One of my early memories is of remodelling my bedroom by inching enormous pieces of furniture around the room to find a new fit. I didn’t ask for help and I’m not really sure how I managed it with skinny little limbs and no puff but the will was there and it found a way. I have continued to make and model, design and plan furniture, buildings and art installations. You could say it’s become a habit.
I do think one of the defining qualities of being human is this desire to displace material and to reconfigure it: to move stuff around. Small children construct dens, play with Lego and get lost in computer games like Minecraft and even smaller ones are content with digging holes in sand or clay. Need I mention our cultural obsession with house makeovers?
Mines have faded in our minds as we no longer reach for the coal scuttle or travel by steam engine but we continue to rapidly build a world on the surface of the same size if not the same shape as the subterranean world that we excavate.
I was struck by the idea of ‘mines as mirrors’ when I was artist in residence in Finland at the prestigious art and design centre called Fiskars. (The village with the same name as the orange handled scissors that are everywhere.) Fiskars is now a multinational corporation with warehouses and plant all over the world but it still has a presence in the village where it started. Now a thriving arts and cultural space, Fiskars was once alive with blast furnaces and molten iron.
In the 18th Century, copper ore was smelted there that had been extracted from the local Orijarvi copper mine. The only record of this intriguing underground space is a draughtsman’s cross sectional drawing from 1826. No data has been recorded since because the mine flooded once exhausted. All that remains of this place where rock and ore were blasted by hand day after day is a drawing that I consider to be part fantasy on the part of the draughtsman.
So I have extended the fantasy. This March at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre I am creating a model of the unknown draughtsman’s drawing of the Orijarvi mine as a large installation made out of cardboard boxes that connect together with magnets, located on a large reflective floor to create a container of space into which the public are invited. The exhibition is called Hollow.
On the one hand the installation offers itself as mine into which members of the public can burrow and explore with head torches and on the other it offers itself as a constructive material with which to make new structures and sculptures, dens and hideouts. Through these processes, the artwork seeks to connect destruction with construction and the idea that when we make, we unmake.
Hollow opens 23 March at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre. As well as the large installation there is also a small scale model to explore: a model of a model if you will. And there will be drawings and models of the ideas in progress. Hollow features as a part of the program of events hosted by RSAW’s Wales Festival of Architecture this Spring. Hollow then tours across Wales to Wrexham and Pontypridd with a connected exhibition that explores ‘Mining for stories’ at the Ceredigion Museum. Please see www.hollow.info for details.
Jenny Hall is director of craftedspace.co.uk