Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Three Eras of Power Production; Energy and Landscape in East Lothian



Until 25 May 2013

The current exhibition at Peter Potter Gallery strikes a curious chord with the recent death of Margaret Thatcher. With Thatcher finally laid to rest, these icons of the Industrial Power game seem even more potent, particularly in East Lothian where the landscape and economy have been shaped by the power industries. At the heart of the exhibition a simple metaphor is used to explore the dynamics of power. The familiar childhood game of Rock, Scissors, Paper is an illustration of the intrinsic power and energy of materials. One object can conquer another through its core properties and thus the game stands for elemental power dynamics. David Faithfull has used this dynamic as the basis for this exhibition, which creates a narrative around the history and future of 'power production' in East Lothian. The local landscape is shaped by the ways in which we harvest and harness natural resources. Artist David Faithfull writes:

 The vast architectural xenolith of Cockenzie, with its two dark-tipped towers, the sentinels of the Forth, counterbalance the bunkered chasms of decaying radioactive core along the coast at Torness. And the contentious wind turbines of Aikengall? To some, these turn with the serenity of Zephyrus, to others they are the grindings of a fiendish visual dystopia
From farming and mining to ancient settlements and estates; the rural landscape has been shaped by the history of human occupation. It is these rural landscapes that have also supported the vital production of energy that fuels our homes. Locally this has included coal mining at Cockenzie, nuclear power at Torness and wind farms like Aikengall.  Power production has also been a primary source of employment in rural communities around the Lothians. From mining to nuclear and now the wind farms, these landscapes have been shaped, scarred, enhanced and transformed by the power industries. The economy of power takes on a different meaning in the context of the relatively low paid work which has sustained local communities and at times cost people dearly, particularly resonant now with the recent closing of Cockenzie Power Station and the death of the miners' nemesis, Margaret Thatcher.


In front of a surreal and expansive photograph taken near Aikengall Wind Farm, three sculptures rest on plinths. The first is a laser carving in cannel coal, which was one of the historic bi-products of the mining industry. This hard bituminous material was traditionally carved by miners into furniture and decorative items in British mining regions, particularly in Fife and the Lothians. The form of a pair of scissors has been laser-cut into the smoothed surface. The second sculpture is a paper cast in the form of stone fragment and the final sculpture is a sheet of ruled paper created from etched and pierced steel. This group of sculptures play on the material values of the objects and their individual currency within the Rock, Paper, Scissors game. There is a subtle interplay in Faithfulls work between the aesthetic and poetic qualities of the power-driven landscape and the real social and economic issues, which create it. One could read this project in the broader context of Scotlands industrial heritage and the Enlightenment values which underscore it, exploring our contributions to engineering and industry and the cultural and material legacy it has created.

 In an alcove in the gallery space, Faithfull has painted a view of a coal mine, with wooden struts or pit props supporting the claustrophobic ceiling. Faithfulls intuitive style of painting has the formal qualities of Aboriginal art, a sinuous and rhythmic approach. The space offers an exciting den for younger visitors to explore and also stands as a graphic record of the enclosed and dangerous environment in which generations of East Lothian men and boys earned their living.


 Nearby there is adapted arcade fruit machine; Instead of cherries, watermelons and plums; the dials have been altered to comprise of the icons from the traditional playground game, depicting the piece of rock, the sheet of paper and the pair of scissors. The player in this instance does not gamble with his own money, but uses supplied out of circulation coins (old large 5ps). As well avoiding any gaming licensing this negates any payouts. With this interaction the viewer is asked to consider the strengths and weaknesses, the pros and cons between all the existing and proposed power sources of the past, present and future; indeed who can ever really win the Energy Game?                       

 The fruit machine in itself creates an interesting parallel between the environment of the public house, where leisure time and wages were often spent, and the energy industries that paid many of the workforce. Like the payouts from the one-armed bandit, the huge profits reaped by the large corporations are not transferred to the workers or the communities. As industries change, jobs vanish, the legacy of these are seen all over Scotland, in the fact that many ex-coalfields communities are now on the Scottish Index of Areas of Multiple Deprivation. This fruit machine, like any gambling machine, is based entirely on chance and chance like the goddess of fortune, is double-faced.

With each play combination on the fruit machine, the viewer/participant is invited to record their particular combination with 3 corresponding rubber stamps on a supplied postcard to take as a souvenir. This is accompanied by a corresponding interactive wallpaper piece on the wall behind, where the participant again stamps their individual combination. Over the duration of the exhibition, the wall will get blacker, denser and darker with all the ink impressions made. Indeed the ink used from the stamp will comprise of carbon-based ink, reflecting the greater global environmental carbon footprints that we all make. There is a smaller version of this game for younger visitors. 


This project is part of the Peter Potter Gallerys Monument Project, a years programme dedicated to the contemporary artists engagement with history, and it concludes three archaeology projects, four exhibitions and an extensive education programme. We receive 35,000 visitors per annum and we also have an unusually extensive education programme for an organisation our size, working directly with more than 2000 individuals per annum. We believe that engagement should be as important to contemporary arts organisations as the production of exhibitions. 

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