- Invisible Airs
- Coal Fired Computers
- Database Documentry
- Requiem for Cod
Jean Demars - Conversations
My role in this project was about researching the 1984-85 miner’s strike, turning point at which coal mining is displaced to distant lands; and get different people involved in the strike to participate alongside the installation. We chose to set up stalls, as a kind of strange and dark fair, which resonates with the mix of joy present in mining culture and the anger at the events that unfolded during that time.
I set out to Newcastle in January 2010, having never been there before… I had also been warned… If you think you’re working class, you haven’t been to Newcastle yet.
Very rapidly, I found some of the people I wanted to involve in the project. Amongst them are: Dave Douglass, who you have seen in the film, is an ex-miner on the left of union politics, anarchist at heart and from whom I learnt a great deal, not only about the history of the 1984 strike and what he feels was wrong with Thatcher’s government but also the role of the Union itself and its implications in making money on the compensation claims. Dave has been involved in union politics since he entered the mine but he also always kept a healthy distance from bureaucratic and hierarchical tendencies endemic to the union structure. The Union appears to me like an old dinosaur in its functioning today but it was not always like this. The miners strike offers us a kind of late illustration of a passage from Foucauldian disciplinary society, with a tied, solidary, loyal, proud, working class culture and its passage into free-floating control societies where people work in B&Q instead and where union and syndicalist politics have no place. The National Union of Mineworkers was helpful to provide reading material, and there is a huge amount out there, it is impressive to see how much mining culture alone could produce at the time and how active they were. Trevor came with a 3.5 tonner full of books, which we could only take a tenth of for the exhibition. I did an audio recording of Peter Arkell who had been a photographer during the strike, mostly in Yorkshire, to go with a slideshow of his pictures.
You have to understand a certain context in the North East where Newcastle has received a lot of regeneration money and where that agenda is driving forward many programs, so that mining might be forbidden to mention in certain projects… People want to move on from those days we are told. You will also easily see the difference if you go down half an hour on the train and get to Sunderland where the regeneration money has not reached there quite as much. And then you have Middlesbrough which is now the cheapest place to live in the UK, and that is because there is not much other than old factories and abandoned industrial estates.
The last participant I want to mention is Rachel Horne. Rachel is a young artist, strike baby and Thatcher baby all at once with a passion for her community, which she developed when she came down to London to escape from it. And she helped me to understand the generational issues associated to the miners strike and to CFC more generally. How is it that in a country like Britain, kids and teenagers don’t learn about the miners strike in school? How is it that they don’t know how their computers, video games are made? How is it that what their parents lived and fought for has become so insignificant? How is that those prosperous towns have become ghost towns?
Concepts [that came out of this research]
The other aspect of the project I would like to address is that of engaging marginalized groups, or communities and what we tried to do with it.
Community Arts is always appropriated by NGOs for social inclusion and its associated good governance discourse. Always attached to a notion of the good. In this case, we had no agenda of social or economic regeneration: we wanted different elements of the community to participate on their terms, even if we asked the questions. I left it as open as possible and did not constraint them very much. Art is no therapy either so our project doesn’t have the feel good factor that many art projects working on the margins would have. It is also much more difficult that way to approach people and ask them to participate on a project where sick flesh is resuscitated by what killed it in the first place, and speak up on what they lost and never quite recovered from. Many men won’t talk about the strike anymore as it became a trauma to their pride. The collaboration that took place between the various elements of the project was at times conflicting and other times seemingly disparate. But there was never any intentions on our part to make an overarching argument. It was more about putting those various elements in close proximity and let both audience and participants make it up for themselves. I think there are two concepts that arise out of this practice. One is Matthew Fuller’s media ecologies, which helps us to think about how a system is always complex in nature. The other concept that comes out of these collaboration and ecologies is that of Crisis. I am very aware that crisis has become an ubiquitous concept in many disciplines, whether we talk about humanitarian crisis, financial crisis or ecological crisis. But I would like to put a positive spin on the concept and see it as something that happens every time a system undergoes change through the juxtaposition of different elements, affecting one another and changing each other in the process. So what I would like to say to finish with is to not just let these crises happen but create them, and trust in the openness of the system. Against crisis management which leads us to the next crisis and makes sure nothing changes… It would have been fascinating to have involved some of the lawyers who made millions on the back of miners claims, although I doubt they would have come. That could perhaps be a direction to push the work further by putting different elements in this kind of uncomfortable proximity.