As part of the RE:SOURCE Residency, organised by NEW NOW and Amsterdam-based FIBER Festival, Dutch artist Hedwich Rooks is currently artistically exploring the history and ecological reality of the former coal mine Zeche Zollverein. She has concentrated her research on the central theme that permeates this environment: the hypernatural forces of coal. Rethinking and reimagining relationships with coal by experimenting with the stored energies of past carbon lives. At present, she is showcasing a snapshot of her research through tests and material experiments.
Rooks presents three research stages that currently capture her interest and will further shape her work towards a final installation. In each case, she initiates her exploration from the material itself and bases her experiments on various recording and visualisation techniques. Here, she combines material research, such as chemical experiments involving coal, with digital technologies. Her objective is to establish a connection between the influence and impact of varying types of coal and different moments in time. This entails analysing the layers of the earth, traces of extraction in the landscape, and the architectural and unforeseen ecological processes that persist in Zeche Zollverein to this day. Despite the progress made towards new energy futures, we still have a considerable way to go in eliminating the remnants and impact that coal continues to exert through our digital and industrial society.
This expository overview represents her initial findings after a first week-long residency in the Zeche Zollverein area. Based on field research, meeting experts and conceptually forming layers, this input will be translated into an installation work that incorporates the architecture of the area in the coming months.
Tracing the changing ecology
The surroundings of Zeche Zollverein keep on revealing various traces of coal; the immobilised machinery is still leaking, extruding, cracking, and shaking coal in the form of oils and powders at a much slower rate. Environmental biota is still influenced by the former coal extraction and the processes that have been applied to coal, where the current and constantly changing soil chemistry continues to pollute – yet also attracting or adapting alternate forms of life. These technogenic substrates are displayed along material experiments in which the parameters of coal have been modified, based on processes such as acidification and other -mostly- anthropogenic consequences.
Translating coal into a virtual form
A single shot from a series of 16-part circularly shot macro photographs of an anthracite coal sample (5mm). The various photographs are 3D scans, a technique called photogrammetry, in which it is possible to translate physical objects into virtual objects. By translating material into a digital form, it can be used as a building block for virtual stories and imaginations. By not further digitally treating this photogrammetry technique, the beginning of its process is exposed. The embraced inaction of this transformative moment provokes a desire to be more open to reflection on coal beyond being a fossil fuel. This gives it a platform to question alternative potentials of the material in an aesthetic, applied, and conceptual sensibility.
Creating collages of coal with mapping techniques
A method of studying soil layers more closely within geological scientific practice is the soil lacquer peel technique. With this technique a cross-section of the soil is captured on a plate. The plates on display in the room – with a typical size of 120 x 30 cm – are inspired by this technique are inspired by this technique and artistically applied, in which the matter of these soil representatives are designed manually in order to merge different time scales. With hand-pulverised anthracite coal turned into dust, graphite powder, salt and natural pigments, an alternative perspective is offered on these captured realities by mixing these ground layers. The gradient towards the pixelated structure is derived from a piece of coal sampled in the area, where an industrial process of heating and cooling has formed a similar process to how lava flows, resulting in what resembles an artificial volcano formation.
About the artist
Hedwich Rooks is a Dutch artist and designer currently based in The Hague. Her artistic practice is primarily research-based, varying from lens-based media to sculptural installations, drawing from biogeochemical phenomena and their processes. Conceptually, she explores what the collision of matter can teach us about alternative and constantly transforming societies.
This work-in-progress presentation is part of the RE:SOURCE residency; a collaboration between NEW NOW Festival and FIBER Festival supported by the Creative Industry Fund NL.