This image is from the series ‘The Coal Coast’ by Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen. It was originally shown at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in 2003, and published in book format as ‘The Coal Coast’. The image is taken on the east coast of England, in Durham, and shows a discarded section of mine duct on the beach, looking remarkably like an enormous snail shell. The rest of the beach is desolate and deserted. The Durham coast has had a long history of coal mining, and for many years the spoil heaps and the rubbish were simply dropped onto the beach, building the surface up several feet above its original level. The coal industry is now finished and the remnants on the beach are slowly being removed by both man and the sea. The broken mine duct stands as a metaphor for the destruction of the environment by man and the loss of a way of life. It is still visible, as it is both large and a good distance from the edge of the sea, however, over time, it too will vanish.
This image immediately reminded me of the similar history of mining along the Fife coast where I live. Much environmental destruction was wrought over the years, however the traces of that are now only visible to those who are aware of the history of the area and know what they are looking at. My image is made as a response partly to the internal context of the image – unexpected things seen on the beach, but mainly to the external context of the history of the area and the effect on the local population and job availability.
This image shows remnants of the broken down mine washrooms, that were left on the beach. The tide is high and gradually working at smoothing and polishing them. Eventually they will also disappear, or simply become unrecognisable. They stand, at present, as a reminder of times past, work lost, and also the loss of many lives in the mines that ran under the sea here.
Konttinen, S. (2003). The Coal Coast. Newcastle upon Tyne: AmberSide.