Edition of 30 copies
2”x 2 ½”x 2” book closed, open –
160”x 2 ½“x 2” book open
2 7/8” x 3 ¾” x 2” box
This piece mimics a geological curiosity, a composite mineral, essentially limestone, extracted from the pipes and water troughs of coal mines in England and Scotland in the 19th century. Now exhibited in natural history museums, this black and white striped rock actually records human toil, indicating the days workers were in the mines, and their days of rest, usually Sundays. Specimens taken from the mines matched up with bookkeepers’ ledgers: thicker white stripes of barite appear on Sundays, and on days off like Christmas, or the occasional holiday to attend an annual fair or a town cockfight.
The great dangers afflicting workers in coalmines in the 18th and 19th centuries are still present. Death came at the hands of all of the elements, water, earth, air and fire through flooding, earth collapse, poisonous gas, and explosive infernos. These accidents pervading the mining industry captured the world’s attention at the time this book was being assembled in 2010, due to disasters in China, West Virginia and Chile.
The Sunday stone evinces the attempts to keep water draining out of mineshafts, to prevent drowning. The white stripes of calcified barite represent the hours when only water was draining out of the mines, unsullied by coal dust stirred up during the workday. On days of rest, or the rare two days off when Christmas fell on a Monday, a double or triple-wide white stripe appeared. Unfortunately, the sudden perforation of abandoned, waterlogged mineshafts proved no match for the drainage systems, and loss of human life resulted.
The poem inside this striped book appears on the thicker white stripes, tipped in as every seventh page. The text is handwritten using carbon paper, as the search for stores of carbon is what drives the extractive industry, to produce heat, fuel and electricity. Rendering the text without seeing the surface it appears on is akin to writing in the dark, summoning the idea of children and adults working days on end in complete darkness. Some children passed the day in isolation and silence, opening and closing shaft doors that helped to contain flames, explosions, gas or floods in the event of an accident. Before the invention of batteries, open flames risked igniting gas, inspiring alternate solutions. One weak source of light experimented with was rotting fish, which glowed in the dark. Accordingly, along the white accordion-fold on the back of the book, a series of rotting fish skeletons have been rubberstamped with phosphorescent pigment. After this side of the book is exposed to a light source, it, too, will glow in the dark.
A ghostly hand-like plant appears on the cover of the book . Many workers thought evil spirits dwelled in the subterranean mines, wreaking havoc. The giant fossils workers observed in the mines were a also a creepy, unexplained presence. This rubberstamp represents the fossils of ferns, and other plants, to which workers were unable to attribute origins. Some conjectured that fossils were left over from Noah’s flood. We now know that fossils, organisms long dead, provide fuel for humans today. This work seeks to acknowledge the individuals whose dangerous professions benefit many others. But it came about merely through curiosity and wonder, reading the museum labels on a trip instigated by a young daughter to London’s Museum of Natural History.
Box lined with acid-free laserprinted text from a 19th century serial dedicated to scientific curiosities, with a notice about the recently discovered phenomenon of the Sunday stone, gleaned from The Curiosities of Natural History by Frank Buckland, 1857. Book created from three kinds of acid-free cardstock, blue, white and off-white, produced by Cartiere Fedrigoni, Italy. The white panels were sewn with linen thread at intervals, holding the pump or bellows-like double accordion together. Archival water-based light blue and phosphorescent pigments used for cover stamp and rotting fish corpses respectively.
I would like to acknowledge the help of the following assistants in the assemblage of this work: Susan Weinz, Linnea Blaurock and Emilia Figliomeni.
For those who have worked in dark shafts to give others light 2009-2010
Seven-layered cycles caked in stripes,
Clogged water boxes and iron pipes,
Six black lines and one off-white,
A thicker band of barite.
Six dark days, the Sabbath bright,
Miner’s toil in black and white.
Sometimes an extra day of light
Signalled a mid-week cockfight.
Christmas on Monday or a large fair,
Allowed the colliers two days’ fresh air;
A day less coal to coat the mines,
And pulmonary confines.
White Sabbath marked in Sunday stone,
A mineral deposit of labor alone,
A calendar marking the Tyneside mines,
Calcified for all time.