“Our experience of a place, knowledge of it, the emotional attachments we form to the people who live there, all affect how we think and feel about a particular place”
– Carol-Anne Davies, Chief Executive, Design Commission for Wales
Lovely to see my drawing of Cilely Colliery featured alongside the wonderful article written by presenter Will Millard describing his emotional response to the abandoned space.
We, as humans in this post-modern world, rarely consider what lies beneath our feet. We see, and celebrate, our world on a horizontal axis only. One that is mostly surrounded by open air, and, for at least half a day, sunlight. When we do venture underground, it is hard to engage with the actual physical and emotional feeling of what it really means to be under the earth. The London ‘underground’ for example, is a well-lit, efficient and sterile tube sealed from the actual element that makes up its name. Being underground, and being able to touch and tunnel through earth, is a different experience altogether. It is claustrophobic and hot; dark, and often quite primal. Your senses are warped, you lose your sense of time and your spatial awareness; you adjust to hear better than you could ever see, your sense of direction is more instinctual, your movements are restricted, yet efficient and effective. Then the release back into the air and sun feels like a rebirth – you can actually smell fresh air when you come back up; you are suddenly so much more aware of how the air moves. Freely breathing and openly seeing somehow feels like an all-new privilege, and not a right to be taken for granted.
What we see here though, and when we consider the legacy of south Wales coal especially, is a world in a cross section and scale that heads directly down in its importance. It is that cross section that still continues ‘hidden’ beneath our feet – and yet, holds so much of the historic value. We have largely removed the pit wheels that would have hung in the air in every direction across the south Wales coalfield, alongside many of the old buildings and pit chimneys. Much of the folklore and culture of mining exists today only in stories, old films, images, and the scars of the last living generation of underground workers. Yet the real area and arena of work, lives on, for now, in a darkness locked deep below our feet.
When many of the mines closed after the strikes, the coal board removed the buildings and repurposed their materials and machines, but they simply capped- off the shafts themselves. Leaving the actual workings intact, and the tools and chambers behind in the dark, ossified for only the length of time it would take for a timber prop or roof support to rot through and collapse. Surprisingly, the process of collapse has taken far longer than the miners back then might have expected. A metaphor in itself, for the enduring resilience and spirit of the Welsh miners.
Thank you for your evocative words Will.
I’m an artist who creates beautiful memory boxes and intricate ink drawings to help you connect with the people and places you love.