In and Out
Watercolour and ink on paper
These layered sketches represent the complex story of disabled people in the world of the Industrial Revolution and today: inside and outside the factories, our inclusion in and out of society, written into and out of history.
Even though disabled people were present in the 19th century workforce and played an active role in everyday life, our place in history has been reduced to being hidden away in institutions. Disabled people became labelled as burdens, unable to earn their keep.
In this industrialist, capitalist society, you were only given value if you could work hard. This thinking continues today, in disability policy and in widespread disableist attitudes. I want to challenge this measure of worth.
Four realistic watercolour and ink sketches of industrial buildings and machinery at Leeds Industrial Museum. Two are coloured fairly true to life, the other two are black ink drawings on multicoloured washes of watercolour paint. They are hung on wooden hangers so that they overlap each other.
BSL translation of Robin Tynan's statement.
Translated by Khalid Ashraf.
I engaged with various aspects of the subject of Any work that wanted doing through sketches on location that reflect my observations of the locations and relevant machinery. I spent time reflecting on my thoughts and emotions related to various elements of this subject and the locations involved. This has led to a series of layered sketches and abstract expressionist watercolour paintings that show the complex relationship of disability and the workplace.
I've produced a series of layered sketches that show the complex narrative of disabled people in the world of the industrial revolution. I’ve made drawings of the workplaces themselves to represent where disabled people “existed” and the machinery they worked on that gave them social value. Interspersed and layered over the drawings are abstract watercolours that depict concepts such as my own emotions and responses to the research.
These images are displayed in the museum on hangers. They are hooked on to the fencing which surrounds the spinning mule and its belt drive and this means they can be moved around and across each other, partially covering and revealing the pictures, moving in and out of view.
I was particularly drawn to the phrase “hard workers not burdens” and what this says about our relationship with disability both during the height of industrialisation and now. It is important to remember that disabled people in the 19th century weren’t actually hidden away, but they have been edited from the common narrative of the time. In fact, they were present in the workforce, playing an active role in everyday society. It is a fallacy to presume that disabled people were hidden away in sanitariums, poorhouses or other institutions and were never seen. However, this emphasises the prevailing narrative of a rising industrialist, capitalist society: that you are only given value if you can work hard. To not work hard, to not “earn your keep” meant you were a “burden”. This is a sentiment that continues today as a pillar of contemporary disability policy from the government and prevailing disablist attitudes.
If this is the case then who were the disabled people outside of the workplace? What was the value of a person within and without the buildings that they worked in?
My artwork therefore attempts to show a more complex narrative. Disabled workers of the time, much like now, are complete and valued individuals regardless of their contribution to the workforce. On the other hand, the value and variety of disabled people’s contribution to the workforce and to the textile industry shouldn't be overlooked. By depicting multiple objects and locations I aimed to show the variety of skills that disabled people offered within their communities. This shows that they weren’t limited to the role of “disabled person” - merely one dimensional characters in our social histories - but, as today, as varied and valuable as anybody else.
From Robin's sketchbook