World Factory: Presenting research

Like 3rd Ring Out, World Factory is a research-led project. It explores the China-UK axis of the phenomenon of the mass production of textiles, from the production and global trade of cotton in 19th century Manchester to the mass manufacture of clothing present day China. The project therefore traces shifting ideologies from Marx and Engels’ experiences of Manchester, and their writing of the Communist Manifesto, to the opening up of the Chinese market to capitalist modes of production.

Simon Daw and Zoe Svendsen wanted to share what they had discovered as part of a residency at the National Theatre Studio, in collaboration with theatre director and cultural theorist, Zhao Chuan (Shanghai) and a subsequent residency at Cambridge Junction.

An event at Cambridge Junction in May 2013 was the first in a series of talks sharing the process of research more publicly. METIS have long regarded food and drink as key to establishing an informal but productive conversational atmosphere, so Chinese tea, cake and cava were served to all guests.

A stimulating talk responding to the ideas of the project by Dr Alan Blackwell, Reader in Interdisciplinary Design at the University of Cambridge, provided a non-intimidating environment for members of the audience to respond to the topic offering new insights into peoples’ perceptions of the subject-matter.

World Factory: A Conversation in Progress

Mon 28 Oct 2013

Venue: Hot Numbers café, Gwydir St, Cambridge

Time: 6.30pm

Price: Free


Part of Cambridge University’s Festival of Ideas

Zoe Svendsen hosts an evening of discussion on the themes of World Factory.

Professor Dagmar Schaefer, Director of the Chinese Studies Centre at the University of Manchester, and incoming Director of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, will present a talk on the historical transmission of cultural practices in relation to Chinese silk technologies.


This will be followed by Dr. Joe Smith, Senior Lecturer in Environment at the Open University, who will present a short talk on the history and geography of the contents of his Grandmother’s wardrobe, based on his chapter, which addresses geographies of care, in the Routledge Handbook of Sustainability and Fashion.

After this there will be a panel discussion exploring the broader history of global textile production and consumption, and a chance for further conversation.

The event is a collaboration between Hot Numbers, Cambridge Junction, Cambridge University English Faculty and METIS.

The Research Question

The performance research that comprised 3rd Ring Out emerged out of a previous practice-led research project, The Bunker Project LINK. This project explored the relationship between theatricality and Cold War exercises. In the course of the project, a new work was published that refocused our engagement with the topic, through describing Cold War exercises as ‘rehearsals’ – Tracy C Davis’ Stages of Emergency [LINK]. It was this concept of ‘rehearsal’ that formed the core research focus of 3rd Ring Out. The thesis of the research began to emerge: what does it mean to ‘rehearse’ for something? As theatre makers we were intrigued to discover the wide-spread contemporary use of fictional scenarios to train those who are charged with managing threats to human welfare – from Emergency Service category one responders, to the environment agency, to anti-terrorist special units. What would it mean to ‘rehearse’ in this way within a theatrical context? Does the embedded nature of rehearsal as a commonplace in theatre detract or allow such a move? How would this matter for the creation and execution of plausible scenarios in a cultural activity that is conceived of – largely – as a leisure pursuit for those that come to witness it?


We began to seek a topic that we might ‘rehearse’ for; based on the idea that practising for something might be a legitimate way of preparing for, and dealing with, a threat. In August 2007, Simon Daw and I participated in an anti-terrorism exercise organised by the police in conjunction with the local city council []. In the course of a morning, we, alongside around fifty shop-managers and other city centre workers, were invited to imagine how we would respond to the scenario of a terrorist bomb in the shopping centre in which we worked. The scenario was uncomfortably vague, and taught us much about the importance of situational specificity. It really seemed that the discipline of theatrical production might have something to offer this world of scenario-based training.


If an origin to the final project can be identified, it was due to a highly personal experience in a field in Kent somewhere near Kingsnorth Power Station, in the summer of 2008. I had made my way past the police cordons, and then over the many haybales placed by activists that were designed to slow any unexpected police intrusions [link]. I was only able to be there for a day, and had come specifically to participate in some workshops, and hear some talks, about climate change. Climate change, it seemed, from my superficial understanding, might be the plausible future threat we were seeking to anchor the project. In the midst of my frustration by the way that the noise of the police helicopters made it hard to hear the speakers I’d come for, I had a deeply troubling epiphany. Climate change was not the remote, incrementally developing, long-term future problem I’d imagined from my understanding of the mainstream news of 2008. It was much more immediate, the risks were much greater, and the potential outcomes far worse than I had realised.


The anecdote is worth recounting, for it is key to the position we took in relation to the research, with a significant impact on our methodology. Our practice-led research would create a project that was aimed at people like us: people who might take an interest, but weren’t already actively engaged with the problem of climate change. Despite our alarm at the discrepancy between what was being reported (and believed by the majority) and the far worse scenarios that the science indicated, we decided that 3rd Ring Out should not participate in a fashionable blurring of activism and artistic endeavour. Equally, it would not seek to provide a message about what to do in response to climate change. There were already many established organisations better equipped for activism or education. Instead our research resulted in the idea that a threat might be addressed by practising for it. The challenge of offering an artistic response to climate change could thus be met through notions of practising. Our thesis was that by ‘practising’ for climate change, we might find a new – and artistically adequate – way of addressing the problem through artistic means.

Copyright © Metis Arts 2013