Refuge: Ropner’s Ghost Ship
An immersive, multi-media installation, incorporating applique textile, light and sound, made in response to the Preston Park Museum collections in collaboration with Alison Welsh.
Refuge takes the ethereal form of a merchant ship, dramatically lit from within, to evoke Teesside’s maritime history and, specifically, the shipbuilding legacy of the Museum’s former owner, Robert Ropner. The work combines Welsh’s use of textiles to evoke resonances of time, place and memory (Another Peace, REF2014) with Dixon’s use of the ship-form as a metaphoric vessel of narrative (Monopoly, REF2014).
The work highlights the historic narrative of Robert Ropner (an ‘economic migrant’ who travelled from Germany as a teenage orphan and subsequently became a key figure in Teesside’s shipping and ship-building industries) as a method of questioning contemporary attitudes to immigration and the ‘value’ of migrants, as revealed by the Brexit vote to leave the EU. The multiple textile banners that make up Refuge exploit the varying luminosity of different fabrics (cotton organdie and cotton interfacing) to reveal the ghostly form of the Ropner merchant vessel Somersby when illuminated by ultra-violet light.
The project examines how textile installation can engage with contemporary political issues in the site-specific context of the museum, and how a museum’s own collections can be used to inform and amplify this narrative. The public museum has increasingly become both site and subject for art installation (Putnam, 2001) and textile installation has become an established medium for public engagement within a museum context (Setterington 2017). Refuge advances this practice-led debate, through a direct and focused engagement with the local history, the collections and the audience of one particular museum.
Refuge was exhibited at Preston Park Museum, Stockton-on-Tees, 3 October to 12 November 2017; it was a Ł10,000 commission for the Arts+Heritage Meeting Point 2 programme, funded by Arts Council England.