Innerground_ an Exploration of a Disused Mine Through the Memories of Former Miners (2013)

Carolina Goradesky

About this exposition

In order to create conditions for an engaged artistic production improving the knowledge on the theme and its no-more existent site, a research was conducted to identify space and sound attributes in people’s memories. Performing activities, the ex-miners endowed the mine space significance creating a particular relation with it. Through talks the ex-miners of the mine of Winterslag [Genk, Belgium] were led to find the “lost sounds” throughout their memories. The idea is to use the collected data to [re]create sound-memories which could be implemented in an old mining site, encouraging people to explore this site in a different way.
typeresearch exposition
affiliationTransmedia - Sint-Lukas Brussel; Musica Impulscentrum voor Muziek
published inJournal for Artistic Research

comments: 4 (last entry by - 28/07/2013 at 22:55)
Anna Birch 18/06/2013 at 23:21

Innerground - a sonic emphasis on the cultural values to be found in t memories. This is a project concerned with place and space and memories triggered through sound. The fieldwork here is about listening to miner’s memories of the now closed mine. The memories are used to re- create the sounds triggered by memories of working in the mine. The sounds are now 'lost' as the mine is closed.


Through the interviews with miners at the winter slag mine in Ghent, Belgium the artist collected a date set that she later analysed and used as a starting point for the production of a sound archive.


The method explained here is concerned with the role of sound as an initiator of new ways of seeing / viewing. The artist has a concern that viewing might not take place in the way that is intended by the artist unless it is structured in some way - in this case through sound.


The outcome is a sound installation open to the public.


The methodology is described here but could perhaps be elaborated on eg the virtual space readings is a description coined by the artists (I think). I am not sure how this is different from oral history for example - see Heike Romms recent work as a case study, which might be of interest. Grounded theory comes to mind and I wonder if the approach here is linked to that particular methodology. I am not quite convinced that a new conceptual model needs to emerge just because this project is about a mine that is closed now. Is the framing of the data capture to do with the sounds heard by the miners sufficiently framed? More clarification regarding the role of sound in this oral history would help the reader. The gestures and noise making by the miners in the interviews is an interesting thread of the data for analysis but is not commented on or analysed here.


The oral history approach here is somewhat hidden behind other methodologies - in the last paragraph of the conclusion the term oral history is used as a blanket term for the project. It is unclear as to what the sound outcomes is and this would be very interesting to share. The exhibition is given a slide - single image but it would be useful to hear samples of the sound produced from the data collection. The noise heard by miners is framed late in the exposition and importantly discussed as something significant to the miners themselves. Vison is limited in the mine and proximity for one miner to another is often the only way that seeing happens - sound is therefore very important on multiple levels. This value attached to sound for safety; orientation etc would be useful to flag up at an earlier stage. Alongside the theoretical rational the importance of sound to the miners themselves makes this an interesting place to start the project. Language differences for the miners is also lightly touched on and it would be interesting to know if this aspect made it into the sound archives. The data collected here is an alternative archive and one that has value in a number of different ways and to a number of different interest groups. What the evidence is of a collective is however unclear and left as a 'tease' rather than a substantiated finding. Use of the third person plural 'they' to discuss the miners is a style error and can be rectified. This would make the reading more joined up and give a clearer and probably more rounded sense of the miners participation in the project. The perspective of children and families in the mining community is not covered here and it would be interesting to read the experience of the visitors to the gallery installation in the context of the mining community as a whole.


The subject is useful and a good project for artistic research. I have set out limitations above and these are in summary:
- Some confusion over methodology
- The role of the sound installation in the research or project

Kathleen Irwin 22/06/2013 at 17:39

This practice-based research explores and recreates sound in order to investigate a specific, no longer extant, heritage site (Genk, a mining town in Belgium) in order to penetrate, activate, decode and archive the memories held by its aging workers and their family members.


Characterized as both arts research and arts practice, this project is multilayered and represents a well-considered collection and analysis of abundant data that serves to illuminate the history, sitedness and socio/political context of a specific and unique place from a phenomenological perspective. Simultaneously, the research has been foundational in presenting the work as an audio installation in a gallery and a virtual installation (and article) for this on-line journal. It is interesting in its subject, methodology (in situ research conducted mainly through interviews) and outcomes, which will, among other things, preserve the site for further consideration.


The author sets out to investigate, indeed recreate a discrete, though no longer extant, site - the Winterslag mine - by probing the memory of its aging mine workers. Using sound to illuminate these recollections, miners were interviewed and their videoed reminiscenses form the narrative context for the sounds, which are intended to evoke the space/place of the mine. The author fulfils the intent of the research well – to reconstruct this rich historic site through sound and memory. However, the project seems to intentionally disregard the visual background that could buttress the virtual presentation and help the non-Belgian viewer/listener situate this work/site in a geographical context. I was fascinated, for example, by how the landscape was said to have changed entirely through the mining process. While this was well described, some photo documentation of this would have been worthwhile. I was also struck by the written description of the housing designed and built to reflect and differentiate a social hierarchy of workers and managers. As rich (and central) as the sound reconstruction is, some architectural drawings or photos of the built environment might help us better understand the site.


Another important area of investigation touched on but not evidenced, was the issue of post war immigration to the area undertaken to activate the industry. Like the alternations to the landscape, such social modifications must have had enormous impact on the Belgian soundscape. Was it possible to make this dissonance (the language modification used to communicate in the mines) audible after so many years? The work is potentially sonically richer than what is evidenced in this journal article and it leaves the readers wanting many more means, both audio and visual, by which to understand the spatiality / temporality of the Winterslag mine.


