Practised Hands (Linen Biennale 2018)

A performance in Conway Mill Drying Rooms

Over forty years since industrial linen production ended in Conway Mill, the Drying Room was animated with automatic drawing machines, live performers and archive film. Artists Alice Clark and Jayne Cherry invited audiences to their mesmerising performance in harmony with scenes of the local linen industry from the Digital Film Archive. The past and present overlapped as the gestures of current linen workers echoed those from decades before, in an alchemy of raw materials and raw footage. 

The event each evening lasted two hours and the audience could come and go throughout the duration. Beside the performance space there was a dedicated break out room for conversation, refreshments and access to a handling collection of artefacts similar to those used by the performers and shown in the archive film projections.

Before entering the performance space, the audience watched this short film, to get into the mindset of the factory workers on their first day. 

The spark of the idea came from a collaboration by Jayne and Alice during an exchange between Pollen Studio and Platform Arts (at the time both studios were based either end of Queens Street in Belfast but have since relocated due to developers in the city).

The artists and curator created the event through visiting people and places involved in this country’s linen industry, gathering industrial scraps, growing their own flax and experimenting in Pollen Studios.  


Curated by Sinéad Bhreathnach Cashell, this partnership project by Northern Ireland Screen, Film Hub NI and Pollen Studio, was funded by BFI Film Audience Network supported by the National Lottery and possible thanks to additional support from Conway Mill, Zara Lyons, Belfast Film Festival, Thomas Ferguson Irish Linen, the GT Gallery, Robin Price, Ruaidhri Lennon and the Flax Visitor Centre. Live audio description with a touch tour was offered to visually impaired visitors by artist Hugh O’Donnell. 

Jayne Cherry is an artist living and working in the countryside of Co.Down. She makes art to try to comprehend her personal experiences and emotional wanderings. Using intricate investigations with drawing, painting, needlework, sound, installation and live art performances she attempts to decipher any covert signs and leave clues that may be helpful to those who come behind her.

Alice Clark’s background is in weaving but after graduating from Ulster University with an MA in Fine Art in 2011 she has worked in a variety of media including drawing, making, installation, and performance. All relate in a broad sense to landscape and the environment. Her practice explores ways of relating to and interacting with natural and often live objects such as trees, plants and seeds.

The performance was photographed and filmed by Simon Mills, copyright Northern Ireland Screen’s Digital Film Archive, Jayne Cherry and Alice Clark. The words are a poem by Mary Oliver. You can view a version of this at the Ulster Folk Museum Picture House from August 1st - September 1st 2023. 

For information on the archive films used click here Film List from the Event

Project Media

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