Between 1848 and 1914, more than two million people arrived into Hull by ship from mainland Europe, and left by train to the transatlantic ports of Liverpool and Southampton, seeking new lives in the New World. This mass movement of people, many of whom were in Hull for just a few hours, ended abruptly with the outbreak of the First World War.

Claire Barber’s installation at Hull’s Paragon Interchange Station, The Train Track and the Basket, explores this example of transmigration and the notion that craft skills and belongings traverse routes of passage, alongside people. It is the latest work in the series of public art commissioned by Hull 2017 to make people look at and experience the city in new ways.

Claire said, “My work is partly inspired by social narrative painting made at the time of transmigration, which captures loss, lament and excitement at a new beginning. Particularly the idea of looking at what people take with them on a journey, both as luggage and in terms of their culture and craft skill.”

Many people passing through Hull used large woven baskets to carry their belongings on their journey and brought skills such as double cloth weaving, while absorbing the skills of others. They adapted their techniques to the materials available to them in a new country. There are a number of basket weaving patterns and skills in North America today that can be traced back to northern Europe

Hull’s railway station today, with its constant movement of people, mirrors the weaving process: the action of double weaving, layers crossing over layers, countless patterns created every time people enter and exit. As individuals weave in and out, carrying luggage that reflects who they are, they too add and take new influences in an ever-changing space.

The Train Track and the Basket is made from digitally printed vinyl panels installed on each of the fourteen large arched windows within the entrance at Hull Paragon railway station.

“I am very interested in communicating textile processes diagrammatically and their fusion with the sequential documentation of train tracks. I have taken multiple photographs while walking systematically along train platforms. These images are then joined together to be used like a fibre through the work. The ensuing woven abstraction allows people to linger in the space of transmigration rather than through the personal and private space of a displaced person.”

Claire Barber

The images on the windows also make reference to the materials that make the baskets, the plants and seeds that migrate along train tracks, and the final destination of the people who passed through the station during that time.

The work explores the creative conjunction of two seemingly disparate objects, the basket and the train track, to articulate a tangle of poetic metaphors relating to the period of transmigration through Hull 1836-1914.

Further Look Up commissions will be popping up throughout 2017, in shopping centres, streets and other public spaces around Hull, by artists including Bob & Roberta Smith, Tania Kovats and Claire Morgan. Chris Dobrowlski’s Washed Up Car-go was recently installed at The Deep’s car park and will remain there until 4 June.

Look Up has been developed in partnership with a number of organisations and companies including The Deep, GF Smith, Hull School of Art & Design and Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Details about future works in the programme will be announced in due course.