• Mining Memories

    Date posted: December 10, 2008 Author: jolanta
    I was born in a mining town in the north of England. My father was killed in 1967 while on active duty in the British Army. My mother, brother, and I then moved into the house of my grandfather, who was a working miner. The installations that I make are concerned with memories of those events, and with how they relate to the urgent concerns of our time. One of my major influences is Christian Boltanski, with whom I briefly studied during my MFA in the early 90s. I learned to make biography and subjectivity my sources: I want to immerse spectators in the discomforts of the past and the present. In my own case, West Allotment was the name of my hometown, a place so
    industrial that it was referred to by its grid placement on a map (the
    “allotment of miners” houses on the west of the grid).
    Image

    Philip Hartigan

    Image
    Philip Hartigan, Be Groovy to Each Other, 2007. Unfired clay, acrylic, tin, coal, plastic soldiers, 60 x 30 x 72 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

    I was born in a mining town in the north of England. My father was killed in 1967 while on active duty in the British Army. My mother, brother, and I then moved into the house of my grandfather, who was a working miner. The installations that I make are concerned with memories of those events, and with how they relate to the urgent concerns of our time.

    One of my major influences is Christian Boltanski, with whom I briefly studied during my MFA in the early 90s. I learned to make biography and subjectivity my sources: I want to immerse spectators in the discomforts of the past and the present. In my own case, West Allotment was the name of my hometown, a place so industrial that it was referred to by its grid placement on a map (the “allotment of miners” houses on the west of the grid). My grandfather’s house had no bathroom, so we all had to take turns bathing in a tin bathtub in front of a coal fire, including my grandfather, who was still a working miner. Hence the recurring theme in my recent work of a tin bathtub filled with coal. Another memory is of the huge mountains of coal that surrounded the village. Occasionally one of these still-smoking heaps would open up and swallow young boys who were foolish enough to climb them. Instead of doors, the doorways in my childhood home had bead curtains suspended in front of them. Again, this comes out in the work in the form of things suspended from the ceiling, or in front of doorways.

    In my most recent exhibitions, I have arranged hundreds of plastic soldiers on the gallery floor to spell out phrases of peace and love; I used coal and clay to create sculptural ensembles that evoke burial, excavation, funeral pyres, and purification. These themes were part of the installation called Be Groovy to Each Other. The installation 1969: West Allotment was a warped version of my grandfather’s living room, which had almost exactly the same dimensions, as did the gallery space. I filled the space with sinister versions of my childhood toys, family paintings, and prints on the walls, a statue of a boy taking a bath in a tin tub filled with coal, and a DVD of stop-motion animations describing gruesome childhood experiences.

    In broad terms, my work could be reduced to two words: coal and war. By a strange coincidence these have emerged as two dominant forces in our own time: the diminishing of the earth’s resources, and the prospect of brutal and endless wars. In my work, I try to confront the viewer with matter (literally and metaphorically) that is excavated from the layers of experience that we attempt to bury.

     

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