During one of my Snibston visits I brought my friend Sarah with me as I though she would really enjoy the diverse nature of the collections to be found in the museum.
Together we tested out all of the interactive elements we could find. The skeletal cyclist and the plasma ball were particularly enjoyable.
On the same visit we spoke to John on the front desk and asked him to tell us more about the work of the miners and the nature of the community that existed before the pit closure. He had been in the navy and when he left he became a miner. He told me that it was “the best, the funniest, the hardest job” and he had loved the camaraderie he shared with his workmates.
He told us about an old mining tradition – when a young man started in the mine he would cut a piece of wood from a beam and take it home as kindling. This kindling was known as cock wood. I was curious about the role the women played in the community and he said they really ruled the roost as they looked after the money, kept the home and hearth going.
This made me think about the male and the female, the mining and the fashion collections and also of the symbolism of the Earth Mother which Encyclopedia Britanica describes as follows:-
in ancient and modern , an eternally fruitful source of everything. Unlike the variety of female fertility deities called es, the Earth Mother is not a specific source of vitality who must periodically undergo . She is simply the mother; there is nothing separate from her. All things come from her, return to her, and are her.
I am intrigued by the idea of connecting the male and the female, the mines and the corsetry, lightness and weight, fragility and strength. Coal and corset are also potent instruments of change and transformation.
I've been contemplating layers, above and below, inside and outside (garment / mineshaft), power (mining, heat, energy, finance, status), tunnelling through - from soft surface to hard hot darkness. The pipes that carry heat, air or water have also been on my mind.
Then there are thoughts about the corset as support structure – like beams inside mines – holding the body up whilst creating a confined space inhabited by the body. I have been making visual notes to myself, trying to retain every spark that has been ignited by this journey.
The shift is still important, it lays beneath the corset giving the memory and illusion of freedom. Once the corset is removed, movement is freer but support is diminished. The mine shaft and the work of the miners share a similar dichotomy, the work is dangerous, the spaces are confining, yet the money earned, the skills required and the closeness of the workers offer certain freedoms.
When I asked John what effect the pit closure had on Coalville and he said without the pit work the miners no longer bought their twist of tobacco from the tobacconist, their quarter of sweets from the sweetshop, their loaf of bread from the baker, it wasn’t only jobs that were lost, many other businesses were wiped away as livelihoods were intimately connected.