A Portrait of Coal
This series of Coal portraits for the 2021 British Textile Biennial. The theme of the Biennial focuses on the global context of textiles, textile production, and the relationships it creates historically and now. The starting point for this work was Coal's importance in the cotton industrial revolution, and Richards family connection to this controversial and symbolic material. Richard is interested in the cultural, social and aesthetic qualities of this material. These images are an attempt to examine our ongoing relationship to Coal.
Coal was more than just material; it was a symbol. It symbolised power for engines that worked machines and locomotives to carry raw materials and finished products. Moreover, it is a symbol of class hierarchies.
Wherever Coal was, change happened; it left its mark and defined this country and the world for decades to come. The textile industry-funded growth, towns grew from nowhere, and people came from worldwide.
Coal symbolised time, and the unlocking of this geological time gave us the power to go fast, do many things at once, and create beyond the limitations of man and animal. Thus, Coal is the beginning of modern time and the start of our obsession with it. Yet, in Britain, Coal is a considered a symbol of the past.
Ultimately though, Coal is a symbol of the present, the future, and the climate emergency. Coal still plays a huge part in "fast fashion". Manufacturing hubs China and India continue to increase the carbon footprint of the textile industry. Factories are major energy consumers and, therefore, greenhouse gas emitters. An estimated 80% of the energy used in the fashion industry comes from textile manufacturing. Electricity is needed to run machinery such as sewing machines. In addition, heat is required for washing, drying, and dying the cloth.
Most of these factories operate in China, which is mainly dependent on Coal for producing energy. With
demand for apparel increasing and population growth, the textile industry's carbon footprint will grow bigger.
We must consign Coal to history as the world faces its "last hope" of holding back climate breakdown, the
Cop26 climate summit president says.
The two portraits are of Bituminous Coal, Lancashire, UK & Scottish Coal, Kirkcaldy area, Fife, Scotland, UK.
C-Type print on Fuji Crystal Archive Paper Edition of Ten
118.9 x 84.1cm