A year or so back, I blogged about the kerfuffle that had occurred after the Llanberis slate quarries had found favour with metro graffiti artist,Jack Murray who had used the quarries' grey walls as a blank canvas for his work.'Slate of the art' Fast forward to this week,and I am contacted by artist marymary who has taken the concept further by juxtaposing images of long dead quarrymen at various sites within the complex. For the full story, click on Pony and Rider.( There are parallel scroll bars so make sure you find the inner bar. I had trouble at first scrolling down the page). However,if you have trouble, I’ve taken the liberty of lifting the original piece and setting it down here.
The Slate (Fuck the Movie Industry)
I swear there are elements of cosmic collision happening on enormous personal vibrations- events that are so entangled that the outcomes sometimes seem like they are fired straight into your person by design. There seems to be little point for an average thinker like myself asking, why? The answer almost always is what you want it to be and therefore, objectively useless. The following paragraphs acknowledge all the flaws in this author’s rickety galleon floating in its universe of cack, quagmire and beauty.
There is a place in north Wales that I have always had a chesty affinity for- the Dinorwic slate quarries above the village of Llanberis and (crucially to these events) just outside the border of Snowdonia national park- ‘One of Britain’s breathing spaces’. Since first going to these quarries to climb on the slate, I have sensed the negative space where the mountain once was like an invisible weight. I have touched the rusted chains and machinery and sensed the lives, lived and killed of men who worked in radical conditions. For me, Britain’s breathing space most definitely extends throughout the quarries and while you breathe the air, seasoned by the damp, the grey, the rust, the tunnels, the devastation, you breathe in the heritage of souls who lived and died in these vast holes.
And so it was, living abroad I booked a trip back to north Wales for a visit in June. I found images of quarrymen from the early part of the twentieth century from which I made stencils to install in the quarries. My idea was not to make a big splash, but to place the images with reverence, unobtrusively where they might be seen by the observant, the lucky or the adventurous. I spent many hours becoming acquainted with the features of the quarrymen while cutting the stencils. Fuck me, I could even be related to one of them! My mind drifted around the quarries while I worked and I thought of one area in particular, a hole known to climbers as, the Lost World. This was my favourite place in Dinorwic- a place accessed by some adventure with rusted ladders to a hole known as Mordor and then a tunnel leading to Lost World itself and the most humid of quarry bottoms. Spagnuhm moss, huge ferns and rhododendrons enjoyed decades of growth beneath imposing walls of purple grey angles, streaked with wine stains and stabbed with rotting orange ironmongery, hanging from its sides like decayed attack. Which was how I found the place on my recky hike.
A slate hut, obscured by lush greenery until really quite close, had over the years been maintained and somewhat weather proofed, becoming an aloof shelter for the discerning visitor. Behind its glossy red door, redundant machinery stood silent- an exhibition of the past while the evidence of modern communion- candles, half full camping gas cylinders, a broom suggested the ongoing use for overnight visits.
I pressed on, considering sites to paint and it was on the way out, back on the public footpath where I saw a sign, informing users of the path that the quarries would be closed to the public three days hence, for filming of a Warner Bros. movie.
I returned two days later to install the paintings and began in Lost World. The first image I did was on a piece of slate which I positioned inside the hut. I considered the ghosts of the men I was painting-did they work in this very hole? Was this bad ju-ju? Or good? My motivations were sound. I judged tribute. I placed a few more paintings in Lost World and Mordor. And sprinkled a few throughout other areas of the quarries, visible only to people off the main drag. I did however leave one in full view- a thin rectangle of slate propped up in the slag, just above the public footpath. How long would it last, this un-secured and easily moved piece? I threw some venomous hex unto it, should some cock sucking opportunist take possession. I laid it good sail though, too. Just in case a local, whose connections reach far into the quarries nabbed it to put on the mantelshelf next to the clock.
Two weeks later my sister and I came to the quarries for a hike about to check out the work. Hollywood had been and gone. Sure enough the piece near the path had been and gone too- probably in some movie-twat’s London bathroom. Resigned, we made our way to Lost World. Emerging from the tunnel anticipating the lush prehistoric greenery, my perception was thrown awry by the absence of it. Quite stunned, I refocused and panned around the quarry. I saw total destruction of the quarry floor from massive rock fall. The chaos of dry destroying angry slate boulders laid waste to life and heritage beneath it. The hut had been crushed beyond use and appreciation, its legacy now void.
In the time between installing the work and coming back to witness the destruction, there had been some rain, but no significant weather event. The only abnormality was the closure of the quarries for filming. Don’t tell me those fuckers didn’t blow up the quarry. For a fucking Tarzan movie.
The quarries belong to First Hydro and the local authority and are not quite in Snowdonia National park. This likely means no one will raise a stink. I guess the heritage of the area, of the local people is just not as valuable as an explosion for some bloated and forgettable Warner Bros. movie.
Personally, I see the slate quarries as perfect settings for transient art-or Goldsworthy/Nash-esque nature/landscape art. As artist marymary describes above, the massive rock fall which destroyed one installation site shows just how unstable these places are. Artificial,man made environments which are in a state of constant geological flux. The old quarrymen even referred to parts of the quarry as 'galleries' although I don't think they necessarily had a Tate Modern concept going on when they used that term!