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Dixon, S., Welsh, A., 2018.

Refuge: Ropner's Ghost Ship: engaging with contemporary issues in the site-specific context of the museum

Output Type:Conference paper
Venue:Manchester School of Art. Manchester Metropolitan University
Dates:12/4/2018 - 13/4/2018

Our paper and presentation would focus on the site-specific textile sculpture Refuge: Ropner's Ghost Ship, an Arts and Heritage commission made in response to the Preston Park Museum collections. Refuge took 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 combined Welsh's use of textiles to evoke resonances of time, place and memory (Another Peace, 2012) with Dixon's use of the ship-form as a metaphoric vessel of narrative (Monopoly, 2009).
The work highlighted 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 site was
of particular significance, as Ropner had previously owned Preston Hall, and had built the billiard room which was chosen as the site for the installation.
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.