A Monument for the Anthropocene
Derbyshire and the Peaks feels like a museum to human history. Tightly packed are traces and tracks of our activities going back thousands of years. Mounds and mines, quarries and caves, fields and rock faces. And in the bucolic beauty rumble away vast machines extracting aggregate, milling sand, huge lorries roar down picturesque lanes, moving tons of rock. From a vantage point at Alport Heights I could see the cooling towers of Radcliffe and Willington. Willington where also found remains of the Anglo Saxons and their rarely surviving Grubenhäuser, houses dug into the ground. Building, digging, hacking, cutting, eating, sleeping, carving and killing - the colossal effort of thousands of generations lie there, gently covered by grass, forming suggestive mounds and mysterious manifestations. All rock formations strangely morph into human forms, grimaces, dancers and reclining beauties.
The complexity of much of technology seems totally baffling sometimes. How did anyone come up with that process, think to extract lead ore, hack, smelt, foam, filter to create this material, which is endlessly pliable, almost indestructible, yet hard and incredibly heavy. Harboro Rocks was the most salient place to feel this long history of endeavour, quarried and mined by the Romans, the factory nestled by its side roars and grinds until late into the evening. Around the picturesque mound of weathered rock lie the remains of lead smelting machines and engine rooms that point to the sky like lost Inka Cities. As you walk up the hill past the rock face scarred by lead veins scratched out meticulously, you find a cave door. Daniel Defoe visited this place in 1726 and met a family of seven who had lived in the cave for three generations. Excavations have found it to have been used since the last Ice Age, ten thousand years ago. It even contains a flu above the fire pit. If you scale to the top of the mound, you find carved chairs that may date back to Neolithic times and afford a wonderful view across miles and miles of Derbyshire landscape.
We spent millions of years working stone, thousands working metal, hundreds working glass and the speed of our material discoveries and energy exploitation increases at a heart stopping speed. Perhaps in this ingenuity lies the possibility of inventing ourselves out of the precipice of environmental damage, the destruction of our own habitat. It is easy to think that all our actions are there to generate profit, to exploit resources for fast wealth. But this isn’t entirely true. Much of what we have built and constructed is instead about memory. The mounds and pyramids, engraved and standing stones hold the remains of loved ones. In the face of the devastating knowledge of impending death, our own and those we love or admire, we have to find ways to keep them close, to hold them within our realm of influence, to invoke magic, to give a location, a space and ritual to that memory. This connect us across the millennia to all the people who came before.
Image above: Standing Stones
Prints on granite fragments, 150 x 40 x 30cm
Digging and Spilling, foundry bronze, brass, cement and crinoid fossil stone, 200 x 200cm
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Print on Fossil Stone, detail of crinoids, image from ruins at Harboro Rocks, right: print on fossilised tree section
Minninglow – A Circle of Beeches and fallen stones, a 6000 year old place of burial and worship
Tunnelling, Mine shaft printed on lead sheet, right: Throat, printed Peak District lime stone tile
Railway Reliquary, drawer front printed with the place where it was found (central hut)
These railway huts are at Hoegrange Quarry, disused and now a nature and butterfly reserve
Stairway to Nowhere
Print on lead
Lead processing ruins at Harboro Rocks
Liane Lang in her studio working on a scuplture using the lead from St Mary's Church Wirksworth