Between 1836 and 1914 more than 2 million people from mainland Europe arrived by ship into Hull, subsequently leaving by train for the ports of Liverpool and Southampton. There they would take ships to new lives further overseas, particularly in the US. This mass movement of people through and across Hull, many staying in the city only for a few hours, ended abruptly with the outbreak of the First World War. The phenomenon was called ‘transmigration’.
During Hull UK City of Culture my artwork The Train Track and the Basket (2017) was installed in the entrance to Hull Paragon Station, and was inspired by this historic ‘transmigration’ phenomenon. Designs on the arched, exterior windows explored the notion that skills migrated with the workers along transport routes, as well as their hopes and expectations. Many of the migrants used traditional baskets to take their belongings on their journey , and a number of basket-weaving patterns and skills now present in North America that can be traced back to northern Europe. The imagery refers to various elements of this history – the materials with which the baskets were made, the plants and seeds that migrated along the train tracks, and the final destination of those who passed through the station. The site of the artwork is one where the constant movement of people today mirrors the weaving process of creating textiles and baskets: patterns of motion are overlaid with one another each time someone enters or exits the building.
In this article I will be looking at the two objects conjoined in my title; whereby multiple photographs taken while walking systematically along train tracks are combined with the tools and skills of basket-making to become fibres in the story of transmigration. I will also observe a small collection of actual baskets once used by mainland European migrants on their journey to the US, exploring the nature of the engagement with these artefacts through the glass of a display case at Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration, New York, US. I will conclude by returning to Hull, to discuss the artwork The Train Track and the Basket.