This was a site-specific textile sculpture Refuge: Ropner’s Ghost Ship, an Arts and Heritage commission made in response to the Preston Park Museum collections.
Refuge took the ethereal form of a merchant ship, dramatically lit from within, to evoke Teesside’s maritime history and, specifically, the shipbuilding legacy of the Museum’s former owner, Robert Ropner. The work combined Welsh’s use of textiles to evoke resonances of time, place and memory (Another Peace, 2012) with Dixon’s use of the ship-form as a metaphoric vessel of narrative (Monopoly, 2009).
The work highlighted the historic narrative of Robert Ropner (an ‘economic migrant’ who travelled from Germany as a teenage orphan and subsequently became a key figure in Teesside’s shipping and ship-building industries) as a method of questioning contemporary attitudes to immigration and the ‘value’ of migrants, as revealed by the Brexit vote to leave the EU. The multiple textile banners that make up Refuge exploit the varying luminosity of different fabrics (cotton organdie and cotton interfacing) to reveal the ghostly form of the Ropner merchant vessel Somersby when illuminated by ultra-violet light.