I n t e r a k t i o n s - L a b o r
(Allenheads, Northumberland, UK)
My name is Alan Smith.
I am an artist and along with my partner Helen Ratcliffe, founder of Allenheads
Contemporary Arts in Northumberland, Great Britain.
I am currently working on a series of audio-visual pieces with sound artist Phil Ogg. On mid summer's day we will project live street scenes and sounds into Side Cinema in Newcastle, while simultaneously projecting the interior of the cinema into the street. I am also working on a series of videos based on insects.
For the last 10 years
I have been working above and bellow ground in the now closed lead mines in
I would like to introduce others to the work I have been making.
Please see my websites
for documentation of the exhibitions I did with these projects.
Excerpt from the project
walk about 2001
I recognised that Nenthead lead mines - a relatively new and developing heritage site - hasn't completed its evolutionary journey, and in my time machine, whatever period I travel to will provide a snapshot of the site's ever evolving shape. The result of a collaboration between geological and biological forcesÉ and man's reinvention of the sites function through trade and cultural demands
Being a part of the site helped me understand that all who travel to a place (regardless of their purpose) will contribute in some way to its appearance and substance.
Having the luxury of time to observe and reflect on the mine resulted in a heightened awareness of my solitary state in the landscape.
I familiarised myself with the nature of the site and assimilated with its most recent role as an exhibit and place of entertainment.
To start with I made a video record of the site, then ready to take things a stage further I decided to find other ways of collecting evidence of my movements around the site and had a canvas suit made.
The suit derived from previous work, which involved leaving canvas below ground in mineshafts to collect minerals and grow organic matter.
The fabric of the suit has absorbed ambient matter and it is my intention to have fragments of the suit examined using an electron microscope.The elements found will be used for the continued production of illustrations, large-scale digital prints and video.
The suits' design came from looking at the museum's archive of photographs, showing lead miners wearing clothes made by their wife or local seamstress rather than the mass-produced overalls we are now used to.
Wearing the suit influenced my behaviour and train of thought. It is well known that dressing up can heighten behavioural changes and costume continues to be used ritualistically, to bestow events with added credence, for ceremony, authority or role play - frequently found as an interpretative element of a heritage site and museum.
A massive influence on the development of my work has been reading Georgius Agricola's 'De Re Metallica' originally published in 1556 and described as, 'the first book on mining, based on field research and observation - what today would be called - The Scientific Approach'. The book is packed with the most beautiful engravings of medieval miners going about their labour. The appearance of these outlandish 16th Century people living in a world of extraordinary costume, architecture and plant life proved to be an irresistible force to simulate. In my illustrations I am performing actions akin to the seemingly mystical processes of mining depicted in De Re Metallica. Reinterpreting the characters' actions, taking literally the precisely labelled elements and placing them in Nentheads' current environment to create theatre, for example; A - Twig, B - Trench, D - The Mountain - claiming them as titles.
Human imagination and creativity gave reason for the first explorative digging for minerals, with alchemy and magic figuring heavily in early comprehension of all that takes place when processing earthly materials.
Man's spiritual and
mystical relationship with earth's physical attributes should not be overlooked
when considering our dependence on its recourses for technological and expressive
progression and through my work at Nenthead Mines Visitors Centre I have attempted
to tap into some aspects of that coalition. Test tubes containing hot and
cold tap water, glass jar holding heritage ditritus and soil samples taken
from the artists boots. .