Featured in the Guardian and described as ’fascinating and moving…a haunting experience’ by Don’t Panic, MINE was also Pick of the Week in Bristol Magazine. And now the pamphlet – part-transcript, part-publication, part-glittery, gluey residue of a performance – is available direct from Spike Island or from the Spike Island online shop. Good grief! Gold!
MINE was a site-specific performance for seven voices commissioned by Bristol Biennial and developed with support the Jerwood Charitable Foundation and Arvon. It was performed in partnership with its audience underneath the city in the 18th-century crystal grotto of Goldney Hall on the 16th, 17th and 18th September 2014.
For images of the performances and a video of the fast-forwarded stalagmite grown at the close of the poem, head here.
The twelve performances began amongst the parking meters on Constitution Hill and moved underground, spiralling into an eighteenth-century crystal grotto in the grounds of Goldney Hall. Here, the audience of six exchanged gifts (pebbles, time, nervous glances) to trade lines of the story of the murder of brothers that Bristol is built on and still builds itself on: the giants, Goram and Ghyston, lazily in love with a woman who turned out to be a river, and who killed each other by 1) catching his brother’s axe with his own sleeping skull and 2) dying of grief. Or are we talking about merchant venturers, the slavers trading on that same river which turned out to be a woman after all?
Avon? Liberty? Hannah More? The grotto’s lagoon and waterfall (pumped with the first domestic steam engine, of course) is freshly gargled with (of course, of course) spring water diverted from Hot Wells, far above the muddy Avon and her necklace of trollies. But then returning from the first performance, I found the parking meters had left us a message from another woman, and a ghostly eighth voice sounded in the chorus:
The grotto, again locked and again leaking winter rain, is a gorgeous and dangerous pocket of hot air under the city. Owned by the University of Bristol, the grotto is, at least logistically, a useless gap in the foundations: it can’t host conferences or house undergraduates because it can’t power AV equipment or be made watertight because it doesn’t have mains because it is a listed structure with a lagoon in it because it was an extravagant folly built by three men who were sons of each other who claim their rollover wealth wasn’t made in the slave trade because they didn’t trade slaves but whose folly was to bankroll voyages whose cargo included humans.
The numb displacement of responsibility and the purity of ~*profit*~ are all still bubbling under Bristol, under everything and although this encrusted grotto has been left to cool and is now treated as a kind of curiosity, a glittering ‘hidden gem’ for summer visitors to the South West, it was always so and tourists have been stopping by since 1756, when Mrs Delany, friend of the royals and designer of grottoes wrote in a letter that Goldney’s was
the finest thing of the kind I ever saw; though I could not but grudge at the shells sacrificed there, and exposed to the ruin of damp and time, that would have preserved their beauty for ages in a cabinet! The master is reckoned a great humourist and a niggard, but I was so fortunate as to take his fancy, and he gave me two or three pretty specimens of coral, and said I should have what I pleased.
And there it is. The beauty of the place. And the sacrifice of another place. The uneasy distance (or complete lack of distance!) between the two places. The polite little exclamation mark. Then the gifts offered and we should all have what we please and all is forgotten.
And then we often resolve it: the beauty of the sacrifice! Ah, that is it!
So, you can imagine, I was very nervous and so very pleased to be able to take MINE right behind the door of this ‘hidden gem’, this privately-owned site of ‘sacrifice’, blood and capitalism at its most savage to talk about what it means to call a place ‘mine’. I am absolutely thrilled that this series of secretive underground meetings amongst Bristolians has started conversations above ground and I hope the availability of the pamphlet will help keep us talking:
Arnolfini’s Phil Owen reviewed the performance of MINE in CCQ Magazine: ‘a narrative as intricate as the arrangement of minerals on the grotto walls, explored the interface of geology and human time’
Harry Giles’ incredibly generous review for Sabotage provides a thoughtful discussion of how we talk about poetry and documentation and raises the question of how funding structures and restraints can act as a discouragement from producing work that risks silence and smallness: ‘Work like MINE deserves a larger audience and dedicated attention, so that more of us can follow the traces of tiny performances and great flows of stone.’
Finally, MINE has been recommended for the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry. For such a small and buried thing, I am happy if this is as far as it gets but do have a look at the list of New Work compiled by the Poetry Society as it is a useful and broad map of new territories to make your way into 2015 by.