Jo Fairfax Combines Art, Science & Engineering

Interdisciplinary artist Jo Fairfax has recently launched a new interactive art installation at Cromford Mills in Derbyshire.


Jo Fairfax

Jo Fairfax, Mr Arkwright, 2019

Jo’s work titled ‘Mr Arkwright’ is a water and cycle-powered drawing machine which takes inspiration from Sir Richard Arkwright’s early career as he started out his journey as entrepreneur, inventor and architect of the modern factory system. The installation makes reference to Arkwright’s water-frame, a water-powered cotton spinning machine which was a starting point to large scale production of cotton thread. Where the water- frame made cotton thread, this machine makes drawings!

Jo Fairfax commented, “I find Richard Arkwright’s achievements really inspiring. His mind combined engineering, architecture, mechanics, nature, housing, entrepreneurship, business and invention. This artwork, ‘Mr Arkwright’, pays tribute to his multifaceted mind in a contemporary way. I am not making a moral comment on social welfare or capitalism, but making a comment on a brilliantly inventive mind that worked in a way like most modern minds need to, crossing boundaries and multi-tasking with ease.”

Cromford Mills is a site where innovation changed the world and a key part of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. In December 2001, the Derwent Valley Mills in Derbyshire were added to the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) World Heritage List. This is the only World Heritage Site in the East Midlands.

This international designation confirms the outstanding importance of the area as the birthplace of the factory system where in the 18th century water power was successfully harnessed for textile production.

Stretching 15 miles (24km) down the river valley from Matlock Bath to Derby, the World Heritage Site contains a fascinating series of historic mill complexes, including some of the World’s first ‘modern’ factories such as Cromford Mills, Masson Mill, Strutts North Mill and Derby Silk Mill.

Jo was commissioned as part of the Creative Programme, being produced by arts organisation Beam, just one component in the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site’s Great Place Scheme funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England working to bring arts and heritage together to enhance a sense of pride and belonging to this special part of the world. The pilot programme of Great Place Schemes across England explores the importance of culture in placemaking.

Councillor Barry Lewis, Chair of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site Partnership and Leader of Derbyshire County Council said, “The Great Place Scheme is allowing us, amongst other things, to commission 3 major art installations over the next 2 years. Jo’s commission is the first, which we’re really excited about. A second installation and event is planned for Belper in the Autumn, with Japanese contemporary textiles artist Seiko Kinoshita, which we hope to link with the Japanese Season of Culture.”

Visitors to Cromford Mills can operate the drawing machine by cycling a tandem, which triggers a hydraulic mechanism to create an image. Each participant will be able to take home their water-powered drawing as a souvenir. It is hoped that this will attract a broad range of visitors of all ages to have a go and have some fun! The installation will be at Cromford until 3rd November. Any donations raised will contribute to inspiring young people about our heritage.

“The work is a fantastic example of where science, engineering and art comes together to produce something quite unusual and unique which can be experienced on different levels. It is also a great example of how art can be used to help interpret our heritage,” said Simon Wallwork, CEO Cromford Mills.

Mr Arkwright by Jo Fairfax from Beam on Vimeo.

Jo tells us more about how the concept developed “I love the site. I love the history, buildings and landscape. After having spent some time at Cromford Mills and as I thought about the project, my mind concentrated on the man, Richard Arkwright and how he has combined a whole series of elements to make such an amazing place. I started to think that rather than concentrate on one element and celebrate that, ie, innovation, engineering, water, water power, cotton, landscaping, the water frame, architecture, business, entrepreneurship, invention or consideration for workers, it occurred to me that this site was so special because Arkwright brilliantly combined (or spun) all these amazing aspects together. This is a very contemporary approach to life.

I wanted to take a similar approach, a parallel approach to the project. So, I started to look at making a piece that mirrored the elements that Arkwright established on site so that we can make a contemporary version (vision) of his approach and help tell the story of Arkwright as a result.

Over a number of weeks of discussions, thinking, designing and working out, the concept of a bicycle and water-powered sculpture, where the output was something artistic – a drawing – was developed. Then the hard work began! To bring this concept to reality. “Mr Arkwright” the water and cycle-powered automatic drawing machine is a contemporary tribute to Richard Arkwright. I hope you enjoy it!”

Kate Watson, Beam said “We are privileged as Creative Producers is to be able to collaborate with a range of artists to shine a light on the world heritage site and engage residents and visitors in finding out what makes the Derwent Valley so unique. Our programme includes a series of temporary commissions and pop up events integrating contemporary arts in heritage settings, creating opportunities for local venues to have the freedom to work with artists in new ways.”

Jo Fairfax on Axisweb >

You can find out more information about the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site via:

Facebook: @DerwentValleyMillsWHS
Twitter: @DVMillsWHS
Instagram: @DerwentValleyMillsWHS