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Louise K Wilson

Scratching the surface:

“All exploration is speculative”

Dr Phillip Murphy (Quaternary Science, University of Leeds)


The time spent at ACA in June with the other artists (and visitors) was intense and productive: particularly in listening to overlapping and diverging responses to the collectively experienced walks, films, discussions…) and in viewing nascent ideas in process. Some of the strongest observations were generated on the first afternoon with the visit to Smallcleugh Mine: navigating and ‘sensing’ as a group in (full and partial) darkness; thinking of the human (and animal) bodies shaped and conditioned by this hard subterranean work; noticing more of the residual traces; catching the vernacular – ‘deads’, ‘flats’, ‘levels’, ‘adits’ etc. In the spur of the moment I asked the assembled company to perform a ‘glissando’ in the Ballroom (as a way to temporarily irradiate this chamber with sound?) and then digitally reversed it – the voices descend. An interest in sound moving up and down, between levels and states is developing –and I’m looking forward to recording objects being dropped down the mineshaft that apparently has an audible ‘fall’ of at least 16 seconds. This visit also rekindled my interest in time capsules - a desire to both ‘extract’ and to bury in the landscape (thinking here too about Christine and Alan’s conversation about the chronology of mine construction– manifested through passage through the tunnels).  

It would be possible to be swayed by the ‘above ground’ (like the fascinating ‘bunker architecture’ of the grouse shooting grounds..), but I still want to privilege the ‘below’. Thoughts around the ‘vibrant matter’ -the lustrous and sparkly character of galena that slowly dulls when brought to the surface and exposed to air – could be important. As ever, I’m motivated by ‘thought experiments’ – of sonifying materials - and am wondering if a shard of galena could (for example) be sharpened and polished to make a stylus to release the sound from a vinyl record? How can we ‘map’ these underground places in the absence of usual devices? I started the process of recording the mine tour-ists recalling the route taken in the mine (curious about what is remembered, what is forgotten) – I want to make drawings from these and also to plot from above (I have leads to pursue here on archaic and contemporary means of mapping mines). Could the micro spaces (the small crevices in the sides of the mine) be ‘cast’ and extracted? I want to know more about the history and possible archive of Vielle Montagne – where did the lead end up? A recent conversation with an academic at the University of Leeds (a geologist who formerly worked in the mining industry and who identified my two small pieces of Smallcleugh galena and sphalerite) stressed the ‘hidden’ nature of the mining industry – desirous to keep its activities discrete. The drilling and extraction of materials continues in the area he tells me and I’m curious to find out more…


Louise K Wilson, July 2016

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