Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen’s photographs explore the ‘terrible beauty’ of Durham’s coal-scarred coastline. The wreckage of the mining industry that defined a culture and shaped its communities lies strewn across its beaches, discarded ‘memorabilia’ erupting from the plateaux of colliery waste.
East Durham is being tidied up, re-landscaped and designed for new pursuits, erasing the memory of coal. These extraordinary images capture a moment in time; the fossils of a deposed industry; a heritage trail of sorrow and wonder.
The photographs, taken between 1999 and 2002, represent Sirkka’s first move into colour, something she felt was demanded by the alarming vividness of the subject. Now, 15 years later, in celebration of Gallery’s 40th anniversary, Side is revisiting the Coal Coast.
The exhibition also incorporates an audiovisual installation entitled ‘Song for Billy’: the result of a cross cultural, international collaboration between Amber/Side, creative producers Forma Arts, New York based sound artists, Sō Percussion and ex-miner Freddie Welsh. Completed in 2016, it combines Sō Percussion’s response to Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen’s ‘Coal Coast’ and Freddie Welsh’s personal testimony of the death of a young miner at Easington pit in the 90s.
Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen’s Coal Coast photographs were supported by Arts Council England’s Regional Arts Lottery Programme, Northern Rock Foundation and Durham County Council. The making of Song for Billy was supported by Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Heritage Lottery Fund and East Durham Creates, an Arts Council England Creative People & Places project.