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Therbligs and the Beauty of Movement

— March 2013

Associated media

Apprentice Nicholas Clarke in the Mother Reel storage bay at SCA Prudhoe Mill in Northumberland. Photo by Lucy Carolan/Wideyed

8 March – 13 April Mezzanine Gallery, New Art Exchange, 39–41 Gregory Boulevard NG7 6BE

In the early 1900s, motion study pioneers Lillian and Frank Gilbreth used film, photography and 'therbligs' – units they invented to notate the movements workers make when performing tasks – as tools in their analyses of industrial practice. Inspired by these therbligs comes the latest exhibition to be shown at New Art Exchange, Nottingham: ‘Therblig’.

‘Therblig’is an exhibition of new work by Wideyed’s Lucy Carolan and Richard Glynn, produced in response to observations made in February 2013 at the SCA Hygiene Products’ tissue mill in Prudhoe, Northumberland. The exhibition, which is part of the FORMAT International Photography Festival, responds to this year’s themes for the festival – ‘factory’ and ‘mass production’.

Lillian and Frank Gilbreth used long-exposure photography and film as tools to study the work habits of manufacturing and clerical employees and continue to influence workplaces to this day. Wideyed’s Richard Glynn said ‘Therblig’ was the collective’s first exploration of industrial practice and provided some interesting insights into people’s perception of factories.

Today, factories have perhaps become more anonymous – their external architecture gives little away of the products they make and the processes inside. This installation presents pairs of images that contrast the external viewpoints of the factory with images of the interior, revealing the people and processes that lead towards the finished product
The video footage used in ‘Therblig’ has been inspired by or directly drawn from factory floor video feeds that show, in a sense, the pulsing heart of the machinery that drives Prudhoe Mill.

In the century since the Gilbreth’s used hand cranked motion-picture cameras to film factory workers, imaging-making and industrial technologies and practices have all greatly advanced. One legacy of the Gilbreth’s innovative use of imaging is that, in a neat reversal, present day factory employees themselves use the same tools in their own work – cameras inserted into the machines allow the workforce to keep a constant eye on how these are functioning.

‘Therblig’is supported by SCA tissue mill in Prudhoe, Northumberland and is a New Art Exchange EXPOSURE Award exhibition as part of FORMAT13, the sixth edition of the festival. For full details of the wider festival programme see:


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