Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson: Song for Coal, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield

Looking at human-induced climate change and exploring apocalyptic fears, Song for Coal considers the Industrial Revolution as an ongoing process. The project coincides with the end of the 30-year anniversary of the UK miners’ strike and an ongoing collaboration with the National Coal Mining Museum to give a poetic and historical response to an industry which still figures large in the cultural memory of the region. The work is ideally sited at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, an institution that has grown from the Bretton Estate which is situated on the Yorkshire Coalfield and drew its wealth from the commodity.

This immersive audio-visual work by Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson occupies YSL’s recently restored 18 century St. Bartholomew’s Chapel, and explores the physical and cultural properties of coal, considering the rock as a cypher for the impact of today’s carbon based economies. Song for Coal is based around the flamboyant tracery of the apocalyptic rose window of Sainte Chapelle, Paris: 152 separate panels form a rose window of film, each containing its own individual piece, creating kaleidoscopic imagery that is rich, meditative and slowly evolves through viewing coal as a mineral, economic driver and a source of iconography.

An accompanying human narrative voice is a central element in the work, and appears as a plainsong developed with Opera North singers and Music Director Justin Doyle, and is based on The Coal Catechism by William Jasper Nicolls. This 1898 publication was one of many publications produced that century to give the public an educational insight into the industrial age by means of simple question and answer dialogues. Song for Coal however is far from simplistic, instead the chanting incantation of this secular doctrine provides the pulse of the work’s mesmeric unfolding.

“With Coal, we have light, strength, power, wealth, and civilisation; without Coal, we have darkness, weakness, poverty, and barbarism. The most civilised nations of the world are those consuming the most Coal.” — William Jasper Nicolls, 1898.

Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson: Song for Coal, 10 Jan–19 Apr 2015, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Bretton, Wakefield, West Yorkshire WF4 4LG.

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1. Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson, Song for Coal still (2014). Courtesy of YSP.