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ADS6: Make Film Place

Freya Bolton

Having come from a background in manufacturing and fabrication, I have a particular interest in the workshop - both as a place of occupation, and as the space in which the wider components of our built environment originate.

Prior to studying at the RCA, I completed my BSc Architecture at The Bartlett School of Architecture in 2017, before working in the Stockholm office of the interdisciplinary practice, White Arkitekter. Since 2018 I have worked in fabrication workshops across the North West of England, London and Berlin.

I am very grateful to have been the recipient of both the Burberry Design Scholarship, and the Design Education Trust 4D Project Award during my studies.

Currently, I work in the London based design and fabrication studio Mitre and Mondays.

Show Location: Kensington campus: Darwin Building, Upper ground floor

Machine and Matriarch

The project questions the perception of gender in the context of the workshop. It does this by asking:

  • How has the workshop come to be an inherently gendered space?
  • What are the systems and conditions of the workshop that can be challenged in order to propose a more inclusive space?
  • How would reconsidering the spaces that fabricate our material society change wider public perceptions of gender and labour?

Since the Industrial Revolution first integrated the female worker into the factory and the workshop, gender has been continuously constructed, reconstructed and deconstructed as significant in the spatial and social divisions of labour. Through a performance of three key characters; Weight, Weaver, and Welder, we explore how the workshop has come to be to be an inherently gendered space.

Implicitly, raising such questions explores the potential to reframe the perception of gender in today’s workshop, and pave the way to making the space more inclusive.

Through the three characters of Weight, Weaver and Welder, I have questioned the perception of gender in the workshop. The characters explore the themes of weight, motion and tension in the act of the labour. In the performance, we see how these three must work together in order to operate the weaving machine, and create the cloth. The mechanisation that was appropriated to inhibit women’s position in the workshop is removed, and instead the machine is contingent on the body.

Weight is physically clipped in to the machine, her hairy costume and ponytail swinging and the line between body and machine a blurred tangle. Her bodyweight becomes the tool which tensions the threads. 

Weaver and Welder, those opposing yet comparable industries must engage in the exchange of passing the thread back and forth between them. The machine relies on communication to time the choreography of the labour effectively. The materiality, adaptability and comfort of the costumes referencing the research that each of them represent.

Whereas the machines of the industrial workshop disproportionately conditioned the bodies of women, in the performance, the bodies of the female workers condition the machine.

The character of weight assembling the Chain.
Hairy headpiece
Spinning Mule
Precarious chain links assembled

In the workshop, hierarchy is established from weight, and this introduces us to our first character. 

The heaviness of the materials present satisfies the perceived masculinity of the setting, though this relationship between strength, masculinity and respectability was intentionally formed in the early Industrial Revolution, in the textile industries of Lancashire. 

Although spinning was traditionally women's role, the Spinning Mule was the first machine to be gendered. By classifying this mechanical work as ‘heavy’ and only to be done by men, the work was automatically classed as ‘skilled’, and paid as such. The socially constructed notion of the quality of the male spinners’ work, had concrete implications on the quantity that women could produce, directly compromising their ability to work, and pushing them out of the workshop.

This construction still rings true in industrial workshops of today, where women make up a maximum of 15% of the sector. Whereas formerly, heaviness was used to establish hierarchy, today this weight is handled by operating a series of levers and buttons, that control chains, belts and hoists - the gender of the operative is wholly irrelevant, yet nowadays overwhelmingly male.

The character of Weight is seen assembling this motif of the chain, from deconstructed, singular, enlarged and useless components. Weight must rebuild the pieces, though the resulting chain is precarious, it can barely hold itself in position, let alone withstand any load, and it requires intervention to become in any way useful.

The precarious chain is symbolic of the regulations and strategies that had to be formulated and put in place in the Industrial workshop by the male spinners to ascertain superiority - stipulations that have had lasting influence on the perception of the workshop today.

