To kick off my project, I took a trip to the Big Pit, to get a feel of the environment in the mines for myself. Travelling up into the valleys, the terrain really shows how much of an impact mining had. During second year, I use to go out to Nantgarw to go horse riding and all the trails around there were across an old spoil heap from nearby mines, which had grown back into the valley over the years. The surrounding areas all have similar features, with the spoil heaps from the multitude of abandoned mines slowly being soaked back into the hills.
After being suited up with a head torch and a miners belt, I went down into the mines and got given a guided tour. The tour took us to the stables where the working horses used to be kept. One of the most striking things to me about the colliery horses is how alien the environment they worked in must have been to them. Horses are prey animals, who naturally would live in wide, open spaces. To get the horses down into the mine, and to have them work and live down there without freaking out seems insane.
I wish I’d had more time in each part of the mine so I could have a chance to make sketches of the environment. You’re not allowed to take anything with batteries down into the mines, in case it sparks and starts a fire, so I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures either.
There was a point on the tour where the group I was with stopped, and everyone turned off the their headtorches. I still can’t even quite describe how dark it was. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. Often, when you turn the lights off before you go to sleep, for example, it might seem pitch black for a few moments but your eyes tend to adjust after a few minutes and you can see a glow coming up under the door, or from a streetlight outside or something. In the mine, when we turned the torches off we were plunged into utter darkness. My eyes were fighting to adjust but there was nothing to adjust to, there was absolutely no light source down there if the torches weren’t on. You can put your hand right in front of your face and not be able to see it, even the slightest bit. I can imagine it seems pretty obvious that it would be incredibly dark in the mines, but to actually experience it is quite something.
This lack of visibility is something I wanted to carry forward in my work. I aim to give a sense of this struggle for visibility through the materials I use, and the manner in which I use them.