Notes on pits. Pre- amble to 'Fin de siècle trajectories and industrial heritage trails. Representation of the Mine from Poland to England, aesthetic and transient histories'

 

The image of the pit head acts a prominent and emotive marker of the legacy of the industrial age. This study addresses ways of looking at and documenting these industrial sites, which have over time become central to various discourses; in Eastern Europe, marking both a Marxist struggle and communisms death, and in the UK developing their own mythology of mourning following pit closures in the early 1980's.

 

I am interested, not in providing a survey of all the artworks treating the mine as subject, nor to draw a direct comparative study between works/sites and their separate histories in each country but instead to trace what may be connectivities or contrasts across Europe observed by those occupying outsider positions ( journeying artists, writers, traveling workers, vagabonds) and employing various modes of what I will term as a transient looking1 mapping the industrial landscape through these various ambulatory strains.

 

Since the decline of heavy industry and pit closures in the years following the 1984-5 miners strike the discourse surrounding the abandoned mine has incorporated theories of post industrial space and notions of the ruin( Benjamin, Simmel, Makarius, Macauley). Ways of regarding and representing the mine have changed dramatically as questions have been raised surrounding the heritage and preservation of industrial sites, which have, in turn become commodified and repopulated by heritage industry tourists. It is significant that the aesthetic discourse belonging to these spaces is coloured heavily by shifts in the traversal of the landscape; movements from one industrial site to another previously provoked by the industrial revolution or world wars, the wandering impulses of labourers, guilds-men, migrants, are now overlaid by the mapped, documented and curated trails of the 'European Route of Industrial Heritage2 (ERIH)which leads tourists, from one site of labour to another, from Coalbrookdale in the UK across Europe into Poland.

 

Although there is extensive literature on the industrial ruin from a socio-aesthetic perspective, the mine in Europe as a site for specific investigation has been largely overlooked. No study has attempted an investigation into the aesthetic representation of these sites using their multiple mobile histories and the networks woven around them.( Arts organisations and collective bodies such as C.O.A.L 3 serve to recognise the disparate histories exchanged through artists' collaborations within a global climate, yet they rather concentrate on, as does the ERIH, the propagation of industrial heritage across Europe as shared history rather than dealing with the specifics of the individual sites and readings of the movements surrounding them).

 

European Fin de siecle journeys and earlier industrial networks-will be critically compared, as the study progresses, to the commodified histories of the ERIH. The emergence of the heritage trail begs a number of questions which in turn form the framework of this investigation; Firstly, how has our aesthetic encounter with these sites been mediated to accompany these changes in traversing the landscape, secondly how far have the individual histories and identities of these sites been homogenised by linkage across Europe provided by a funding body interested in the preservation of what it deems to be a shared industrial history. And thirdly, speculatively, can fertile possibilities be woven into the visual cultures of these sites by the narratives of the heritage industry, which are only the most recent palimpsestic over-writings on top of many existing layers of meaning. ( To be unravelled with the aid of industrial ruins theory and popular entertainment cultures surrounding the mine. Towards an exploration of an ethics of ruination/preservation).

 

My interest then is in the mine as 'problematic' site which is, I will posture, culturally lacunic and resisting easy delegation to discussion within a particular discourse (social history, ruins theory)It is pejorative(although seductive) to view the eastern European mine in particular as marker of the collapse of the Soviet system and problematic to name these sites as 'dead' (many sites are still in use and not subject to the variant discourses surrounding the term 'industrial erosion')Although the term 'Spectral'4 will become useful in order to address the idea of a 'Marxist nostalgia'(fetishisation of sites of labour as testament to the failure of a system which for many held so much promise, as well as in regard to wider eschatological, religious and mythological connotations stemming from the concept of 'spectre' associated with dark spaces, sites of labour, death and danger).

 

The methodology employed in the visual and wide cultural study of these spaces is largely peripatetic, conceptually, as will become clear, and in its following of accounts (fiction, travelogue, film...)of travellers, journeymen, migrant workers or itinerant artists. The intention being that a swathe may be painted from a multitude of partial representations, speculative and not totalising, saying hopefully more about the position that these spaces have and will come to occupy within our visual cannon than a static portrait or case study of any site individually. Obviously there are vast social and economic histories connected to the development of the mine as industrial site but this study seeks to hang itself around more obtuse angles, more concerned with a kind of synthesis of the fictions, the visual archives and accounts than anything rigidly empirical or resembling historiography, therefore the pre-occupation is with the mine itself as site of slippage, of syncope and exchange, created by accounts and representations which may be fleeting, blurred or partial.

