The Hurrier: new film about working class women

by Anne Robinson in London, England, United Kingdom

The Hurrier: new film about working class women


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‘The Hurrier’ is a new artist’s film about class: giving voice to the the historically unrecorded and speaking to working class women now.

by Anne Robinson in London, England, United Kingdom

The Hurrier

‘I have a belt round my waist, and a chain passing between my legs, and I go on my hands and feet…' (1)

'And I got nothin' to hide here, save desire’ (2)

The Hurrier is a new artist’s film work about labour, sex, time travel and working class women’s bodies: constructed through film experiments, improvisational performance and sound.


Throughout the 19th century, my matrilineal ancestors were repeatedly summoned before the ‘Kirk Sessions’ (Scotland’s church courts) to be chastised and rebuked for the ’sin and scandal of formication’. They lived in a small coalmining village in Scotland and some died in the workhouse, leaving only a record of their sexuality and debts.This new work draws on these records to explore the control of working class women’s bodies through labour and the policing of pleasure. The bodies will tell the stories through collaboration with performance and sound artists and makers in a work that uses movement, song, beats and transformative, uncanny objects to connect with the continued vilification and exploitation of working-class women’s bodies today.  

The title refers to ‘hurriers’: women and children working in coalmines, in darkness, attached to various devices to transform their bodies into hauling machines. These included a brace which resembles a ‘scold’s bridle’ - metal headpiece with tongue restraint used to punish troublesome women. I am working with a sculptor 

and performance artists on a hybrid headpiece which combines these elements and adds antannae for telegraphic communication with the present day: ‘time travel’ offering resistance and celebrating pleasure. The personal connection is in voices ‘heard’ across time and one starting point was an encounter with the steady and unrepentant gaze of my great-great grandmother Rosina in a found photograph. Building on film ‘process’ from earlier works,  performance improvisation and sound work, The Hurrier will open up contemporary, complex and intergenerational conversations as what there about bodies, sexuality, work and class now. 

We Expect to Walk Upright

I am haunted by the ghosts of those already passed over whose time was waste. Liberation is essential. Time travel is essential. Moving the body in pleasure, the bodies rise again through felt rhythms and distant voices. 

The Hurrier works with the body as a site of labour: the adverse physical effects and psychological trauma of ‘jobs’ which are effectively incarceration and abuse and the consequent limiting of intergenerational expectations. Labour as violence for working class women. As an ‘anchor’ in the work. the particular type of work most visible as a key image will be the experience of the female mineworker pushing and hauling in darkness. 

Over the centuries, devices to enable the women to be more efficient machines were made. As with the ‘Davey lamp’ hailed as a great invention to improve coal productivity but preventing the detection of poisonous gases, the breath and heartbeat of the  human is subsumed to the needs of capital, echoed dowm the centuies in comntemporary warehouse work. For The Hurrier, sculptor and metal fabricator Charlotte Squire will be working on a hybrid, performative costume elements based on these processes which will in turn be used in movement work by by the performance artists and filmed.

This is Not a Quiet Silence

As in recent films Wakeful  (2018) and Darks (2018), this work explores the idea of ‘listening to the past’ through the construction 

of a work and will build on strategies from earlier collaborations and experiments, for example with percussionist Limpe Fuchs and sound collective Breathing Space in Wakeful  and the song construction in Thrashing in the Static. As a ‘song film’ where the structure of a ballad as thread is encountered as familiar and then disrupted: queering recording technologies and language. This work draws on a matrilineal line where voices have been heard, generation to generation, the voice/spirit escaping time.

The Sin and Scandal of Fornication:

The Kirk Sessions’ sole purpose, reading from a 21st century perspective, appears to have been the policing of working class people’s sexuality - in which women were admonished and punished more often and more harshly than men. Imagine the ‘kirk’ where the miscreants are humiliated and the scene in the dark, wood-panelled manse, where a small gathering of ‘respectable’ middle aged male elders force young women to tell them tales of 

fornication. Hiding inside the dark of dusty records, there is an unquiet silence. This hidden historical moment is expanded in The Hurrier'

‘she’s so deliciously low, so horribly dirty’ (3)

'Dirt and waste, sexuality and contagion, danger and disorder..' (4)

The Hurrier draws on the past to speak to the future: to set up intergenerational conversations about class, labour and sexuality in the present. Wherever possible as the work is shown, the artists involved will set up safe and open spaces to talk and share.

