A slightly surprising outcome of this Experimental Heritage initiative is an academic paper and exhibition on the subject of domestic bathtubs found outdoors in the fields of western Ireland.
While exploring the back roads of County Clare, Michael Walsh noticed many bathtubs which are being used as cattle watering troughs in fields. During the Covid lockdown of 2020, he mapped and photographed these and carried out internet research including open-source academic articles to produce an article “Chasing the Wild Bathtub” with the assistance of Bodil Petersson. The research sharing is also unusual as it is very much in the spirit of copy-left which means that others are welcome to take the ideas and content and may freely modify and redistribute if they also pass along with the copyleft stipulation.
It is planned to publish the article in the recently launched Experimental Heritage Journal available for open access via Linnaeus University. In addition, everyone is invited to share their own bathtub images and stories as a community research project. On Facebook and Instagram look for “Experimental Heritage” and please share your own bathtub stories, photos and films on social media using hashtags: #experimentalheritage #bathtubstories.
The research has also inspired an exhibition Badkarsberättelser / Bathtub Stories at Ölands Museum Himmelsberga. Öland also has many wild bathtubs – examples of which are exhibited at Himmelsberga juxtaposed with extra-large prints of Irish tubs. This gathering of bathtubs draws our attention to possible stories behind those everyday objects, their agency and mystery. There is also an online exhibition on the wild bathtub subject at experimentalheritageexhibition.com.
The exhibition Badkarsberättelser / Bathtub Stories at Ölands Museum Himmelsberga in 2022 and online is produced in a collaboration between Michael Walsh, Linnaeus University, Ölands Museum Himmelsberga and Föreningen Experimentellt Kulturarv. Exhibition from 6th June to 30th October 2022.
A small booklet “Tracking Wild Bathtubs in the west of Ireland” was produced with a summary of this fascinating research into the evolution of bathtubs as both objects and actors.
Dive into the Bathtub Stories and read the whole booklet in Issuu.com.
Find out more about Experimental Heritage collaborations and activities in Swedish by Föreningen Experimentellt Kulturarv at experimentelltkulturarv.se.
“It was a surprise for me to discover that the first cast iron bathtubs made were in fact modifications of a cattle watering trough, and were advertised by Kohler in 1883 as a ‘horse trough/hog scalder’. I realised that by releasing used bathtubs to the fields, their original purpose has come full circle – perhaps an inevitable journey for a bathtub. Not many other man-made objects have behaved in this way.”Michael Walsh
Chasing the Wild Bathtub: Abstract
Previously domestic bathtubs are now being used as cattle watering troughs on small farms in rural western Ireland. While they may seem incongruent in the landscape, a review of the history of bathtubs shows how cast iron bathtubs are direct descendants of enamelled versions of cattle watering troughs in the late 19th century. This history, with specific reference to available social and economic developments in Ireland, tracks how bathtubs became ‘domesticated’ to enter the house, how they were given a dedicated room as freestanding tubs, how they evolved to become built-in fixtures, yet then how they left the house and were upcycled as ‘wild bathtubs’ in the latter half of the 20th century. Following arts-practice based fieldwork observation, a typology is established for ‘wild bathtubs’ as part of probing the zoomorphic and agency characteristics of these apparently inert, yet surprisingly agile actant bathtubs entangled with farmers, cattle and water resources. Many photographs, supported by detailed local mapping of areas in northern County Clare, illustrate this investigation with an animistic perspective of how tubs seem to migrate with a strategic commensal agenda. Combining online research and a style of contemporary archaeology, it is concluded that the newly emerged phenomenon of ‘wild bathtubs’ is an intriguing element of rural culture heritage and locus of memory.
It is planned to publish the article in the recently launched Experimental Heritage Journal available for open access via Linnaeus University… a link will be posted here when available.
The research was mostly done in North Clare, Ireland and a detailed survey was done within a 2 km radius of Moanreel North near Ennistymon. The exact location of the more than 20 known wild bathtubs is documented here on Google Maps and it is planned to add photos of each of these bathtubs to the interactive map.