I’m currently doing a residency in Cumbria at Florence Mine, Egremont. The site of a former working iron-ore mine, Florence Mine is in the early stages of its new incarnation of a centre for the arts. As part of the residency, set up by Barrow-based Signal Films, I have been mentoring 12 Cumbrians artists with a range of background from sound design, to video, sculpture and even knitting. The final outcomes for myself and the other artists will be presented in a group show from Feb 6th.
Though I’ve been introduced under the title ‘digital artist’, I’ve been careful not to bracket the activities too exclusively (or raise expectations too unrealistically) and spent much of the time focussing on the interests and backgrounds of the artists involved. Rather than lead the whole group on a prescribed course to make something, my aim has been to tease out their own ideas and approaches and offer brief technical introductions based on individual goals. So there have been intros to stop motion animation, sound recording, video production and editing, photoshop masking and even hacking iPhones.
A key tool, and through line for the project, has been the introduction of the group to WordPress. Whilst some of the group were familiar with blogging, it was new to a number of the artists, and has been a great central site for archiving progress and sharing ideas. I don’t think the importance of blogging can be underestimated. Whilst there many creative digital skills and tools are out there, none of them are perhaps as fundamentally or universally useful for an artist or designer as a blog. It took a little to get going, but now a few of the group are posting their progress, and its a real pleasure to check the site to find a new blog post. Even better is to see the way people encourage and comment on each others’ posts.
The setting of the Egremont and the mine is a great starting point, and I’ve proposed to the group to use the word ‘unearthed‘ as a springboard.
The residency also allows me an opportunity to create a couple of new pieces of work, and the setting chimes with a lot of my thematic interests. I’ve been slow in getting going practically, but this has at least given me time to allow initial ideas to ferment, and I am now set upon two approaches. The first idea is a video installation that remixes accounts of mine collapses in the area – there was a recent incident in Egremont in which a digger fell into a mine shaft – with technical and social insights into Egremont and Copeland’s mining heritage. I’m hoping to interview witnesses to the recent collapse, as well as other people who work with mines, to create a database of language samples around the ideas of burial, mining, unearthing, landscape, that can be accessed at random to create a surreal account of mining in the area.
My second idea is a real deviation for me, which is to create a physical object from concrete, capable of housing digital media in a pseudo-gravestone fashion. I have been exploring ways to create custom box moulds for pouring concrete, as well as things like military-grade waterproof sub cables. The idea came from a twitter conversation with animator David O’Reilly around the conundrums of what to do with old digi-beta masters of films. Realising I couldn’t manage an archive in any true sense, I proposed encasing them in carbonite, and the idea of an apocalyptic archive was born. The work is as much about burying artworks as preserving them. The setting of Egremont is perfect for the first iteration of this work, due to it’s proximity to the Sellafield nuclear plant. The mechanism for burying nuclear waste has inspired the title for this work – ‘Deep Repository’.
I am back up to Egremont tomorrow to begin developing the ideas in earnest and supporting the other artists in finishing their works ahead of the exhibition next month.