The Mine


Series of 63 photographs (photographed on 4×5 inch colour negative film)

“this art here is about other people’s art
that is the art i grew up with
generically speaking it’s white-collar art it’s a lower-level technocrat art…
it’s a petty-bourgeois art which is not to say that the artists own small businesses
or anything they just act like they do because they own something
that used to be as good as a small business… which is a college education
but we all know where that gets you nowadays

so i have written down some things so you will understand what I am talking about
so you won’t think i’m documenting things for the love documenting things
obviously i am not national geographic looking for native customs or alligators
i’m not trying to discover my self
i’m not trying to present you with a record of my anguished investigations
this material is interesting only insofar as it is social material”

Allan Secula, Aerospace Folktales, 1973

A place I rarely see, but which is closer to me than any other: the coal mine, where my father spent more than 40 years of his life. Even now, the pride and fascination I experienced as a child for my father and this place are still alive. As a small child, every time I heard a noise at the door I would run to eagerly greet my father after his 10-hour (minimum) working day. As I hugged his legs, I would deeply inhale the scents of the mine embedded in his clothes, and experience a feeling of excitement. Even then I knew that this place held something extraordinary.

When I was a boy at school, I would often visit the mine. My farther as a Chief Mechanic was responsible for the overall maintenance and repair of all mechanical equipment on the mine. Thanks to his position there, he was able to help my school class (to be more precise, my Young Pioneer detachment) to achieve its targets for the collection of scrap metal on several occasions.

The mine itself is located in the Lviv region, in the western part of Ukraine. This area became part of Ukraine in 1951 as a result of a land swap between Poland and the Soviet Union that was unprecedented in post-war Europe. In 1951 Poland initiated the swap of 480 square kilometres of its territory with the Soviet Union. The need for territorial adjustments in 1951 was officially explained by economic expediency: Poland gained access to crude naphtha, the Soviet Union to coal. As consequence of this action fifty thousand inhabitants in the affected areas had to leave their homes.

In 2008, while on an unplanned journey to pick up my father from work I encountered the mine once again and immediately felt compelled to document it. I began to re-examine my close relationship to this place. In the following years I photographed the mine regularly. I am currently continuing to work on this project: I am doing further research regarding the mine, the miners’ profession, the underground mining itself and its social significance. I am collecting documents, interviewing my father and other miners, and making field recordings.

The mine is also an example of the profound changes that have occurred in Ukraine. Today we have a very cruel and corrupt capitalist system with many, primarily negative remnants of Soviet socialism, such as malpractice or negligence. The interweaving of the old order (socialism) and the new order (capitalism) now determines politics, the economy, culture and everyday life in Ukraine. In this environment new ‘rules of the game’ are emerging. In this work I am examining these new ‘rules’ and their impact on work, life and society.