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Unlocking Canal History 2018

Five-hour canal journey with artist Yu-Chen Wang, archaeologist Mike Hodder, ecologist Paul Wilkinson and historian Liz McIvor on Ikon Slow Boat, Birmingham

Members of the public were invited to join artist Yu-Chen Wang on board the Ikon Slow Boat for a leisurely 5 hours journey between Minerva Works – Digbeth and Brindley place – Central Birmingham. This experiential journey included 3 stages of exploration, picking up different experts and sets of knowledges along the route.


Starting with archaeologist Mike Hodder, he talked through his research and interests into the interaction between historic and natural environments. Collecting en route Canal & River Trust ecologist Paul Wilkinson who enabled you to consider the diverse wildlife and ecology of the canals. Completing our journey with historian Liz McIvor as we moved into Brindley Place, she revealed the rich and hidden stories of the people who helped build these unique waterways.

Together we surveyed the often, overlooked history of Birmingham’s canals and heritage and through an evolving conversation and investigation help to explore the many different states, lives and forms from both current and historical perspectives. 

Visitors were invited to join the Slow Boat and listen to the unique stories about the canal systems past and present, joining in conversation with experts from different fields of knowledge. Taking part in a slow moving, journey through Birmingham’s rich industrial and natural landscape.

There were opportunities for the visitor to be involved with activities and discussion throughout. The whole journey took 5 hours and included scheduled stops along the way. Refreshments were foraged and served with pancakes during the journey.  

Mike Hodder was a former planning archaeologist for Birmingham City Council and currently works at University of Birmingham specialising in the interaction between historic and natural environments.

Liz McIvor is a social historian, Trust Manager at Co-operative Heritage and recently presented for BBC Canals: The Making of a Nation.

Paul Wilkinson is Senior Ecologist from the Canal and River Trust West Midlands.

Yu-Chen is interested in Birmingham’s mechanical and engineering history in constructing waterway navigation – the way in which the canal construction changed nature and our landscape, and nowadays how canals gradually became part of nature. The newly established eco-techno-system of evolving wildlife, waterborne culture, the bio-devised nature and communities living afloat intertwine with the relics of industrial past.

She works on a long term residency programme with Grand Union, exploring the wider stories and connections behind Junction Works, a former Canal Office Building –  which Grand Union are in the process of acquiring.

Yu-Chen Wang:

Junction Works Residency

21 May - 29 Jun 2018

Grand Union, Birmingham

The Migrant Festival

14 - 17 Jun 2018

Ikon Gallery, Birmingham

Unlocking Canal History

16 Sep 2018

Ikon Slow Boat, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham

Birmingham Heritage Week 2018

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