Seiko Kinoshita Illuminates Threads of Belper’s Rich Heritage

Last autumn, contemporary textile artist, Seiko Kinoshita created a 2-part commission shining a light on the rich heritage of Belper, in the heart of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site in Derbyshire.


Threading Through Time

Seiko Kinoshita, Threading Through Time, 2019. Photo: Daniella Sasaki

Seiko Kinoshita is a Japanese artist based at Yorkshire Artspace in Sheffield. She uses traditional textile techniques to create contemporary art work and installations.

Seiko was commissioned by Beam to undertake a temporary commission for the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site Great Place Scheme funded by National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England. Her brief was to undertake an ambitious arts commission to shine a light on little known aspects of the World Heritage Site to engage visitors and local communities.

Seiko approached this by bringing together two concepts under the title THREAD. Her inspiration and vision combined a fascination with the history and stories of the World Heritage Site, along with the social stories of the communities that built up around the cotton mills and a desire to bring together the shared textile heritage of Japan and the UK.

The first concept, “Threading Through Time” was a site specific installation located in the historic basement of the Strutt’s North Mill in Belper. The installation combined over 300 previously unused cotton bobbins, and coloured cotton thread inspired by the River Derwent. The threads were meticulously placed paying close attention to tension and order to stunning effect. Seiko also created a soundscape incorporating sounds from inside different textile mills past and present, including the Tomioka Silk Mill World Heritage Site and Usui Seishi, the largest silk mill in Japan, John Smedley Ltd, and Masson Mills. Seiko also spoke to people who work and used to work in textile mills such as John Smedley Ltd and Belper’s East Mill, and their voices were included in the soundscape as they remembered and mimicked the sounds that the machinery made.

“The art installation was enchanting, thought provoking and well worth a visit. Seiko’s work is inspiring and we loved how she talked about the bobbins being asleep and that she woke them up” private view attendee.

Following a successful launch event and much interest in experiencing Seiko’s installation, the power of nature impacted on her work with intense rainfall leading to high levels of the River Derwent that resulted in flooding of the basement. Everyone involved was reminded of the challenges overcome by Jedediah and William Strutt 240 years ago as they were developing their Cotton Mills powered by this sometimes unpredictable source.

THREAD subsequently took on a new form; where Seiko had created something structured and ordered, the power of the water left a more disordered, chaotic arrangement. Seiko said, 

"I was of course shocked to see with my own eyes the flooded basement, but at the same time I was amazed the power of nature can create such interesting chaos."

Following the clean up of the basement the installation was once again open to the public and continued to have a powerful impact on visitors:

“Glad that you left it alone so that we can see the change made by nature.”

“Very important to see the two versions of it – still beautiful.”

Cllr Barry Lewis, Chair of Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site Partnership Steering Group said

“The installation that Seiko created in the basement was stunning; we were delighted with how the accompanying soundscape invited visitors to experience the work on a more emotional level.Seiko's philosophical and flexible mindset to the flood was remarkable It was really special that she also made the connection between the shared textile heritage between Japan and the UK.”

Threading through Communities 2

Seiko Kinoshita, Threading Through Communities, 2019. Photo: Daniella Sasaki

The second, interconnected concept, “Threading through Communities,” was a lantern lit event for the community. Seiko created a lantern design inspired by the shape of the cotton bobbin, and the Japanese tradition of illuminating paths with lanterns. The lanterns combined cotton thread, including John Smedley’s Sea Island Cotton, paper and other natural materials to thread through each lantern to create beautiful effects.

She worked with 500 people from local community groups such as the Belper Clusters Heritage Group, local schools, Church and craft groups to make the lanterns. These were then installed in St Peter’s Church located in a historically significant area in Belper where the workers from the cotton mills lived. This area contains some of the earliest examples of industrial housing in the world. Visitors were also entertained by poetry readings influenced by the story of the Strutt family, written by Belper Clusters Heritage Group poet, Jeanette Burton and brought to life for the first time by Captive Audience Theatre Company.

Seiko commented,

“It was fantastic to see over so many people attending the lantern event, and how excited many of them were about trying to find their own lantern. It has been really special to hear the feedback that people felt part of something bigger, and part of history. “

Kate Watson, Creative Producer for Beam said

“It has been a pleasure to work with Seiko and be part of her artistic process. Seiko’s approach engaged people of all ages to create and learn and be part of something bigger. We received some great feedback from the lantern installation with one person commenting that they felt as though they had been part of history in the making and we really hope that Seiko has inspired residents to undertake similar activities in the future.”

Threading through Communities 1

Seiko Kinoshita, Threading Through Communities, 2019. Photo: Daniella Sasaki

Throughout Seiko’s commission she has worked closely with media students from Chesterfield College and her associate photographer Daniella Sasaki to create opportunities for them to gain experience in filming and photographing workshops and events with the local community. Seiko is completing this commission by capturing her process through a short film that will be available in the new year.

You can find out more information about the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site via:

Facebook: @DerwentValleyMillsWHS
Twitter: @DVMillsWHS
Instagram: @DerwentValleyMillsWHS