My first visit to China was in 2007, during an artist residency in Beijing. I was overwhelmed by the presence of coal. It was the beginning of Winter, the coal fires were burning in the villages near my studio, making the air thick and heavy with fumes. I returned to China the following year, for an exhibition at the Australian Embassy in Beijing then travelled along the East Silk Road across the Gobi Desert to Dunhuang in the far north-west province of Xinjiang. Again, the presence of coal was always evident. It left an indelible impression which inspired my investigation into coal as both medium and concept.
Coal itself is a simple yet paradoxical material, containing the dualism of both a life-giving and life-threatening force. Consisting of millions of year old forest, the coal particles are tiny time capsules, a material of ancient sunlight, yet coal simultaneously poses grave questions for our future. Both in the past and present, coal holds a value in man’s desire to create greater wealth,. An interesting juxtaposition between the ancientness of the medium and the rapid industrialization and race for affluence of China and the world’s global cities.
The chandelier is universally recognised for its iconic reference to culture, wealth and status. I have taken an actual chandelier and substituted many of the crystal droplets with pieces of coal. The coal being a reminder of the real yet hidden source of much of the western world’s power. After rethreading the chandelier, it was set alight and filmed burning in real time with further editing later in the studio. The chandelier is burning; no longer sustainable, raising the question of what price humanity is willing to pay for this power.