 

The genesis of this project is tied up strongly with a use of walking/journeying as generative research tool within my own art practise (in the form of drawings, etchings, photographs and films), my research and practical work have been led for a number of years by accounts and theories of transience and movements across Europe, particularly catalysed by the industrial revolution and world wars and the interaction of these mobile experiences with ideas of landscape and topographical representation. Particularly pertinent to the formation of this study is an archive concerning the so called 'first Fugeur'5. A man employed by a gas company in France at the turn of the last century who was subject to frequent somnambulist wanderings, coming-to after walking for days or weeks on end, often shocked at finding himself in a strange land and seeking employment at local sites, factories or farms. Descriptions of his wanderings were extricated under hypnosis by his psychiatrist in Bordeaux and the details of the landscapes he travelled through are vividly recalled and recorded as written transcripts. The word 'Fugue' was colonised by French psychiatrists at the Fin de Siecle to denote those with uncontrolled compulsion to travel. The idea of a fugal subject caused particular dissent among the psychiatrists of Paris and Bordeaux and marked a shift in the use of the term 'hysteria' from the female to male patient further embedding the notion that transience itself was a clinical condition or illness. 6

 

These states of syncope were also punctuated by certain extraneous factors, the backdrop of industrial places of work, gas factories, mines, or places of confinement- army barracks. The subjects flight from these sites and more often also from wife and family, were curtailed by a deep melancholic ambivalence or guilt when faced with the realisation of yet another departure, the fugal states themselves rather than being emancipatory, involved the subject moving from one site to another, stuck rather within a tight network akin to Deleuze and Guattari's 'Striated' space than the 'smooth' space of the nomadic wanderer.7

 

The fugal model is useful within this body of research as a way of stripping away romantic notions associated with running away or 'setting out'. The emancipatory gesture present in the somnambulistic departure is always tempered by a return to starting point, the tightened networks surrounding the Fugueur tied up in legal and legislative issues regarding transcience and vagrancy as well as the inability of the subject to extricate himself from a system of labour and exchange(falling back on the same kind of industrial work that may have served as initial catalyst for the fugal episode).This network of circularity harks back to the highly legislated wanderings of 17th and 18th century Journeymen under the auspices of Guilds, as well as the contemporary planned and prescribed routes set by the heritage industries for the tourist to traverse and further reflects a multitude of approaches and departures from mining sites present within literature (out of work labourers such as Etienne in Emile Zola's Germinal).

 

The history of industry itself of course already holds a strong precedent for linkage with the mobile subject; The Marx memorial library holds an interesting archive documenting exchanges and visits between English and Eastern European miner's, accounts of visits to Soviet Russia as well as written correspondence between the workers.8 My grandfather's experience acts as supplement to these accounts, his leaving Poland during the Second world War and finding himself, by various means, in a town in the north of England where he worked in a coal mine for the rest of his life. The narrative of his journey traced an initially trajectory for my research, Eastern Europe to the UK and germinated an interest in how Polish culture, stories, folk traditions regarding mines and dark spaces could be transplanted to an area in the North of England and propagated by what became a large mining community there ( the areas surrounding Stoke on Trent, Bidulph and Blackshaw moor)9.

 

The ideas for this body of research evolved further out of a number of journeys of my own across Europe, into Poland and sat alongside existing theoretical interests in transience, and walking specifically, in regard to spaces of de-regulation or decay. Readings of post industrial space within cultural studies( spaces re-populated by counter cultures mobile and transient in character) aided in the building of a theoretical model within which movements, whether socially deviant or regulated, were allowed to stimulate various ways of looking at industrial sites. An engagement with Situationist wanderings, the writings of WG Sebald, Bill Drummond, Ian Sinclair, JG Ballard10 and the dissent offered through the mobility of rave culture and the acid house movement, accompanied by a theoretical opposition to Marc Auge's notion of 'non place'11 enabled a pulling in of a tirade of other narratives, folklore and fiction, which belonged perhaps to older more relational spaces of deregulation, the cave, the wood... and in turn the hermit, the wanderer, the Fugal subject and the migrant. A focus both on the materiality of a space and the movements of a subject through it, provides a schema to be drawn through the study, one which hopefully introduces some tension to, or at least enters critically into dialogue with, contemporary representation of the industrial spaces which I have found to be problematic in their inability to move the visual culture surrounding industry away from (what I posited at the beginning of this introduction) as a 'mythology of mourning' and often finds itself positioned within the discourses surrounding a 'Post industrial sublime', which is concerned with representing industrial sites in their totality, their vastness.

