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Sarah Rhys: coal tree salt sea

Oriel Q - Queen’s Hall Gallery

High St Narberth Pembrokeshire SA67 7AS
Map
Times: Private View: Saturday 5 August from 2pm; gallery opens Wednesday to Saturday from 10am until 5pm.
Prices: Free!
Date: 05 Aug 17 - 02 Sep 17

The exhibition opening at Oriel Q from 5 August 2017 is ‘Coal Tree Salt Sea’, a stunning collection of inter-disciplinary work which began as a research and development artist residency in partnership with the Josef Herman Art Foundation Cymru in Ystradglynais. Using installation, archaeological artefacts and drawings, Sarah links the industry of the area with her travels in Poland and Czech Republic. 

As Sarah explains, she recognised how Josef Herman felt about the landscapes around Ystradgynlais. In ‘Notes from a Welsh Diary’, Herman writes, “The River Tawe below, Craig-y-Farteg above, in between the ground of daily life. Between walking and sleeping life like anywhere else, but nowhere else such a dreaming place… “

Sarah was struck by the palpable presence in the landscape and the great sense of deep time, reflected in both the land itself and what ‘literally’ came out of it; whether it be coal from the mines or a miniature lead coffin, interred in the Roman era.

Following this early work in Ystradgynlais, a research trip in Poland led Sarah to explore a salt mine as a counterpart to the coal mines in South Wales, and subsequently met with a group of poets and artists in Prague where she made the installation of a ‘Charcoal Tree’ called ‘Shroud’.

Coal Tree

Ystradgynlais was part of a very significant coal mining area, rich in seams of anthracite, it was central in people’s lives. The central piece of work that Sarah made was an installation in the landscape. Coal Tree was an ancient hollow oak tree apparently birthing coal, the setting was on a hill in the village of Cwmgiedd nearby. Sarah arranged a local May time event around the Coal Tree with Welsh folk music, poetry and a picnic.

Coal Tree Salt Sea

There are ritual uses of coal as well as salt, both are symbolic materials which were carried to a new home in when moving. Salt has a mining culture that has parallels with that of coal. Salt once known as ‘white gold’, is the Albedo, one of the triad components of alchemy and has deeply symbolic connotations to do with purification and substantiation. It has been used in ritual processes over the millennia and coal ‘black gold’, born of putrification and drowned forests is for Sarah an aspect of the Nigredo, it expresses deep geological time and metamorphosis.

Coal in Wales was created between 315-300 million years ago. Salt is made in continuous cycles, the ancient gargantuan Zeichstein Sea for example formed 240 million years ago. It was a sea that reached between Poland and the United Kingdom. It became landlocked and this vast salt pan gradually evaporated.

Coal measures were produced by the salty sea periodically flooding into deltas and swamping the forests and ferns that had begun to colonise the earth. The immense trees would fall and then drown in the oxygen low swamps causing plant matter to only partially decompose, resulting in layers of peat that eventually became coal as it yielded to enormous geological pressure.

© Sarah Rhys 2017

Sarah has responded to these concepts through creating installations, photographs and a publication. She will also show moving image work in Oriel Fach.