About Turning Landscape into Colour
Turning Landscape into Colour is the title of a body of work that recycles waste materials that have formed and built up in the landscape as a result of the end of coal mining and examines their use as pigment for paint.
The research is led by artist Onya McCausland and has been made possible through a collaboration with the UK Coal Authority – a non-departmental government organisation who manage coal mine water pollution and land remediation. They have provided access to various mine sites and materials, as well the national mine survey archive. They produced a short film outlining the background to the work.
Frances Mine Water Treatment Scheme, Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland 2014
The research involves intensive engagement with places where mining and quarrying is still shaping the landscapes to observe and document evolving knowledge of particular sites, their geology, the mineralogical peculiarities and the effect mineral extraction has on the contemporary landscape. Each ochre forming in each landscape is geologically distinct. It is an index of a place - formed from the specific environmental, ecologic, geographic idiosyncrasies of that place only.
Six Bells and Abertillery with the mine water treatment scheme just visible in the lower middle of the picture 2020.
Overlaying the material effects of landscape are the cultural complexities that are woven so deeply into each landscape structure that they become inseparable; the geological, the social; the ecological and the economic. The questions this work considers are can the complicated interdependencies between humans and geology be signified by a unique paint derived from waste minerals that form during the treatment of mine water, and can these colour materials that are unique to place be repurposed to revive connections between the local communities and the landscape?
The coal mine ochre colours have a different genesis from traditional ochres as they are being generated through the treatment of polluting ground water in ex-coal mining regions across the UK. The unique geological setting of the individual landscapes has a particular and unique influence on the waste minerals forming there. The discovery of these qualities has happened through making artworks that follow five individual ochres from their geological landscape contexts through physical transition into usable colour pigments for paint. A process that simultaneously exposes layers of sociopolitical history, along with the contemporary cultural and economic connections to place.
Photograph of Tower open cast colliery 2015. Coal extraction at the Tower opencast site came to an end in 2017 after changes in environmental regulations.
Ochre is the oldest of cultural materials with roots stretching back to the beginning of human history. The mine water ochres can be aligned with traditional historic ochre - a mineral that has been found sprinkled on cave floors, caked onto the buried bones of ancient humans;1 mixed with binder and turned into paint on cave walls, some 30,000 years ago and forming patterns on the built walls of early human settlements at Djade al- Mughara, Aleppo, Syria 11,000 years ago.2
Environmental impactThe mine water ochres forming in the vast subterrainian wastelands of the coal mines contain and carry the significance of a geological, ecological and social event in time that point towards the contemporary condition of past human and geological extractive practices occurring in a particular place in the world at a particular time in history. This work explores the complex of conditions - local and global, that are combined in a specific material. It repositions each ochre colour as culturally significant material as an acknowledgment of their real and symbolic significance in a long evolving human story. These ‘new’ mine water ochres are presented here as human colours with a very specific cultural story and value.
Six Bells and Abertillery showing underground mine workings overlaid with surface topography and infrastructure
The research has developed and been informed through a focused practice of painting and its traditions, referring to those earliest marks on cave walls and neolithic marks and the minimalist marks of the modernist / post modern traditions. Painting has been a line to follow and also to drift off from. Collaboration with chemists, earth scientists and paint manufacturers have helped to shape and understand the analytics of the material as pigment, from particle size, transparency and lightfastness, using x-ray diffraction, scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and cross polarised light microscopy, to drying, burning, grinding and sieving, scaling up, ratios of one medium to another to find a route to get a paint that carries the weight of the conditions of its formation, that can be applied to a wall.
Cuthill ferrihydrite digital photograph using cross-polarised Light (XPL) x1000, field of view 0.1 mm.
Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) Six Bells ochre
Coal Authority Video
In 2018 the Coal Authoity produced a short film oulining the processes involved in their mine remediation programme and ochre formation and how working with Onya McCausland brought new insight to the potential uses of mine water ochre for use in paint and how individual places produce different ochres colours. The film demostrtes the collaborative effort between Onya and the CA in working to change perception of the materials forming in the ex-mine sites.
In the coming weeks we will be launching the very first sustainable exterior grade mineral based wall paints made from 100% coal mine ochres. And an amazing oil paint Six Bells burnt ochre made in collaboration with Michael Harding paints.
1 The Red Lady of Paviland: OUMNH Q.1. Visit to see the remains at Oxford Museum of Natural History 2016. One of the richest 1Palaeolithic sites in Europe is in South West Wales on the Gower Peninsula between Port Eynon and Rhossili. Sollas, W.J. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol.43 (Jul. - Dec., 1913)
2 National Geographic online: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/10/photogalleries/wip-week50/photo7.html, accessed: 217th December 2014. And: Caroline Cartwright (2008) The World’s Oldest Wall Painting In Syria?, Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 140:1, 3-3, DOI: 10.1179/003103208x288645 http://dx.doi.org/10.1179/003103208x288645 Published online: 02 Dec 2013
Turning Landscape into Colour Abstract, link to PhD: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10039744/
Further info on individual artworks www.onyamccausland.com