 

The photography of Edward Burtynsky is strongly representative of these contemporary visions of an 'industrial sublime', the subjects ranging from, slag heaps, quarries, rubbish dumps, all meticulously technically executed, researched through thorough reconnaissance. The scenes depicted are vast, static and often vertiginous, employing traditional (Kantian, Burkian)tropes of the Sublime as overwhelming , awe inspiring and spectacular. The theoretical work underpinning the aesthetic comes largely from the work of American academics, Perry Miller, Leo Marx and Later David Nye12. Interestingly, the industrial heritage industry and particularly the ERIH employ such aesthetic tropes in the photography which is essentially 'advertising' these post industrial sites to the public, in what often ends up as a quite uncomfortable mix of showy/spectacular and dually desolate melancholic images which hark back to photography of the late 70's and 80's(of which the Bechers stand as most dominant influence).

 

It was then, this vast and spectacular whole image, employed in the photography of mines, slag heaps and surrounding landscapes which struck me particularly when first researching the visual culture surrounding the mine. When I began to make work as a natural accompaniment to this body of research, and for me as further research tool, I was faced with the realisation that I had no desire to provide 'representation' of these spaces in their totality, or in static 'portrait' form. The research into the itinerant subject and my own peripatetic wanderings lent themselves naturally to more fleeting or fragmented views; the industrial sites of Essen as seen(or more frequently obscured)in the film 'Journey to Goslar' or the specificity of focus employed in 'Terills walk', the camera trained on the ground of the miner's paths, homed in on the details of the ground and playing with evasion of a totalising or seductive view of the outline or silhouettes of the slag heaps themselves.

 

The art works, films and drawings I have made in association with this body of written research seek therefore, to offer some kind of counter point to images which act as heavily laden and overburdened signifiers of an industrial legacy(such as those offered by Burtynsky and the ERIH) which are too easy to passively and lazily consume. This research project rejects a pillaging of particular landscapes to create images readily available to the already tired and over-familiar visual canon associated with 'post industrial' space. Repeatedly I turn back to the writings of wanderers, walkers, and 'deep topographers' such as Nick Papadimitriou, John Hillaby, Ronald Blythe, and film makers such as Patrick Keiler and Andrew Cotting for a focus on movement as a kind of in-between space, notions of withdrawal and removal opening up particular, almost obsessive ways of observing and recording details present within particular landscapes, whether they be topographical, autobiographical or political.

 

In the words of the writer, naturalist and walker Richard Mabey, who I hope to never stray far from in regard to this studys interest in details, partial encounters, weeds, cracks and stumbled upon moments, I begin, 'not so much as an explorer as a curious passer-by.'13

 

1 For this idea I take my initial cue from John Martin's impressions on passing through the mining landscapes of the Black country, later painting 'The Great Day of His Wrath' 1851-3 which contains all the movements of a billowing industrial smog as seem from a speeding train or horse drawn carriage. Also Emile Zola's almost filmic descriptions of arrivals at coal mines and movements around slag heaps in 'Germinal'.

2 The European Route of Industrial Heritage 'seeks to establish itself as a European brand for industrial heritage'(www.erih.net/topmenu/about-erih.html).a reader is even presented with a neat idea of what 'industrial beauty' is in regard to the Zollverein mine in Essen Germany, in a similar way to how an older and more familiar ruin would be presented in a heritage guide book. In website and promotional material sources and theoretical background are hidden, phrases seem to be mobilised out of the blue with out explanation of the discourses surrounding these sites.

3 Part of the European culture programme 2007-2013 C.O.A.L ( from Carboniferous to Open-eyed artists on Landscape) works across borders exchanging artists experiences of the European mining landscape.

