Faced with a future of ever-increasing levels of AI and widespread automation, the subject of work and leisure has become an area of intense debate. How will the employment landscape look in 50 years’ time? What skills will be most highly prized in this brave new world? And what impact will the changing proportion of time spent on work have on our day-to-day lives? With these questions in mind, Quarry Bank’s new season of contemporary art exploring themes of work, leisure and the legacies of industrialisation, seems particularly prescient.
Among the line-up, Manchester-based artist Lucy Harvey presents Mutual Improvement Society; a series of outdoor sculptures reflecting on the geological and astronomical interests of the founders of Quarry Bank Mill, in line with contemporary theories around leisure and self-fulfilment. Changing Places offers an exhibition of moving image works that examine how Britain’s Industrial Revolution shaped and affected other countries around the globe. And new broadside ballads by Lancashire-based singer, Jennifer Reid, contrast the role of paid employment, child rearing, house work and other forms of labor today, with the experience of mill workers of the past.
Could there be a more powerful setting for such a season of art? After all, the North West was the birthplace of industrialisation, and Quarry Bank was one of the earliest cotton manufacturing businesses in Britain. It is from our region that the struggle for workers’ rights and better employment conditions first took off, and perhaps from a second wave of challenge and resistance may be needed as further advances in technology continue to unfurl.