These stills are from a performance/video work, made during my undergraduate degree at the University of South Wales, probably in 2007/2008. Filmed in the spoil (or 'slag') heaps above Blaenavon, this piece—titled Slag Drag—involved me laying face down on the ground making very small movements forward, as the camera recorded a still image every couple of seconds. The movements were then edited out, to create an appearance of sliding.
I had come to think of the waste products from the extraction fossil fuels as a kind of shadow material, discarded remnants of the 'blood of the Earth.' I had noticed how the landscapes with afflictions from the era of coal mining had begun to grass over, to be reclaimed from human blight. This was my initiation into the tendency in Nature towards healing and rejuvenation, and I wanted to create something which had a real physicality about it, quite literally brought me as close to ground as possible. It took the form of what felt to me like a meditative ritual act, a prostration, a kora for the unloved. We visit the 'beautiful' places, but what about the despoiled, neglected, ransacked places, who tends to them?
Robert Bly describes the human 'shadow' as like a black bag we carry around with us, filling it with everything we cannot accept about ourselves - under the illusion we can simply discard what we don't like, or cannot tolerate. Over time that bag becomes heavy, and then there is a reckoning within the psyche. I thought of this bag and its contents as a little like these spoil heaps; unconscious, wasted potential energy, a karmic accumulation of material and psychic debt. I had a black bag tied by a rope to my leg, and the film was edited to play in reverse, to give the impression I was being led by the bag. Perhaps this is what happens when the bag gets to heavy to carry, individually, and as a culture.
I remember it was cold, the pools of water frozen. The sky was clear, with a temperature inversion filling the valley with a river of cloud. And as is advised following any ritual chthonic in nature, when I left I did not look back.