This submission is successful in that it performs / exposes its core research investigation and methodological approach in innovative and effective ways through creative means. It is clear in articulating the research question and through text, audio and video clips it develops its argument so that this reader feels that the central issue has been adequately dealt with. Having said that, I feel that because the material is so rich, there is an opportunity for further investigation. Rather than this being a fault, it shows that the author is on to something.


Finally, while the article reflects some current virtual reality theory, the work is not adequately contextualized within contemporary performance practice, audio practice, heritage or tourist destination studies of the past 20 to 40 years, a period in which site-related work has burgeoned across a range of disciplines in many parts of the world. The author, indicates that providing such a context is outside the context of the work, nonetheless a short section on what locates this work in relation to similar practice would broaden and deepen the investigation.


While going down into the mines was predominately “men’s work,” the author writes that mining involved the entire family. This leads me to ask - where are the women’s voices?


Furthermore, although human subjects were used in this artistic research, there is no evidence that participants were made aware of the eventual outcomes of the project. Did they give their written permission? They are, as well, not identified or cited in the bibliography. I understand that this issue and how it is taken up varies from country to country and among disciplines, however the degree to which participants were made aware of the extent to which their memories inform this research should be spelled out.


Despite these few omissions, the work is an excellent example of practice-based research leading to a dynamic sound installation, and in its current manifestation, as an article in an online journal.

Dorita Hannah 22/06/2013 at 17:44

This project, which focuses on “virtual space readings”, is an extremely interesting one, especially in relation to patrimony and oral history as well as spatial recollections and sound. The site, located above abandoned mines, is well selected and highly relevant as it connects to an underground world cut off from the lived world and sonically re-experienced by the public through a ‘telling’ or ‘re-sounding’. This would have been elucidated through a visual mapping of the physical context and location/description of the embedded sound installation. Most interesting is the sociocultural and political nature of the selected site in relation to memories that are – literally and figuratively – deeply buried and in danger of being irretrievably forgotten.


For this reviewer, the strength of the project lies in the short video interviews with the long-retired miners, which provide fascinating and extremely relevant material: distilling and re-presenting particular memories from a particular community with its particular histories and physical environment. The author re-collects (through interviewing and editing) complex aural events, once experienced underground and now embedded in the memory (excellently described by those interviewed): exposing how past experiences are ‘submerged’, ‘sedimented’, and deeply ‘situated’. More successful than the resulting sound installation, these videos constitute a creative mining of sonic memory (digging deep to withdraw the essence of something) and present auditory experiences at the coalface (linking sound with the realities of the space of labour). A consideration of how the interviews (as word descriptions) and soundscapes (as aural atmospheres) cohere within the installation as a spatiotemporal event would help construct a richer inner-ground experience for the over-ground visitors.


Innerground’s title, topic, site and human participants promise an original and valuable research project into cultural/communal and individual/private memories and their relationship to spatial, artistic and social practices, particularly as they pertain to sensorial experience and unearthing long buried histories and experiences. The thought provoking theoretical underpinnings can be further adopted and adapted by the author in order to formulate a highly original
conceptual basis for re-locating, re-placing and re-imagining the past within the present.


Finally, a clearer articulation of how the author creatively develops and applies the notion of “virtual space readings” will clarify a valuable contribution to artistic practice, not only in relation to this project specifically but to a more general, creative analysis of space and place as a complex layering of multiple timeframes and human histories, which, re-membered, are both virtual and real, present and absent, fact and fiction.

28/07/2013 at 22:55

             I would like to begin my comment by referring to Kathleen Irwin’s comment, “…the material is so rich, there is an opportunity for further investigation. Rather than this being a fault, it shows that the author is onto something.” This quote resonates how the experience of research offers many perceptions and opportunities with projects. I will continue the discussion of methodologies, sound and the visual, and the project’s Internet presence.  


            The methods of data collection (interviews and cultural values of an environment) are similar to an ethnography process or anthropological methods. I am suggesting Anna Grimshaw and Amanda Ravetz’s book Visualizing Anthropology. The book presents case studies of artists and anthropologist’s experiences with data collection and public presentations of projects. While my suggestion leans toward the visual aspects of data collection the essays offer an insight to the diversity with research management.


            The Sound category of the essay presents the foundation for the argument of the use of sound instead of the visual in the final project. There is one example of tension between sound and the visual that is mentioned in the description of the installation. The Installation category sites that it was important to display the video documentation of the miner’s interviews with the exhibit. It is stated how these interviews were specifically edited to visually display the physical gestures used by the miners to communicate their perspective of the sounds of the mine. This aspect of the exhibit does have performative qualities, but it also reflects the comments concerning the miner’s language to describe sound. My comment is taking the human senses into account with the possibilities of not only hearing sound, but the sense of feeling – an example is vibrations. The description of the edited video segments bring me back to Kathleen Irwin’s comment toward the opportunities of further investigation, whether it is a continuation of Innerground or to use with future projects. 


            Finally, the project’s Internet presence is introduced as an online database. The website offers any continuation of the project with the ability to add future research. I do feel there is an absence of the artist’s voice in the essay and on the website of how the beginning data went through the creative process of becoming a sound installation. The absence of the artist’s perspective leaves me in a state of curiosity about the methods used in collecting or creating the five sound compositions.


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