1. Adrian Street and his father, (1973), photo by Dennis Hutchinson, © Dennis Hutchinson 2012