Seamus Killick: The Cotton Doffer Reclamation of 2069 at Weavers Factory
Written by Harry Hunter
Photography by Mike Beard
Situated in the shadow of the Saddleworth Moor, The Weavers Factory is a tall, Grade-II listed Georgian building, nestled in a row of terraces that were formerly a pre-industrial weavers’ factory – hence the name. Launched in April 2019, this is a multifunctional space comprising a gallery, workshop, gift shop, tea bar and garden that focuses on young, as-yet-unknown artists and older, neglected artists. Launching a new art exhibition on the first weekend of every month, The Weavers Factory intends to become the best, and most radical art gallery in Greater Manchester.
The year is 2069 and Saddleworth is ravaged by fire. In this imaginary historical timescape 50 years into the future, the ‘Cotton Doffers’ – those children that once removed cotton and fiber from spinning frames – now roam a primitive, dystopic landscape having overthrown their Masters. To mark their reclamation of the moor, the Obelisk on Alderman’s Hill that overlooks Greenfield towards Oldham, has been daubed with graffiti that tells of their genesis:
“The story goes them flames licked the ground fur long long times. Oh! And that hot yellow dot kept beatin down ard and du bigger wuns perish. anyway ous lot started anew and taken back the mills for us yungers”. – The Children of the Obelisk.
As a visual representation of Industrial Revolution-era child exploitation, Killick’s exhibition is a smorgasbord of pottery, puppetry, sculpture, painting and childlike scribblings to explore the concept of inherited trauma on the future generations of England’s Industrial North. As one makes the pilgrimage to The Weavers Factory it becomes evident that this exhibition could only be housed in the shadow of the Saddleworth Moor in the civil parish of Uppermill – an area that is becoming increasingly subject to large moorland fires – with the most recent occurring just in April.
Spread across The Weavers’ three floors, I was first greeted by hymnal music as I entered The Garden Gallery. The choral sounds of ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ are playing out in a space dressed as a chapel – there were light blue/green coloured sheets of acetate applied to the windows resembling stained glass. Killick’s desired effect here is to represent ‘A Day in the Life of the Doffer’ – attending church and singing hymns in unison in the morning followed by hard graft until sundown. To eerie effect, Killick contrasts religion with the toil of child labour in a darkly comic way and I couldn’t help but recall The Dark Satanic Mills of William Blake’s Jersusalem. At its centre, this makeshift chapel is host to a grotesque lifestyle bust of a Saddleworth Cotton Mill Owner who oversees his young Cotton Doffers who are represented as puppets pinned to the walls, a metaphor made in plaster and wax. This is Uppermill pre-moorland blaze and as I walk upstairs 50 years into the future, Killick controversially suggests that these children are reborn from the ashes of the fire.
The Grand Salon Gallery section of The Weavers is in direct contradiction to the space below. Here the acetate is yellow, orange and pink – a fire has decimated the land and ‘The Children of the Obelisk’ appear to worship the sun as one would a God. On the walls hang paintings of feral children dancing around concrete structures and a 3D sculpture of an abandoned home belonging to a former Mill Owner stands tall in the room’s epicentre. One could argue that Killick is too frenetic and unfocused yet the apocalyptic undertones of his work are present throughout – whether working with pottery, sculpture or producing illustrative-style drawings using pencil and pen – Killick’s grotesque yet alluring form translates across various forms of media.
To the side of the gallery lies the ‘blue movie room’, a crevice in the wall that screens a short bio on Killick and the inspiration/process involved in creating these works. Killick isn’t going to reveal any definitive answers to this exhibition (if indeed there are any) and it’s in keeping with the conceptual nature of the exhibition that this short film screened at the exhibition’s end, not the start.
As will remain with all future exhibitions, the third floor of The Weavers – The Loom Shop Gallery – is a space devoted to support the featured artist, housing past works that can be purchased on-site. The Loom Shop currently hosts an unseen collection of Killick’s original paintings produced when he was based in Leipzig, showcasing a more experimental nature that contrasts with his more earnest, research-focused work that has an historical bent. As a multifaceted gallery, the third floor also acts as a workshop that plays hosts to a variety of creative events including Zine making, art jewellery, photography and lampshade making classes.
Seamus Killick is a welsh-born, Glasgow-based multimedia artist. He graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in 2014 before relocating to Leipzig where he exhibited widely as a practitioner and in residence. The Cotton Doffer Reclamation of 2069 is his first solo exhibition in the UK and the first recipient of the Factory’s annual bursary.
‘The Cotton Doffer Reclamation of 2069’ is a dark, twisted and bleakly comic exploration of Saddleworth’s industrial past imbued with folk horror and a ‘Lord of the Flies’ style allegory. Housed in a one-of-a-kind space, The Weavers Factory is a champion of the upcoming and the unfairly neglected and I would recommend anyone to attend any exhibition curated by the owners – Julian Bovis and Nigel Durkan – who are all at once warm, inviting and eager for attendees to spread the message of this ‘art house’ in the hills.
‘The Cotton Doffer Reclamation of 2069’ is on at The Weavers Factory from 4th May – 26th May.
Our guest blogger is Harry Hunter, a Copywriter and Literature postgraduate based in Manchester. His writing focuses primarily on memory, hauntology and psychogeography and how these interrelate to forgotten places in the North West. Follow him on Instagram.
Mike Beard is an event photographer with a natural affinity for creating quality in-the-moment images to be used by organisations in their publicity. Examples of his work can be found on his website. www.amicablephotography.co.uk
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