Book Arts

Artists’ Books Exhibitions in the Bower Ashton Library cases, UWE, Bristol, UK

Sarah Rhys – Coal Tree Salt Sea 2017

Tuesday 5th December 2017 – Tuesday 30th January 2018

Coal Tree Salt Sea 2017 accompanied the touring exhibition of the same name and was self-published by myself with Coal Tree Press.

This 64-page book accompanied the Coal Tree Salt Sea exhibitions at Abergavenny Museum and Oriel Q in Narberth in 2017. It documents and expands on the Arts Council Wales funded residency that developed into an international project.

The main piece of work that I made during the residency was an installation in the landscape. A hollow oak tree filled with three quarters of a ton of anthracite, sited on a hill in Cwmgiedd near Ystradgynlais in the Swansea valley, Wales. The tree appeared to be ‘birthing coal’ a geological reversal, an anomaly in the landscape that enchanted or deeply confused people in equal measure. Ystradgynlais was part of a very significant coal mining area, rich in seams of anthracite, central to people’s lives. I held a small May-time event around the Coal Tree with poetry and music followed by a picnic.

While hidden roots suck
at the Darwinian sponge…*

I became interested in what else had been exhumed from the ground when I met an archaeologist who lent me his local discoveries, things lost or thrown away over the centuries. (Interestingly he gave me fragments of a sundial to keep). Some of these items are displayed as part of the exhibition. There was a strong museum aesthetic to the way I curated the work, for example arranging my slate drawings alongside ancient tree fern fossils or found archaeology.

I travelled to Poland to explore the salt mines of Wieliczka, near Krakow. Salt (once known as ‘white gold’) is the Albdeo, one of the triad components of alchemy and has deeply symbolic connotations to do with purification and substantiation. It has been used in ritual processes over the millennia and coal (black gold) born of petrification from drowned forests for me is an aspect of the Nigredo, it expresses deep geological time and metamorphosis.

Through the poet David Greenslade, I was invited to Prague to meet the Czech /Slovak group which produce the revue/magazine Analogon, of which he is a member. Several members came along to my Charcoal Tree event held around the installation that I made in the Kampa Museum of Art Sculpture garden. I had filled a hollow tree stump with charcoal and had drawn with rock salt around its edges. Earlier I had placed a piece of damp linen in the hollow before the charcoal was placed in it. After the event, I removed this material and it became known as The Shroud, the memory trace of the event.

On my return, I started to make mixtures of brine and carbon creating salt encrusted installations such as Allah Chemia and Miniature Landscape.

* extract from The Coal Tree by David Greenslade.

Coal Tree Salt Sea 2017, softback 64-pages on ‘essential velvet’ paper, 16 pages of full-colour images, with an essay by Antony Lyons, poetry by David Greenslade and a conversation with Dr Iain Biggs.

Sarah Rhys