Elena Adorni, our Community Commissions Assistant, who has recently moved to Pendle, worked with filmmaker Graham Kay to interview over 50 people from the community for Suzanne Lacy’s major project, Shapes of Water, Sounds of Hope. Here she shares her reflections on the time she has spent in the mill and with the people who are so connected to it.
Within the hectic countdown, ecstasies and feverish days that are preceding Suzanne Lacy’s Shapes of Water, Sounds of Hope, I finally find a spare few hours to reorganise my thoughts before the last lists, emails, phone calls, singing, testing, invites, time schedules and (most important) general excitement for the celebratory weekend starting on Thursday 29th September at Brierfield Mill. It will be something I tell to my children and grandchildren, wherever I will grow old.
In the past month I had the privilege of building a research project in collaboration with Mao Mollona and the filmmaker Graham Kay. More than 50 people from Pendle came over to Brierfield Mill and shared with us their thoughts around the past, present and future of work in this region. The interviews that we collected are going to be projected on the first floor of Brierfield Mill during the three day event that will see tours, performances, singing, a film production and a banquet all take place within 72 hours. The mill will be alive again and people passing by will hear sounds and voices as they once used to hear the noise of the looms.
The interview dates strangely coincided with my moving to Brierfield. I was really happy for Suzanne’s decision to choose the mill as a location for the interviews, as it is a space where I feel comfortable and I thought that might help the flow throughout the conversations. In the mill I learnt to recognise the smell of cotton, I watched the different shades of orange and blue light coming from the big windows on the first floor; I walked through the rooms following the cracks in the walls as maps to some treasure and I spotted in the floor a point where through a small hole, the immense space underneath opens up to your eyes.
This building is a symbol for Brierfiled and Pendle and yet is a symbol for me. It represents an historical shift in Brierfield’s working and cultural life and it is also the reason that strangely brought me to this place. In the last month or so it became my second home, as my first home was indefinite, still in between two places, and less philosophically full of boxes, a leaky ceiling, charity shops furniture everywhere and without a functioning shower.
I was worried about interviewing so many people in such a short amount of time, as in my practice I usually spend hours (sometimes days) nurturing a particular empathy. However the goal of the research was not to reach a level of human intimacy with the subjects in half an hour but to design an anthropological map, able to trace and to tell the past and the future of work in Pendle.
As people started coming in and standing in front of Graham’s camera, the voices started flowing in the mill, composing a symphony with the room’s echoes. The ex mill workers traced stories of struggle, looms, shifts and also memories of comradeship and friendships, whilst the younger generations shared thoughts on integration and other economic issues that are inevitably effecting Pendle in the aftermath of the cotton industry in East Lancashire. I had long discussions about Brexit and colonies in India. I talked for hours to a Muslim man about Isis, how this is affecting the local community and what jihad really means. A strong, powerful woman that struggled all her life to have her rights recognised, and a man told us about a racial attack he was victim of. Others told us of when the first Pakistani workers came over and were ‘adopted’ by British families.
A few days ago I went to the only pub left in Brierfield and I met Jack Spencer. When we saw each other we talked like old friends at the bar. I met Mariam in the supermarket and I helped her carrying her bags home. She showed me a picture of the spinning canteen. Justyna’s dad helped me hanging wallpaper on the walls and I visited her in her flat in Colne road.
Every evening, after interviewing the last person, I closed the big black gate of the mill and just before going back to my messy house I would walk to the top of the hill, reflecting on that day’s conversations. I reflected on the importance of collecting heritage and voices and on how to share the research back to the community. As my interviewees during these moments I felt proud of being part of this community. They have helped me to remember the reason why I have chosen to say goodbye to my friends and to live away from my family and country in order to be embedded here, in this place that now is my home.
I have been able to experience Suzanne’s incredible power to generate connective energies between people. It is these connections, which are crucial for the life and future of the Pendle community.