The Tolpuddle Martyrs will step out of the history books and into Shire Hall

A new augmented reality artwork will bring the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs to life like never before.

Acclaimed artist Jason Wilsher-Mills interviewed descendants of the Tolpuddle Martyrs to create a new artwork for Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum in Dorchester. The exhibition will feature the six Dorset farm labourers brought to life through augmented reality.

Jason’s previous work with young disabled people, Brave Boy Billy, was displayed at the Tate Modern and his new project, Jason and the Argonauts, which explores the aspirations and experiences of disabled groups, has just been shortlisted for Unlimited art funding. Unlimited supports ‘ambitious, creative projects by outstanding disabled artists and companies.’

The exhibition called ‘Tolpuddle Martyrs Remixed: Six Dorset men who changed the world,’ will open at the Dorchester courthouse museum on March 19th and Jason said he ‘couldn’t wait’ for people to see it. Augmented reality uses technology to superimpose computer generated films, images and interactive components on what someone is seeing in the real world. This could be by using a tablet or mobile phone to view the original artwork and then ‘seeing’ the augmented part as 3D on the screen.

(George Loveless)

Jason said: “I wanted to return them to Tolpuddle. The clothes they are wearing feature leaves from Tolpuddle trees and I spent time photographing the local insects, so they could be included too. I wanted to make them of Dorset.

“I wanted to get the sense that they were part of Dorset, their hearts were in Dorset. Their families and the earth they tended, and the local wildlife had such an impact on them. I wanted to link that into the artwork. I wanted to show them as humble, very religious, which they were, and strong. There’s a steeliness in their eyes.”

Everything within the artwork will have a meaning and this will be brought to life through augmented reality. Jason said the Tolpuddle Martyrs oath, the ship they were transported on and even Australia itself, would be floating in front of visitors’ eyes. He said: “It’s really bonkers, amazing stuff.” He said he hoped the artwork would create debate around the Martyrs story but also around contemporary issues like what it means to be British.

The exhibition opens on March 19th 2019, and will be free with a valid Museum Annual Pass. Shire Hall will be recruiting volunteers to help visitors in the exhibition room. It will run until June 14th, after which it will be available to other venues. For more information or to become a volunteer visit shirehalldorset.org.