Work Life Balance

‘Work Life Balance’
steel, acrylic, Valchromat
Dixon’s workshop, Kelham Island Museum, Sheffield

‘What is the Matter? Materials, Commodities, Narratives’, 2019
Kelham Island Museum, Sheffield.

This was the first exhibition initiated by Material Voice, the collective of Sheffield based women artists that Gillian co-founded in 2018. Seven artists made works that responded to the displays in the industrial museum.

‘Work Life Balance’ reflects upon working life in the 19th and early 20th century, when long hours and unhealthy conditions for most meant that work impinged on every aspect of home life.  Gillian was interested in the pressures on those involved in the mass production of goods, generating wealth for the few, whilst being unable to afford to buy the products they made.  Whilst working conditions in more affluent parts of the world have improved, industrialised mass production and related poor working conditions have not disappeared.  In today’s globalised economy, cheap labour fuels our consumer habits, as we purchase and accumulate more commodities than ever before.   

In Dixon’s workshop, Gillian placed a 1.6m tall sculpture featuring a bunch of knife blade blanks, scaled up to the size of a human body.  Made from laser cut steel sheet, hand cut acrylic and Valchromat sheet, the bundle of forms hangs on a chaotic yet balanced structure of welded steel rod.  

Accompanying the sculpture is an installation of nearly 200 table knives, borrowed from the Hawley Collection, which fills the kitchen of the 1916 house. The installation references the infiltration of working life into the domestic sphere and provides a mass where there would have been an absence – despite spending a large portion of their lives makes these objects, many skilled cutlers and handle makers would not have been able to afford to buy them.   

‘Work Life Balance’, 2019
Knives from the Hawley Collection
Photo: Jules Lister