Making Space:Sensing Place

In October 2009, along with artist Thurle Wright, I was awarded a Making Space:Sensing Place Fellowship; part of the HAT: Here and There International Exchange Programme, managed by A Fine Line:Cultural Practice. The Fellowship includes residencies with Britto Arts in Dhaka, Bangladesh, with Arts Reverie in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, with The V&A Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green, London and with The Harley Gallery, Nottinghamshire. Working and collaborating with artists and craftspeople from the UK, Bangladesh and India, responding to the collections and spaces we encounter and sharing these experiences through a touring exhibition and educational workshops.

This blog, which is still developing and being added to, is a record of my experiences during the MS:SP Fellowship. Steven Follen.

Monday, 22 February 2010

City Metalworking


After visiting the museum, I set of with Sagor to explore the metalworking area of Dhaka, to revisit some of the workshops we had glimpsed when visiting the rickshaw workshops earlier in the month. I was interested to see the workshops, the techniques they used and the objects they made.
Again the workshops were very specialist, often dealing with just one process, in this case folded sheetwork. The workshop contained a sheet metal folding press, some blocks set in the ground for hammer work and hand tools.
The work extended out into the road where metal was cut, folded and joined together. The company produced sheet metal shelves, cupboards, wardrobes, boxes and furniture.
Within the metal working area of the city, the metal stock holders are also situated close together, often within the same street.The metal is sold by weight.


This worker was forming the edges of strips of metal which would be put together to create shutters. He worked in a space just along from the main workshop, by the side of the road, using a wooden mallet and a length of railway sleeper as a straight edge.
Watch him working here: Sheet Metalwork 01.
Cycle rickshaws came to Bangladesh in the 1950's/ 60's and are used across the country both in rural areas aswell as filling the capital city in their thousands. Their is a brisk trade is spares for repair aswell as components for new ones. In parts of Dhaka shops sell all the elements to allow you to build your own rickshaw, including the modified and strengthened cycle frames, suspension units, the subframes at the rear of the rickshaw, seat 'buckets' and bumper bars.
A small company of Blacksmiths specialised in making the subframes for the rickshaws
I spent some time watching them working together; forming the metal, punching holes and slots, bending and forming, checking and measuring the metal. All the time working with very little equipment, great skill and efficiency.
It was interesting to see how the used their legs to help lift the heavy hammer, the accuracy of the blows when punching, the lack of machinery, the use of the metal slab to check the bends ran equal and the ends were parallel and the coordination between the workers. Watch them working here: Blacksmiths 01
This man folded strips of metal to be added to the subframes. He folded them using a punch like a hardy hammer and a v block or hardy. Watch him working here: Blacksmiths 02
Further down the road and around the corner was another group of blacksmiths workshops. Here they made punches, chisels, sheet metal sheers, farming implements and traditional knives used in the preparation of food.
Watch them working and listen to the rhythm of the work here: Blacksmiths 03
Around the next corner a machine workshop turned down lengths of steel ready for threading.
Watch them working here: Latheworker.

As it started to get dark we made our way through the tight alleys and streets. I met a wonderful man who owned a spice mill, grinding turmeric and selling chilli and we talked whilst Sagor booked a small band and a truck for an event Owen was arranging.
Further along down narrow lanes and behind shops was a small dark and fume filled workshop where three young men worked together casting car door handles in white metal.
They used the sand casting process, packing special sand into an open frame around a model or pattern of the object to be cast.
A fine dust powder is used to act as a release between the pattern and the sand and between the two halves of the mould.
The pattern is removed from the sand and sprues or feeder lines are cut into the two halves of the mould. When the halves are placed together, molten metal is poured into the mold and allowed to cool.
All metal when heated gives off fumes. The molten metal was kept in a liquid state in a crucible set into the ground and surrounded by bricks. The caster would dip a ladle into the crucible as each mold was ready.
Watch them working here: White Metal Casters
The men blended and packed the sand into the frames by hand. when the metal was cool the cast would be removed and the sand cleaned from the metal. The sand is remixed with the other in the centre of the room, ready for re packing.
We left the wokshop and made our way through more alleyways and tight roads. It was getting late into the evening and still the area was buzzing, workshops continued to work late into the night. The people seemed to be making the most of the cooler night air, work seemed to stretch across very long hours.
We travelled through a street with shop after shop selling cycles. I struggle to understand the economics of this, whilst shops selling the same product in a focused area would act as a centre for people to visit, they would know where to go to buy those items made sense but at the same time would increase competition.
Further along we passed a workshop making incubator hoods, large shallow cones of sheet metal used to shield lamps and provide heat when raising chickens. Beautiful big shapes made from sheet metal.
One man riveted the cone edges together and fitted a hood whilst another man and his son (?) folded edges along the edge of the strips of metal.
Watch them working here: Sheet metalworking 02
It was getting close to 9.00 in the evening, we jumped in a rickshaw and headed for home.