W.A.M.A, The Work as Movement Archive
A project for Barton Hill Bristol, curated by Field Art Projects and commissioned by Sovereign Housing.
I was invited to Barton Hill back in June 2011 and as we walked around the estate, which had undergone a massive regeneration programme, I was struck by the invisibility of its history. Apart from the entrance columns to the trading estate and two small barn-like constructions on either side, nothing remains of The Great Western Cotton Mill that once employed most of Barton Hill’s inhabitants. The workers’ slum housing was demolished in the 1950’s and swiftly replaced by the iconic high-rise tower blocks that form the hub of the estate. Whilst the Netham Chemical Works are buried beneath what is now the Netham Park, a vast green open space (that became the site of the W.A.M.A dance), allowing us to forget the mountains of ‘Galligu’ chemical waste that children once frolicked and played in. This waste ground became known locally as the “Brillos” where heaps of waste would build up to form what has been described as a lunar landscape. There are very few signifiers hinting to this industrial past, a time of child labour and the forgotten art of meemoing, the cotton mill workers’ invented sign language that had developed as a means of communicating in a deafening environment. Although these are all welcome improvements to people’s living and working conditions, it made me feel that perhaps regeneration comes at the cost of making the past somewhat invisible. W.A.M.A was inspired by a desire to make Barton Hill’s rich industrial heritage visible once again through an invented folk dance based on people’s working movements. Before developing W.A.M.A I had staged several invented folk dances that were concerned with revealing abandoned histories. Through W.A.M.A I had a chance to achieve a desire that had been brewing to create a ritual dance for a community, which has the potential to be restaged in the future. We set about collecting together an archive of people’s working movements that would form the basis of the choreography for W.A.M.A. Surprisingly people were very willing to perform their work related movement to us in front of a camera, which often involved miming out a series of actions. We collected movements from over 100 people, across a wide range of occupations from a Lucipher to a Patcher. The archive and the dance that has developed are there to be passed on to future generations. This could take the form of a procession in costume from the Urban Park to the Netham, a recreation of the performance or simply a few turns of the Cotton Lamb maypole once a year.