The Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) premieres Song for Coal, this Winter. The work is an immersive audio-visual work by Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson in YSP’s 18th century and newly restored, St. Bartholomew’s Chapel. The exhibition runs from 10 January to 19 April 2015. Song for Coal explores the physical and cultural properties of coal, considering the black sedimentary rock as a cypher for environmental and conceptual impacts of our carbon based economies. By the end of this decade coal is likely to rival oil as the world’s biggest source of energy. It is a material which has conditioned the shift from agrarian to urban societies and, as a driver of climate change, will continue to define transformations in human life into the 21st century.
Looking at human-induced climate change and exploring apocalyptic fears, Song for Coal considers the Industrial Revolution as an ongoing process. The project – coinciding with the end of the 30-year anniversary of the UK miners’ strike and an ongoing collaboration with the National Coal Mining Museum – offers a poetic and historical response to an industry, which still figures large in the cultural memory of the region. Indeed, the Bretton Estate from which YSP has grown, is situated on the Yorkshire Coalfield and drew its wealth from the commodity, making Song for Coal especially relevant.
Song for Coal displays a visually rich, slowly evolving and meditative image based on repeating patterns of coal as mineral substance and the coal economy as a source of cultural iconography. The artists have worked with the collection of the National Coal Mining Museum and made use of their extensive holdings of miner’s safety lamps in filming sections of the work. They have also employed the rare practice of cannel coal carving to create objects and figurines which were later burnt in front of the camera.
Song for Coal uses the human voice as a central element in the composition of this work. Working with Opera North and Music Director Justin Doyle, Crowe and Rawlinson have created a sung libretto based upon The Coal Catechism by William Jasper Nicolls. This 1898 publication was one of many secular catechisms, produced that century, which provided educational insights into the industrial age by means of question and answer dialogues. The cultural origins of the catechism lie within religious and philosophical instruction, with the most contemporary manifestation of this structure being familiar in the form of the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions.) Song for Coal however is far from quotidian, where the chanting incantation of this secular catechism provides the pulse of the work’s mesmeric and mandalic unfolding.
Crowe and Rawlinson, born respectively in Barnsley and Macclesfield, work collaboratively between studios in Berlin and Manchester. Their work is primarily concerned with the languages of power, with its grammar and rhetoric. Their projects address questions around faith, politics, national identity and the environment. Recent projects include exhibitions at Northern Gallery of Contemporary Art, Sunderland and VulpesVulpes, London, and a commission for The Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester. They were short-listed for the Northern Art Prize in 2009 and Song for Coal will form part of a solo exhibition of their work at MEWO Kunsthalle, Memmingen, Germany in 2015.
Yorkshire Sculpture Park Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson: Song for Coal 10 January – 19 April 2015