© Yu-Chen Wang 2010-19 All rights reserved. email: info@yuchenwang.com

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Unlocking Canal History 2018

Part of Grand Union, Junction Works Residency
In collaboration with IKON Gallery

Birmingham, UK

Members of the public are invited to join artist Yu-Chen Wang on board the IKON Slow Boat for Unlocking Canal History, a leisurely 4–5 hours journey between Minerva Works – Digbeth and Brindley place – Central Birmingham. This tour is led by Yu-Chen, who is currently an artist in residence with Grand Union Gallery & Studios. This experiential journey will include 3 stages of exploration, picking up different experts and sets of knowledges along the route.


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

Together we will survey 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. 

You are 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 will be opportunities for you to be involved with activities and discussion throughout. The whole journey will take 4–5 hours and will include scheduled stops along the way. Refreshments will be foraged and served with pancakes during the journey.  

This project is delivered in collaboration with IKON Gallery and coincides with Birmingham’s Heritage Week 2018.


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 Wang’s  work asks fundamental questions about human identity at a key point in history, where ecosystems and techno-systems have become inextricably intertwined. At the same time, her Taiwanese origins, combined with a London-based career, have created a vision that is personal and autobiographical.

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.

Yu-Chen is working 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.

Unlocking Canal History