Image credit: photo by Jasleen Kaur taken at Paradise Farm, 2018

As the inaugural project of our UP Commissions programme,The Culture Industry is an ambitious new commission by artist Jasleen Kaur, developed and presented in Rochdale with further iterations in London and Manchester. Commissioned by UP Projects in partnership with Touchstones, the borough’s Art Gallery and Heritage Museum, this multifaceted project will capture and celebrate the diverse cultural influences that have shaped Rochdale from the Industrial Revolution to the present day. Focusing on economic and linguistic change, the project outcomes include a new musical work, performances, a publication and series of portraits.

The title of this project is taken from the essay by critical theorists Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, which proposes that the management of culture is a homogenizing and exclusive process, akin to the production of standardised factory goods. In this commission, Kaur reconnects with the original definition of culture which derives from agricultural husbandry and refers to the tending of something, denoting labour and care. The project investigates which narratives are selected, preserved and presented in our institutions, archives and public spaces, and seeks to present a more nuanced reflection of culture in contemporary Rochdale.

Kaur is working closely with communities in Rochdale to uncover local histories and cultural practices, from the town’s well-documented industrial heritage, to generations of migrant and domestic labour which may be overlooked. Taking the town’s earliest example of oral history recording as her framework, ‘A View of the Lancashire Dialect’ by Tim Bobbins (1750), new narratives from a cross-section of Rochdale’s residents will provide content for a contemporary ‘Dialect Dictionary’ for Rochdale. This process recognises the intimate tradition of passing down heritage by song or spoken word through generations, while capturing the unique linguistic diversity of Rochdale in which over seventy languages are now spoken.

These oral histories will also be translated into a new musical composition that will be performed by a local women’s choir, and further new performances will be developed in recognition of local everyday cultural practices. Reflecting the 18th Century industrialist portraits held in the Touchstones' archive and informed by her time spent in Rochdale, Kaur will seek out significant and influential Rochdalians for a series of new portraits. Kaur’s project will foster new dialogue and exchange between communities and across generations, resulting in new standalone artworks as well as redressing the institutionalised narrative of Rochdale’s cultural history.

The Culture Industry is made possible through generous funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Foyle Foundation and Arts Council England.

Jasleen Kaur (b.1986) is an artist currently living and working in London. Her work is an ongoing exploration into the malleability of culture and the layering of social histories within the material and immaterial things that surround us. Her practice examines the hierarchy of histories and labour using a range of mediums and methods including sculpture, video, conversation and writing. Recent commissions include Glasgow Women’s Library, Market Gallery, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Eastside Projects and Hollybush Gardens. Her work is part of the permanent collection of the Royal College of Art and Crafts Council.

UP Commissions supports artists to make ambitious and experimental new work for the public realm. These may range from proposals that respond to the environment where work is produced, to interdisciplinary collaboration, to pieces that are co-produced with communities. Fundamental to UP Commissions are questions that provoke thought about what constitutes public art, what community is, and how we inhabit and co-exist in places and spaces in the 21st century. To find out more about UP Commissions, please click here.