4 The Mine as prism for melancholy and nostalgia in visual culture is a hypothesis to be tested at three intersections within the study: In section one the figure of the painter Jacek Malczewski and his treatment of a coal mine as subject serves to open up ideas of nostalgia for a dead Poland and further images of mourning for a Poland seen as a virgin martyr within Europe. In section six the work of Francis Donald Klingender and his 'Art and the Industrial Revolution' exposes ideas of looking and collating as fuelled by nostalgia, (suggested by his biographers as a 'Marxist nostalgia' which I will develop). Thirdly , in the section of the study which places the mine within discourses of ruins theory, decay and industrial heritage, the mine as abandoned entity will be brought to bare along side re-animations of the Marxist Spectre and the commodification of mourning and nostalgia by the industrial heritage industry.

5 Albert Dadas from Bordeaux was the first diagnosed 'Fugueur' (1886) leaving his everyday life, place of work and family to compulsively walk until he was either thrown into prison for vagrancy or returned to the care of his psychiatrist. This case study and the wider field of 'ambulatory disorder' is explored in detail by Ian Hacking in his book Mad Travellers; Reflections on the reality of transient mental Illness Free Association Books, London 1999. And the Original medical reports and records of Albert's hypnotic treatment are written by Doctor Philippe Tissie LesAlienes Voyageurs;Essai Medico-psychologique Octave, Doin Paris 1887.

6 Other clinicians argued that instead of a 'hysterical illness' fugue was a kind of epileptic state, the subject on coming-to would remember nothing of their travels and any details of often spectacular and wide ranging journeys were drawn out under hypnosis once the patient was again safely under clinical supervision. For further material on the place of Fugue in regard to the male Hysterical subject see the Debates between Psychiatrists in Bordeaux and Charcot at the Salpetriere, documented by Hacking, Tissie, Didi-Huberman and also Paul Lerner in the book Hysterical Men; War psychiatry and the politics of Trauma in Germany 1890-1930 Cornell University Press , London 2003.

7 Spaces both conceptual and spacial, separate yet also closely linked, one leaking into the other. Smooth space may be associated with nomad space, deserts, mobile dwellings. Striated space is sedentary space with its boundaries and demarcations. 'The city is the striated space par excellence; the sea is a smooth space fundamentally open to striation and the city is the force of striation that re-imparts smooth space...The smooth spaces arising from the city are not only those of world wide organisation but also of counter attack...sprawling, temporary, shifting shantytowns of nomads and cave dwellers, scrap metal and fabric, patchwork, to which the striations of money, work or housing are no longer even relevant.' Page 481 Plateau 14 of A Thousand Plateaus Capitalism and schizophrenia Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari Continuum , London 2003.

8 Leaflets in the Marx Memorial Library documenting exchange between English Mines Union members and miners in the new communist Poland post World War Two. The leaflets exist, in part as Socialist propoganda and part as record of cultural crossover regarding comparison of working conditions and tradition surrounding the mine.

9 After the Second World War Churchill's naming of the Polish refugees as 'Special cases' led to the Polish Re-settlement act of 1947. One of the larger re-settlement camps was on Blackshaw moor, near Leek, Staffordshire. Many of the settlers subsequently found work in local mines and mills.

10 Although resistant and particularly anti-Thatcherite, when placed alongside the Fugal model these narratives expand the notion of failure and circularity in the urban walk, futility/departure and return as characterised clearly in London Orbital, Sinclair's musings on his circumnavigation of the 'noose' of the M25 motorway.

11 The premiss being, in Marc Auge's book Non-places;Introduction to an anthropology of supermodernity Verso, London 1995, that these spaces (motorways, shopping centres etc) within the culture of 'Supermodernity' are non relational and separate from the traditional idea of 'Place'. The re-population of 'non-place' through the narratives of dissent present within cultural studies, for example Chris Stanley's Wild Zones', go some way towards beginning to counter Auge's argument in that these zones can be profoundly social in ways which circumvent the flows of capital and commerce.

12 Feelings of majesty, awe and anxiety conjured up by large scale manifestations of technological prowess. The term ' Technological sublime' is first attributed to Percy Miller (1905-1963) in his essay The responsibility of mind in a civilisation of machines.1961 and followed soon after by The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the pastoral ideal in America by Leo Marxs 1964 and later David Nye's American Technological sublime 1994.

13 Page 32 The Unofficial Countryside, Rich ard Mabey, Little Toller Books 2010 (Reprint from 1973)