It feels even colder and wetter than Manchester as I step off the train at Blackburn. But it is this climate that allowed the cotton industry to thrive here and whose legacy the inaugural British Textile Biennial (which runs until November 3, 2019) is celebrating. Part of Super Slow Way’s ambitious programme to transform lives and communities through art, this is a selection of the plethora of events taking place across Lancashire.

The headline-grabbing Adidas Spezial Exhibiton amasses more than 1,000 trainers from Darwen-born curator Gary Aspden’s personal collection, together with those of fellow Adidas collectors, and displays them in purpose-built cages and cabinets in Blackburn’s Grade II listed Cotton Exchange. There are lots of related events with all profits going to Blackburn’s Nightsafe which supports young homeless and vulnerable people in Blackburn and Darwen.

Around the corner from the Exchange is the artist-in-residence Jamie Holman’s collaborative exhibition, Transform and Escape the Dogs. Holman celebrates the history of radical gatherings in reclaimed spaces with tales of the Pendle witches, football casuals, pioneering Blackburn filmmakers and, of course, Blackburn’s famous rave culture, all memorialised in the form of stunning banners, stained-glass windows and light boxes displayed against the beat of an acid soundtrack.

Adidas Spezial Launch - Cotton Exchange Blackburn - British Textile Bienial - 03-10-19 - Richard Tymon-8Staying on the theme of protest is Banner Culture at Brierfield Mill where Mid Pennine Arts have brought together more than 180 banners. Crowdsourced from heritage collections, campaign groups, artists and communities, this stunning display takes us back to early CND campaigns, the Miners’ Strike, and Greenham Common right through to banners for today’s collapsing world. The careful selection means that each piece is a jewel and each one tells an important story. It’s impossible not to be stunned by the sheer scale of Peter Carney’s memorial to the 96 who lost their lives in Hillsborough. The show also gives us one of the last chances to see the vast Victorian monument to cotton, Brierfield Mill, before it is transformed into apartments.

Another of the biennial’s spaces is Queen Street Mill Textile Museum in Burnley which is the only remaining working steam-powered mill in the world. During the biennial it is home to Art in Manufacturing and the moving Heirloom which shows beautifully-crafted shirts, each one telling the unique story of men who have links to the textile industry.

GIRLFANS_BURNLEY_IMG_9737Up the road at the Mechanics Institute in Burnley, Jacqui McAssey’s Burnley Girlfans exhibition forms the next chapter in her ongoing photographic project that gives visibility to female football fans. And if you missed Alice Kettle’s stunning Thread Bearing Witness a Manchester’s Whitworth last year, you can catch it in the Barn at the magnificent Gawthorpe Hall. Kettle worked with refugees and asylum seekers to produce monumental works of textile art which encompass  many individual and universal narratives. View them here in this ‘cathedral to agriculture’ (see the website for information about related workshops and talks).

Jamie Holman - Transform and Escape the Dogs - British Textile Bienial - 03-10-19 - Richard Tymon-10While celebrating Lancashire’s rich textiles heritage, British Textile Biennial doesn’t forget its present and its future, with Aaron Dunleavy’s film collaboration with designer Patrick Grant’s Blackburn-based social enterprise Community Clothing. Definitely worth popping into their shop in The Mall before going home.

By Susan Ferguson

Main image: Adidas Spezial Launch. Cotton Exchange Blackburn – British Textile Bienial. Credit: Richard Tymon. 


British Textile Biennial 2019 runs till November 3, 2019. For more information visit the website.