The china clay mining industry in Cornwall, England, is a shadow of its former self. Once producing around 50% of the world’s supplies, the industry has been in decline for some time, with the workforce reduced by half in recent decades. Rising costs, and cheaper supplies from countries like Brazil have left many projects economically unviable. The environmental and social consequences are significant. And, despite the hope of site re-development (like the Eden Project), the physical and emotional scars remain. In recent years some spoil heaps have been re-generated, and some mining pits re-developed for recreational uses. However, many projects remain in limbo, awaiting a more favourable economic climate, or simply a formal retirement.
In my observations here I’m interested in how the man-made features of the environment have become a metaphor for the emotional scars experienced by a once thriving community; open wounds exposed to the elements, slowly healing, with any chance of a quick recovery long gone. Pyramid-like spoil heaps rise like shallow graves, with ‘nature’ trying to re-claim the ascendency, crudely camouflaging these ‘Cornish Alps’. In some areas wooden stakes - supporting tree saplings - dot the landscape like wooden crosses in a military cemetery, a poignant reminder of the natural cycle of life and death. When one considers the physical and emotional scars that dominate this region, it’s easy to note the irony that china clay is the primary ingredient in porcelain: used to create beautiful, decorative vases and ornaments. And yet, like the environment, theirs is also a fragile existence.