Colne Valley Museum sound installation transforms 1840s kitchen in Golcar

Walking into an 1840s kitchen, the last thing you might expect to confront is a modern sound installation. Yet the “brave” decision is what awaits those visiting the Colne Valley Museum.

In 2019 the Golcar museum asked Liverpool-based artist Paul Rooney to make a piece of work for the site and he chose to create a sound installation for the kitchen of the Pearsons, who lived at the premises in the 19th century.

The piece, A Million Darkened Kitchens, is made up of fragments of female vocal sounds – intakes of breath, scraps of song and speech – that are chopped and sliced in an echo of the repetitive tasks of kitchen work and is on show every weekend until Sunday, November 27.

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The aim is to create an imaginative space within which a listener can contemplate the millions of moments and experiences of a domestic kitchen.

The kitchen at the Colne Valley Museum in Golcar.The kitchen at the Colne Valley Museum in Golcar.
The kitchen at the Colne Valley Museum in Golcar.

It also aims to shed light on the historically neglected space of the domestic kitchen – its “numbingly repetitive, thankless labour, its subversive creative resistances”.

Rooney says: “I have made a number of sound art works for various places but working on the piece for Colne Valley Museum was especially enjoyable. The museum is volunteer run, and so everyone involved with the museum was passionate about it and committed to making sure it continues and prospers. “Commissioning a sound art installation to be installed in their 1840 era kitchen was quite a brave thing to do, in relation to what people may expect in a space like that, but everyone at the museum has been determined to make it a success, especially Susan Whitwam – a museum volunteer for over 50 years - who contributed directly to the piece and the video about it.

"Everyone who goes to the museum remarks on the uniquely friendly atmosphere of the place and how the weavers cottages are brought to life by the volunteers. I hope my sound work adds to this already rich experience for visitors.”

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The main voices in the piece connect with the history of the museum and with women’s history by involving Susan, who has been a volunteer at the museum since it opened in 1970, and 81-year-old folk singer Frankie Armstrong.

In keeping with the radical history of the Colne Valley Museum, Frankie was a member of the Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger’s The Critics Group during the 1960s folk revival, and she later edited an anthology of women’s song in 1979.

The phrase “a million darkened kitchens” that is repeated in the piece is from a 1911 poem inspired by women suffragists and strikers that Frankie has recorded a number of times through the years.

Colne Valley Museum, a Grade II listed building, is housed in four cottages built in the 1840s by a family of independent cloth manufacturers, the Pearsons, whose relatives still live in Golcar today.

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