Silver soldered props. Welding Torch and Weaving Shuttle.

We see how the mechanisation of the factory is the thing that enabled and then later marginalised the female worker in the workshop, and this brings us to our next character, the Weaver.

The Weaver represents the women in the Industrial Revolution, who were deemed dehumanised machines; with the line between tool and person indistinguishable. However, the spatial distribution required for the machines of production necessitated an open floorplate to disperse the engine power throughout the workshop. The inadvertent effect of this was ultimately a collectivisation of people, and of cause - as from this we see the emergence of the Lancashire suffragettes, trade unions and the Factory Act labour regulations. The human became synonymous with the tool, and yet the tool becomes the enabler for collective resistance: mechanical power was directly transformed in to socio-political power.

Because the machines of production in the factory were ultimately at the whim of the male figureheads, we constantly see this dual function of mechanised labour simultaneously enabling autonomy, and also subjugation.

The industrial workshop became a theatre of political subjectification, disproportionately conditioning the bodies of women.

The fact that the spaces of material production are so often gendered is particularly pressing, since these are the areas in which the material components of our wider built environment originate. Gem Barton and Harriet Harriss posit that this political tension has a reciprocal effect on wider society. They state that

“our choice of gendered tools for spatial production may tacitly or even explicitly transpose gendered values into our spatial outcomes, not least because the relationship between the tools of design and creation, and the product/ output itself, is both physical and metaphysical in manifestation.”


These metaphysical perceptions of the workshop space go on to have very physical consequences. 

The third character is the Welder, which gives us an opportunity to explore the two distinct industries of weaving and of welding, and their associated connotations. Steel, and therefore the metal workshop, is strong, cold, rigid and unyielding. Fabric is soft, comforting, malleable and gentle. The weightiness of the materials, define the perception of the space they originate in, and the people that make them. However, if we strip the tools back to a skeletal form, and look at the actual motion of the body, as it operates the tools, we can see there are similarities between the two entirely differently perceived industries. In fact, in the case of welding, at the point the work is being produced - when the mask is brought down, and the weld arc is blinding, the identity of the worker is obscured.

This all shows how the conditioning of the body, and the perception of the workshop space is not contingent on the actual action of the labour, but the gendered weight we assign to the tools of production. 

Machine Diagram
Pivot One
Pivot Two
Weaver Headscarf
Weight Slippers
Welding Masquerade

Ultimately, meaningful change in the workshop context cannot be reached by redesigning the architecture or the physical components of the space; it would be counter-intuitive to the project. Instead, the premise of the proposal is to perform a sequence of spatial conditions that encourage an ideological shift of the workshop stereotype. By creating these objects, tools and costumes, that are not of the industrial workshop, but are made in a way in which they look like they could be, it reveals the constructions that have made things the way that they are, and implicitly questions if it is still necessary for them to be so.

To stage the operation of the machine as a performance between three women, explores the relationships of spectatorship and objectification, machismo and the machine, and anonymity and authorship that are ever-present in the workshop space. It initiates these conversations both for the participants, and for the audience, 

But the premise of the performance can also be applied to a broader scale, beyond the workshop. Societally, we can understand that the problems exist in this space, as the labour is visually evident, and the process contributes to a physical output. In this case that is the weaving and the fabric, though in contemporary spaces of deindustrialised labour, this evidence of how the body is conditioned through work, is harder to discern.

The constant interplay between object utility and labour identity reveal that machines of manufacturing are social tools as much as they are physical ones. Presenting this as a performance invites participants and spectators to reclaim these tools that build our wider environment, encouraging more engaged, inclusive and creative perceptions of the workshop space, and its output into society.

Chain Weaving
Mask Weaving
Weaving Welding Weaving
Spinning Mule spun yarn
Chain Diagram
Mask Weaving Diagram
Spinning Mule Diagram
Welding Weaving Hand Choreography

Burberry Design Scholarship