Exhibition examines decline in Kirkcaldy’s linoleum industry

Jeremy Hutchison. Pic by FPA
Jeremy Hutchison. Pic by FPA
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A new exhibition exploring the decline of the linoleum industry in Kirkcaldy is coming to Kirkcaldy Galleries from Saturday.

Fife Contemporary is bringing the new work by London-based artist, Jeremy Hutchison to town.

Tracki-G in action

Tracki-G in action

And it’s called Limomolum after a famous Billy Connolly sketch on how people couldn’t pronounce the word!

It runs at Kirkcaldy Galleries from March 11 to June 11.

The exhibition which is a mixture of audio-visual work, photographs and text, explores the effect of de-industrialisation on the town which, for over a century, was the axis of the global floorcovering industry.

Although some linoleum is still made at Forbo-Nairn in the town, at one point, there were six manufacturers employingthousands of Fifers

Jeremy at the Kirkcaldy Galleries

Jeremy at the Kirkcaldy Galleries

However, the 1960s saw a sharp decline in the demand for the product and by the mid 1980s almost all the work had disappeared.

Now, working closely with a group of local jobseekers and homeless people, Jeremy has produced a new body of work around the subject.

The local job centre was re-imagined as an ad-hoc linocutting workshop, while the homeless shelter was turned into a centre of contemporary performance, where residents acted, shot and edited a series of videos.

In another performance, Traki-G, the town’s 52 year-old celebrity breakdancer, is seen performing on an unfurled roll of linoleum, situated on the derelict remains of the plant.

Workers at the Nairn's factory in the 1950s

Workers at the Nairn's factory in the 1950s

Through a series of videos, prints, performances and texts, the exhibition traces a relationship between the current experience of unemployment in Kirkcaldy, and its thriving industrial past.

The title of the exhibition refers to a routine by the comedian Billy Connolly, where he claims that the town’s linoleum industry went down the pan because nobody could pronounce the word linoleum.

The exhibition includes a publication by the artist, and is accompanied by an audio guide written and performed by James Inglis, an unemployed resident of Kirkcaldy.

Jeremy is also planning to take it out to local job clubs, homeless accommodation units and other venues to reach a wider audience.

Girls outside one of the Nairn's factory blocks

Girls outside one of the Nairn's factory blocks

“I have a personal relationship to manufacturing and industry and this all started out with me wanting to explore my roots.

“I first set foot in Kirkcaldy 18 months ago on a fact finding mission, and I was a bit scared, being a southern softie, that people wouldn’t get what I was trying to achieve. It has been a fantastic experience and I have really grown as a person through it.

“I now understand a lot more about where I am from, and that a lot of the good fortune I have had has had a lot to do with Kirkcaldy.

“I would like to thank everyone who has welcomed me to the town and I certainly haven’t encountered the dour Scottish people I was expecting to meet.

“By spending time with vulnerable people living in precarious conditions I’ve learned a lot about humility.

“It’s impossible to go to a job club and speak to people and not feel that the government has done anything but create lasting harm to a great swathe of the British working class,” he added.

Billy Connolly in 1980

Billy Connolly in 1980

Jeremy Hutchison (37) is a descendant of two of Kirkcaldy’s most famous families.

His grandmother was the grand-daughter of Sir Michael Nairn, who started up the linoleum factory in the town, while his grandfather was one of the original Hutchisons who ran the town’s flour mill.

And Jeremy, who specialises in industrial art, said it had been fascinating visiting the places where industry had played such a large part in forming the town.

“It was interesting to visit the places and see the scale and the size of the factories in the past, and looking at aerial photographs showing how much of the town the factories occupied was jaw-dropping.

“Now, there are just these big open spaces where they used to be, and in the films it is the silence which strikes you, where there would have been big, noisy factories full of people and machinery.

“Seeing your family’s history spelled out in bricks and mortar was quite overwhelming.

“I am really glad I got to spend time here and learn more about the town’s history and its people and how the decline of the linoleum industry has affected it.
“My dad left when he was very young when his parents split up, and so it always had quite bad memories for him. He didn’t speak a lot about it.

“It was nice for me to come here and to do something positive with this exhibition and dispel some of these.”

For more about Jeremy’s work, visit his website at: www.jeremyhutchison.com.

Nancy McAndrew, aka Traki-G, Scotland’s original B (breakdance) girl, is one of the characters in Jeremy’s videos.

Nancy (52), from Kirkcaldy, is seen breakdancing on a piece of linoleum on the site of the former Nairn’s factory off Victoria Road.

She first attracted Jeremy’s attention when he went online to find out about the history of linoleum, and saw pictures of her displaying her skills.

Nancy explained: “He tracked me down and said he had read about me and would I like to take part in the film.

“It was totally random, but very interesting and I was thrilled to be involved.

“I am still actively breakdancing and recently took part in an international tournament, as well as teaching breakdance classes at NRJ Dance Studio in Kirkcaldy.”