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Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen »

The Coal Coast

Exhibition: – 31 Aug 2003

BALTIC The Centre for Contemporary Art

South Shore Road
NE8 3BA Gateshead



Mon-Wed, Fri, Sat 10-19 . Thu 10-22 . Sun 10-17

At the beginning of the 20th century the coastal stretch between Seaham and Hartlepool was one of the most densely industrialized areas in Western Europe and one of the world's major centres for the deep mining of coal. Konttinen's The Coal Coast, a series of landscapes exploring the eerie aftermath of the pit closures, comes out of three years' intensive photography of the metamorphosis of County Durham's 'black' beaches, her work a kind of post-industrial fossil hunt. Coal-black sand frosted with sulphur, purple rocks of burnt shale, pebbles luminous with iron dioxide: embedded in reinforced concrete, among the seaweed, the nuts and bolts of a deposed industry are rusting into riotous colour. A lone segment of a ventilation duct crouches on the beach like an exotic seashell, while a miner's boot quietly disintegrates in the clay... The landscape is most eloquent in its post-industrial silence. Finnish photographer Sirkka has lived and worked in the North East since the late 1960s. Whilst studying photography in London she and a group of fellow students formed the Amber Collective in 1968. In 1969, the collective moved to Newcastle with a commitment to document working class communities, in film and in photographs, and in 1977 established the Side Photographic Gallery. Since then, Sirkka has played an active part in most aspects of Amber/Side's work. Her central involvement has been in the production of a number of long term photographic projects, resulting in exhibitions, books and documentary films. Sirkka is perhaps best known for her book Byker of 1983, a seminal portrait of the terraced Newcastle community, eventually bulldozed to make way for Byker Wall and the wholesale redevelopment of the area. She began her project in 1969, when she moved to the North East of England and lived in Byker for seven years, until her own house was demolished. Thereafter she continued to photograph and to collect testimonies from the residents for a further five years. Step by Step was a similarly long-term commitment, in which she explored the dreams and realities of a group of mothers and daughters at a North Shields dancing school - part of a broader engagement with North Shields undertaken by the whole Amber collective. Writing in the Sand came out of Sirkka's twenty-five year photographic engagement with the vibrant life of the beaches of the North East. Storm days excepted she begins her mornings with a swim in the sea, and although her new work, The Coal Coast, represents for her the radical move to colour, this series of powerful images capturing the 'terrible beauty' of the Durham coastline presents a natural extension of her concerns. This exhibition and book form part of Coalfield stories, Side Gallery's documentation of post industrial experience in County Durham.