Jon England: Hour Hands

Image Credit: Jon England Contains Art

Market House Museum, 32 Swain St, Watchet TA23 0AD

[email protected]

Wednesday 27 March 2019 – Friday 08 November 2019
Opening Hours: Daily

From the mid-19th to early 20th century, many hands were employed extracting and transporting iron ore from the Brendon Hills to the furnaces of Ebbw Vale, South Wales. The ‘ten-hours men’ and the ‘nine-hours men’ (who also worked five hours on Saturdays) spent up to fifty hours per week below ground - boring, blasting and shovelling. Meanwhile many ‘old salts’ and young mariners traversed the treacherous tides of the Bristol Channel, transporting ore from Watchet’s West Quay to Newport Harbour.

In Jon England’s response to this industrial history, iron and salt have become his core materials. Working with what is a scarce archive of photos of the mineral line in operation, he is creating works to be installed across Watchet during 2019. The first will be unveiled in the façade of the Market House Museum on 27th March coinciding with their annual opening and 40th year celebrations.

The men who worked extracting the iron ore from the Brendon Hills were a largely migratory and transient population, many having relocated from Cornish tin mines. The legacy of their toil is most visible in the Burrow Farm Engine House (the only surviving engine house building on the Brendon Hills) and the astonishing 1km long Incline between Comberow and Brendon Hill, (a major engineering achievement with its 1:4 slope). It is also encountered in the crumbled chimney stacks and surviving gooseberry bushes (escaped from historic cottage gardens at the top of the incline) that nourished a once-bustling community.

In Jon England’s hands the humble iron nail has become a material that resonates with this past – a universal symbol of construction spanning the industrial, domestic and maritime but also one with an important local story to tell. Making his ‘nail works’ employs Jon’s hands in a repetitive and physical process of hammering thousands of wire nails into bespoke panels. The nails’ various sizes create a dot-matrix image, in which each pixel re-animates historic photos in a way that echoes how they would have appeared in the print newspapers of the time. The absurdity of the artist’s process – an act of devotion or penance can pay only partial homage to the labour of the men’s whose hands worked the mineral line and who left a lasting impression on this community.

This year, Contains Art will be siting works in and around Watchet rather than in our shipping container gallery as normal, in anticipation of the redevelopment of the East Quay which will include a substantially larger gallery for Contains Art, alongside a dedicated educational and community space. We anticipate building work to commence this year. This project by Jon England is the first commission in our season of off-site programming. 

During the Easter holidays we will be running two messy art workshops on 10th and 17th April from 2pm-4pm. We welcome families to join us in our gallery and container courtyard for fun and festivities at East Quay, Watchet, Somerset, TA23 0AQ.


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Working towards a South West where talented artists thrive, and a resilient and connected visual arts ecology that inspires more engaged and diverse audiences to value and advocate for its work.

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