CO2 Interiors

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Eduardo Kairuz
Sam Spurr


Are there any ulterior narratives that could be mined through a close examination and interpretation of the coal mine interior spaces? CO2 Interiors is a visual essay that addresses this question. And to do so, it unpacks a meticulously curated group of archival images that expose the covert narratives of colonialism and slow violence embedded in coal mining’s (extra)ordinary interiors. This creative exercise entails integrating text into images that include a 19th Century etching of young children pushing coal-filled carriages through steep mine tunnels; and a still from an animated film produced in the 1950s by the National Coal Board Film Unit in Britain. There is an image of human tissue affected by Black Lung Disease; and a photograph of a former Australian Prime Minister enacting the mythology of the alpha male explorer, plunging into the unknown and forbidden depths of the planet. Collectively, these image/text hybrids posit an experimental narrative—an assemblage—that starkly contrasts with contemporary depictions by the mining industry, focused on the technical and quantitative aspects of the activity or greenwashing its multiscalar and devastating effects. This project engages multiple forms of visual representation (historical, spatial, political, and ideological) that have conjured a mythology of coal mining still present today. In doing so, certain refrains echo and multiply, persisting across time frames and political borders to produce a taxonomy of subterranean effects. Integrating text and images, our devices yield a performative reading that seeks to raise awareness and produce affect. As such, CO2 Interiors amplifies our understanding of coal mining beyond its economic and environmental repercussions and well into its social, political, and cultural implications—especially the spatial ones. While the 2019 Australian Federal Election results attest to the embedded mythology of coal mining that is still impossible to restrain, CO2 Interiors dismantles and reassembles it, recasting the false narrative of progress, equity, and solidarity that has been projected from within the coal mine interior space. This curated assemblage of coal stories accumulates as evidence to be critically analysed in order to truly achieve a sustainable post-carbon future.

Article Details

How to Cite
Kairuz, Eduardo, and Sam Spurr. 2021. “CO2 Interiors”. Idea Journal 18 (01):87-112.
Author Biography

Sam Spurr, University of Newcastle

Dr Sam Spurr is Associate Professor and Head of Discipline/Architecture at the University of Newcastle, Australia.


On 30 June 1958, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the II visited the Rothes Colliery, near Kirkcaldy in Fife, Scotland.

The event was documented extensively by the media and widely disseminated across different platforms. See Miles Oglethorpe, ‘Losing Our Mines: Scotland’s Coal Mining Legacy,’ Historic Environment 28, no. 1

(2016): 86–96; ‘Rothes Colliery,’ Canmore: National Record of the Historic Environment (Scotland), site/70464/rothes-colliery.

The UK National Coal Board intended for the Rothes Colliery to be a superpit, with a lifespan of 100 years and an output of over 5,000 tons of coal per day. This ambitious mining operation was supposed to supply the UK with a surplus of energy in the post-war period. A substantial number of workers to operate the mine and develop new housing was necessary. The visit by the Queen consolidated the importance of this mine as an investment in the future of Scotland and beyond. See Miles Oglethorpe, Scottish Collieries: An Inventory of Scotland’s Coal Industry in the Nationalised Era, (Edinburgh: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland and

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in-the-british-isles/scotland/ kirkcaldy/rothes-colliery/.

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where scores of men, presented as black silhouettes, stop

their activities to attend King Coal’s call for help. See Jules Pinschewer, dir., King

Coal (1948), British Film Industry Archive, film, 03’12”.

In Australia, coal and prosperity are terms that have been bounded into a notion that underscores a long history of trade, politics, and culture. This notion has been repeatedly echoed by the media, where political and industrial

voices influence the public perception of coal’s value

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We use the term ‘coal politics’ to synthesise the enmeshing of historical, mythic, and political issues with economic and material ones, shaping Australia’s appalling record of climate inaction. For more, see Simon Copland, ‘Anti-Politics and Global Climate Inaction: The Case of the Australian Carbon Tax,’ Critical Sociology 46, no. 4–5 (July 2020): 623–41;

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The colonial markings across Australia mirrored those of Great Britain’s, from an emphasis on resource

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This is evidenced by a relatively new trend emerging within

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for Humanity” While Opening Mine,’ The Guardian (Australia), October 13, 2014, https://www. oct/13/tony-abbott-says-coal- is-good-for-humanity-while- opening-mine.

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"20 See Robert Malone, ‘The World’s Biggest Land Vehicle,’ Forbes, March 12, 2007, https:// bagger-vehicle-tractor-biz- logistics-cx_rm_0312vehicle. html?sh=66865c3aa1b3.

John McPhee, the celebrated American writer, pioneer of creative nonfiction, introduced and applied the term ‘deep time’ to encapsulate the conceptof geological time. See John McPhee, Annals of the Former World (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998), 29.

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The Condition and Treatment of the Children Employed in the Mines and Colliers of the United Kingdom, 39.

The Condition and Treatment of the Children Employed in the Mines and Colliers of the United Kingdom, 4.

The Condition and Treatment of the Children Employed in the Mines and Colliers of the United Kingdom, 36.

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child-cobalt-mining-deaths." "27 See Dylan O’Driscoll, Overview of Child Labour in the Artisanal and Small-scale Mining

Sector in Asia and Africa, K4D Helpdesk Report (Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies), 6; Robin McKie, ‘Child Labour, Toxic Leaks: The Price We Could Pay for a Greener Future,’ The Guardian (Australia), January 03, 2021, environment/2021/jan/03/child- labour-toxic-leaks-the-price- we-could-pay-for-a-greener- future.

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Geopolitics,’ Procedia Earth and Planetary Science 10 (December 2014): 3–6.

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For example, see the ‘Illustration Showing the Chronology of Coal Mining,’ Making Sense of Mines, National Coal Mining Museum, https://www.ncm.