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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.
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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), https://canmore.org.uk/ 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
the Scottish Mining Museum Trust, 2006); ‘Rothes Colliery,’ Northern Mine Research Society (Britain), https://www.nmrs.org. uk/mines-map/coal-mining-
See Sanjay Sharma, ‘The Impact of Mining on Women: Lessons from the Coal Mining Bowen Basin of Queensland, Australia,’ Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal 28, no. 3
(2010): 201–215." "04 This visual representation is unfolded throughout Pinschewer’s film in subtle ways. However, it is most clearly depicted in scenes
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
— albeit in financial, social, and humanitarian terms. See Giorel Curran, ‘Coal, Climate and Change: The Narrative Drivers of Australia’s Coal Economy,’ Energy Research &
Social Science 74 (2021): 101955.
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;
David Holmes ‘The Fossil- fuelled Political Economy of Australian Elections,’ The Conversation (Melbourne),
June 22, 2016, https:// theconversation.com/the-fossil- fuelled-political-economy-of- australian-elections-61394.
The colonial markings across Australia mirrored those of Great Britain’s, from an emphasis on resource
extraction and industrialisation powering the growing commonwealth nation into prosperity to the political and
spatial domain of parliament." "08 On 8 February 2017, Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison (then in the role of Treasurer), made this controversial declaration while brandishing a lump of coal in Parliament.
See Katharine Murphy, ‘Scott Morrison Brings Coal to Question Time: What Fresh Idiocy Is This?,’ The Guardian (Australia), February 9, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/ australia-news/2017/feb/09/ scott-morrison-brings-coal-
Murphy, ‘Scott Morrison Brings Coal to Question Time: What Fresh Idiocy Is This?’
See ‘1986: Coal Mine Canaries Made Redundant,’ British Broadcasting Corporation, https://news. bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/ dates/stories/december/30/newsid_2547000/2547587.stm
See Christal Pollock, ‘The Canary in the Coal Mine,’ Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery 30, no. 4 (December 2016): 386-391.
Pollock, ‘The Canary in the Coal Mine,’ 387-390.
Lewis Pollard, a curator in the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, describes the device used to resuscitate canaries created in 1896 as his favourite item in the museum’s collection. See Lewis Pollard, ‘Exploring our Collection:
The Canary Resuscitator,’ Science and Industry Museum Blog, https://blog. scienceandindustrymuseum. org.uk/canary-resuscitator/.
See Graeme R. Zosky, et al., ‘Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis: An Australian Perspective,’ Medical Journal of Australia 204, no. 11 (2016): 414–418.
See Robert A. Cohen, ‘Resurgent Coal Mine Dust Lung Disease: Wave of the Future or a Relic of the Past?,’ Occupational and Environmental Medicine 73, no. 11 (2016): 715- 716; Matt Peacock, ‘Black Lung: Queensland Underground Coal Mines Warned to Reduce Dust Levels Below Safety Standards,’ Australian Broadcasting Corporation News, December 23, 2015, https://www.abc.net. au/news/2015-12-23/black- lung-warning-for-queensland- coal-mines/7051490.
This is evidenced by a relatively new trend emerging within
the discipline of landscape photography, represented by eminent photographers like John Gollings and Edward Burtynsky. See Virginia Rigney, ‘Shaping the Country: John Gollings’ Open Cut Mines Series,’ Artlink: Contemporary Art of Australia and the Asia- Pacific 33, no. 4 (2013): 26–29; Edward Burtynsky, Australian Minescapes (Welshpool: Western Australia Museum, 2009).
On 13 October 2014, former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott made these controversial remarks at the opening of the Caval Ridge Coalmine near the town of Moranbah, Queensland. See Gabrielle Chan, ‘Tony Abbott Says “Coal Is Good
for Humanity” While Opening Mine,’ The Guardian (Australia), October 13, 2014, https://www. theguardian.com/world/2014/ oct/13/tony-abbott-says-coal- is-good-for-humanity-while- opening-mine.
See The Condition and Treatment of the Children Employed in the Mines and Colliers of the United Kingdom. Carefully Compiled from the Appendix to the First Report of the Commissioners ... With Copious Extracts from the Evidence, and Illustrative Engravings [Preface Signed: W.C.] (United Kingdom: William Strange, 1842), 5.
See R. F. Goossens and D. J. Buchanan, ‘The Role of Seismic Surveying in Coal Mining Exploration,’ Mining Science & Technology 1, no. 4 (1984): 253-
"20 See Robert Malone, ‘The World’s Biggest Land Vehicle,’ Forbes, March 12, 2007, https:// www.forbes.com/2007/03/12/ 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.
See Frank Stevens, ‘Aboriginal Labour,’ The Australian Quarterly 43, no. 1 (March 1971): 70-71.
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.
See for example, ‘Learning More about Child Labour in Mining,’ International Labour Organisation, https:// www.ilo.org/ipec/areas/ Miningandquarrying/ MoreaboutCLinmining/lang--en/index.htm; Annie Kelly, ‘Apple and Google Named in US Lawsuit Over Congolese Child Cobalt Mining Deaths,’ The Guardian (Australia), December 16, 2019, https:// www.theguardian.com/global- development/2019/dec/16/ apple-and-google-named-in- us-lawsuit-over-congolese-
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,
https://www.theguardian.com/ environment/2021/jan/03/child- labour-toxic-leaks-the-price- we-could-pay-for-a-greener- future.
See Bruno Latour, Facing Gaia: Eight Lectures on the New Climatic Regime (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2017), 78.
See Bruno Latour and Christophe Leclercq, eds., Reset Modernity (Karlsruhe: ZKM | Zentrüm fur Kunst und Medien, 2016), 50.
See Bruno Latour, ‘Some Advantages of the Notion of “Critical Zone” for
Geopolitics,’ Procedia Earth and Planetary Science 10 (December 2014): 3–6.
See for example, Ben Creagh, ‘A Swift Answer to a More Comfortable FIFO Lifestyle,’ Australian Mining, August 4, 2017, https:// www.australianmining.com. au/features/swift-answer- comfortable-fifo-lifestyle/.
See David Goldblatt and Nadine Gordimer, On the Mines (Germany: Steidl, 2012).
For example, see the ‘Illustration Showing the Chronology of Coal Mining,’ Making Sense of Mines, National Coal Mining Museum, https://www.ncm. org.uk/system/uploads/image_content/image/968/The_Development_of_Mining-colour-cmyk.jpg.