Open air Miners Museum Mayrau
Kladno, Czech Republic
Mayrau is an old mine in the city of Kladno that was closed down in 1997.
We were able to get in touch with women that had worked for years on the surface of the mine (above ground) in the office, the cantina or the laundry service. They were happy to share their experiences: life, work… but nothing special about their relationship with the miners. They themselves were married to miners and were (partly for that reason) treated with respect; it’s a very close community were everybody knows everyone. It was ‘just a job’: hard work but in a good atmosphere of comradeship.
|| It functions as an open-air museum since then. Visitors will see the industrial complex exactly as the workers left it behind on their very last day.
For a second time we, Arno Peeters (audio) and Iris Honderdos (installation) were invited to take part in the yearly international workshop. This time the participating artists were asked to create a work based on a theme: ‘Women among Miners’.
So what is special then with these women among miners?
The men on the other hand were not aware of this connection. They had their own closed circle, a bond that was tied to the hard and dangerous labor. It was more rule than exception that colleagues were killed or injured by underground landslides.
||In one of the last conversations with these women, a subject surfaced that specifically belongs to their lives, although rarely discussed. It is about their ties with their husband when he’s away at work, down below the ground. It’s not a very conscious or active connection they feel: it happens by itself like an intuitive way to protect him.
So what happens with this connection between man and woman if he has perished underground? Would she feel guilty in a way, not being able to ‘protect’ him… for this connection to have failed somehow?
It was not easy getting in touch with women who lost their husbands to the mine. Others protected them against grief and sorrow or bad memories from the past. We were wondering if the widows themselves would feel the same and after some debate, we were able to talk with two of them.
The first woman lost her husband due to an accident in the mine; the second woman lost hers after the mine had closed down. As a result of years of hard labor, his health had deteriorated and having lost all his dignity, he lost himself in excessive drinking which finally killed him.
Neither of these women felt any guilt after the connection had been broken; it is faith, or the will of God and one should accept that. What they do feel is that their husband is somehow still around them. The line still isn’t ‘dead’, but it’s direction has changed: not from the surface to below grounds, but from ‘up there’ to them.
Projector-screens are mounted directly behind the fabric. Behind the middle curtain on the ground, a circle of miner’s helmets can be seen with lamps that can be electronically controlled by a light mixer. Additionally, two helmets are mounted on the ceiling, with their lamps pointing to the screens on either side.
||In the space of Lift No. 1 three translucent curtains (‘vitrages’) are hanging down from the ceiling, attached to half round arcs. One in the centre directly above the former lift shaft, the others on the left and right side.
A beamer projects an eight-minute film that is pre-processed by the computer to look grainy black and white and shows the faces of eight miners’ women. They were filmed with their eyes closed, which depicts the connection they feel with their husband and which is further enhanced by the helmet’s lamps slowly glowing up one by one, down below the image.
The last two of these eight women are the widows. At the moment that their connection with their husband is lost, the lights dim, the screen goes black and a ‘searchlight’ appears on the curtain on the right side. Then, on the screen behind it, a slide projector displays a photo of her.
After a couple of seconds, the movie continues with the second widow and the process repeats itself on the left side.
The soundtrack Arno created, was composed ‘on screen’
(i.e. synchronically alongside the footage on a computer) and gradually builds up. Rhythmical elements that belong to the work of the men are intertwined with more melodic elements that symbolize the love the women feel for their husbands. We felt it would be important that the music would be accessible, not too experimental and not dreary or depressing. It whishes to express both the tenderness and the vulnerability of this special bond between man and woman.