Through the film and the affect of what we can see and hear, the voices of the unrecorded who have something to say now, may be heard. From out of the dark, under the ground, just out of sight, they can join in our conversations about how we are still hated vilified mocked and excluded. There is much to talk about. This new work is about class as we feel it now: class experienced and manifest in our bodies: bodies ecstatic with desire and bodies hurt from overwork.

Today ‘working class woman’ means Shameless, TOWIE or Benefits Street… the underserving, idle poor are always with us and could easily get off the dole and get a robot job: ‘You don’t get reported or written up by managers. You get written up by an algorithm…’ (5)

The Artist:


'Wakeful' Robinson (2018)


Anne Robinson’s experimental practice is concerned with the perception and politics of time passing and she works with painting, film  sound and curating. She holds a practice-led PhD:The Elusive Digital Frame and the Elasticity of Time in Painting and currently teaches at Middlesex University. Recent works include a film installation: Wakeful (2018), screenings/installations include APT, Wakeful: If I Sleep I May Be Caught, Whitechapel Gallery, LV21, CCA Glasgow and and Maritime Museum, Estonia, including live score events, Booted, commission for ’Queer Times’ at GoMA, Common Birds (2017), shown at CGP London,  Inside Out Blues (2013), made in in Marseilles and Thrashing in the Static (2014), shown at CGP, Objectifs, Singapore, Deptford X and Folkestone. She was a member of See Red Women’s Workshop and co-authored a 2016 book about the collective. Curatorial projects include: Over Time (2014) and Supernormal festival (2012-16).

Recent shows and projects:

2020: March: Darks, screening at Five Years gallery, London. 

2020: Jan-Feb: Wakeful, CCA, Glasgow screening, Whitechapel Gallery screening.

2020: September: Come Hell or High Water,  online and Thames foreshore, curated by Anne Bean. Short film: Over Time Over Time. 2019: Wakeful, installed Feb-March at Estonian Maritime Museum, Tallinn.

2018: Booted, ‘Queer Times’, GoMA, Glasgow, to March 2019, Print now in museum collection.

2018-19: See Red Women’s Workshop,’Still I Rise’ Notts Contemporary, Nottingham and De la Warr Pavillion, Bexhill.

2017: Inspiral London - steering group: walks, projects, publications

2012-2016: Supernormal Arts Festival, Braziers Park

2014: Over Time: Art project on Thames Foreshore at Greenwich, Stephen Lawrence Gallery and National Maritime Museum

Baines, J. Mackie, S. Robinson, A. Stevenson, P. ; 2016; See Red: Feminist Posters 1974-90; Four Corners Books; London

Teaching: Senior Lecturer Fine Art (0.8) Middlesex University

Qualifications: PhD (practice-led) on temporality in art, Cass, 2012.

BA (Hons) Fine Art Film & Video, St  Martins School of Art, 1987

(full CV on artist’s website

Collaborating artists on 'The Hurrier' include:

Helen Spackman

Charlotte Squire

Lou Barnell

Shaheeda Sinckler

Kayle Brandon

Michelle Deignan

Frances Hatherley

Tansy Spinks


(1) Betty Harris, testimony to Ashley's Mines Commission [Parliamentary Papers, 1842, vols. XV-XVII, Appendix I, pp. 252, 258, 439, 461; Appendix II, pp. 107, 122, 205.] (accessed 30/10/2020) 

(2) Piss Factory (1974) Patti Smith.

(3) Henry Higgins, character in My Fair Lady, 1964, US, dir. George Cukor, based on Pygmalion by G. B. Shaw. (With thanks to Frances Hatherley who cites this dialogue in her PhD thesis).

(4) Beverley Skeggs (2016) Class: Disidentification, Singular Selves and Person-Value. (accessed 31/10/20)

(5) Michael Sainato (2020) ’I’m not a robot’: Amazon workers condemn unsafe, grueling conditions at warehouse’ in The Guardian, Mon. 5th Feb. 2020. (accessed 31/10/2020.

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