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Factory Night @Boulby Potash mine

On 22nd May 2012

In collaboration with Redcar and Cleveland Council and Cleveland Potash. Thanks to Neil Rowley, our knowledgeable and friendly guide.

This unique Factory Night was an exceptional opportunity for 7 selected artists who were interested in industrial heritage, science, geology and the mining process. This Factory Night involved a full and intensive day visit where we travelled 7 miles out under the North Sea, learnt about the important work currently being carried out and Boulby’s 40yr history.


Boulby Mine is run by Cleveland Potash Ltd and is located near Staithes on the northeast coast of the North York Moors in Redcar and Cleveland. It is the UK’s only potash mine and one of Europe’s deepest mines. Potash is used for fertilizer production and as a by-product the mine also produces rock salt used for winter road deicing. Because of its depth, Boulby Mine houses an underground science Laboratory used to study dark matter and was involved in the UK Dark Matter Collaboration.

No electronic equipment such as watches or cameras  or jewellery were allowed underground so unfortunately there were no images taken but as the comments suggest, the memories from this extraordinary day will stay with the artists for a long time…

Joanna Brown: I’m finding it hard to know how to put the experience into words without undermining it. Such an intense experience. The dark matter thing just blows my mind.

Pauline Woolley: I thought is was an fascinating day and has left me feeling very inspired. Weirdly, having not been able to take any photos had enabled me to recall the physical aspects of the trip very vividly. It was really great to meet you guys and to break out of the Nottingham’s art scene for a brief period.I have been developing photographic ideas along the lines of dark matter. I have got a solo show next year at the University of Nottingham and feel the experience in the mine and dark matter lab will be the focus of it.

Sophie Lisa Beresford: I have been touched so much by the Mine! I will never forget it! The shaft, the outfit, the miners, the feeling of Earth, BEING IN THE EARTH! AHHH! WHAT A LAYER OF THE EARTH WE WERE IN!!!! When we were riding on the back of the van, I felt like a miner – I thought I might die, quite often! The contrast makes me appreciate My Comfortable life, above ground and the warm feeling of sunshine

Factory Nights commissioned writing by Joanna Brown:

‘Grace is the art of the fall ascending.’[1]

 

1: The Picture In My Head.

 

A man is stuck inside the ball we call Earth. His feet glued onto the earth, he forms the left  45 degree angle of an isosceles triangle. His head is supported by the corner of the triangle and his hat does not fall off.

 

This is the picture in my head.

A man is stuck inside the ball we call Earth. His feet glued onto the earth, he forms the left  45 degree angle of an isosceles triangle. His head is supported by the corner of the triangle and his hat does not fall off.

 

Sweat drips from his face,

his arms,

his legs,

his body.

 

This is the picture in my head.

A man is stuck inside the ball we call Earth. His feet glued onto the earth, he forms the left  45 degree angle of an isosceles triangle. His head is supported by the corner of the triangle and his hat does not fall off. Sweat drips from his face,

his arms,

his legs,

his body.

Sweat drips and falls.

Sweat looks after the man.

Sweat is the miner’s version of Greek catharsis.

 

A man is stuck inside the ball we call Earth. His feet glued onto the earth, he forms the left  45 degree angle of an isosceles triangle. His head is supported by the corner of the triangle and his hat does not fall off. Sweat drips from his face,

his arms,

his legs,

his body.

 

The sweat drips and falls and takes care of the man. It is the miner’s version of Greek catharsis.

 

This is the picture in my head.

The sweat drips

slowly at first,

as to be invisible,

 

but after a time accumulation turns invisibility into colour.

 

The colour takes its leave through the rocks above the miner’s feet.

Its ferocious blue cuts through the earth and finds its way into the sea.

The miner is paddling upside down in the sun.

His feet are wet.

 

 

 

The ferocious blue sweeps up into the sea.

 

2: The Picture in Your Head.

We stand at the mine shaft waiting for the lift.

We are in mining uniform and full of the novelty which that brings.

The minerals fly up from the shaft and stick to the concrete giving it a sense of the archaic. The cage itself is functional and unwelcoming. If this was a horror film the cage would break down and the protagonists would be in limbo, left to die somewhere between the earth as we know it and the earth as we do not.

Miners come out of the cage at the end of their shift. Not visibly dirty they are covered with an imperceptible layer of salt. The story of their work is felt upon their bodies, yet not seen. Later I will lick my arm and taste the salt. The salt of my sweat? The salt of the rock?  I don’t know which salt is which.

We are introduced as artists. There is a novelty in this for our guide; we are not his usual clientele. Standing beside people who spend their lives deep in the crust of the Earth, the career of an artist feels insignificant.

We enter the cage, preparing for our ears to pop as we travel the 1100 metres down in 4 minutes.

We are deep in the crust of the Earth.

Above us there are strip lights. They make the mine dim, not light.

The ground is rough, uneven and dust coloured. As are the walls. As is the ceiling.

Perhaps I expected roads made out of concrete, fake ceilings, a factory underground.

What I see is more primitive

yet we are on a truck driving through the mine, in the ground under the North Sea and so

 

we are far from primitive

 

yet we are so close to the Earth that perhaps , and yes,

we are primitive.

Sitting in the front of the truck I feel that I am on some kind of rollercoaster. We drive through low tunnel after low tunnel, oppressive light seeping through, our future in front of us and then gone.

There is a hazy sleepy feeling in the mine, the temperature is high.

Yes, it is tiring.

This relentless subterranean world.


 

3: The hands of man are hot and alert

Rock is crumbling somewhere, falling apart from the earth, into the hands of man, somewhere under the North Sea.

It is not day here, or night.

There is no view of the sun.

There is no view of the moon.

Here, machines prowl through the Earth- stripping the Earth of its Earth. The potash is mined until there are cracks in the ceiling above us. It is mined until the Earth begins to make strange noises. Yet the Earth knows and gently replenishes what has been taken. We see where the rock has moved up a metre in one year. We notice this -the bumpy which once was flat.

We are in the Earth, and if I stress this, it is because it is so.

This is more than simply being underground.

We are in ground.

In the middle of this Earth trucks move, conveyer belts circle, lights are switched on, machines are operated by remote control and someone in the dark matter lab checks his emails. The miners always aware they are working side by side with danger – the danger of an Earth unfamiliar with the hands of man.

 

 

What does it mean to work here, always with the Earth?

The story of the Earth cannot be second guessed by words and so, at best,

the answer lies in

the arms…..

the legs…..

the body…..

 

 

Bibliography

 

Weil, Simone (1952) Gravity and Grace London, Routledge

 


[1] The title has been influenced by the following text by Simone Weil.

“To come down by a movement in which gravity plays no part… Gravity makes things come down, wings make them rise: what wings raised to the second power can make things come down without weight?

Creation is composed of the descending movement of gravity, the ascending movement of grace and the descending movement of the second degree of grace.

Grace is the law of the descending movement.

To lower oneself is to rise in the domain of moral gravity. Moral gravity makes us fall towards the heights.”

(Weil 1952:3-4)