That coal is extracted from veins speaks to its intractable relationship with modern civilization, of which it provided for no small part of the modernization; it is the precious dead resource, requisite for (what we now deem to be) life, and one imagines the jugular running within the rugose hillside, a lacing through tellurian viscera, the ancient refuse of violent nascence and convection-driven tumult, a black line drawn hard through bone and hewed through blood and running right up the sides into the head of Philip Hartigan’s grandfather. Corrugated as his environs, the head crowns a dioramic vignette, in one of Corner’s welcoming windows, which comprises the sculptural component of Hartigan’s installation concerning the coal running through his own veins.
Revolving around a near-fatal cave-in suffered by his grandfather, Hartigan’s three-piece installation—a stop-motion animation, the aforementioned diorama (comprised of pieces used in the animation) and a small assortment of art books—compresses hundreds of years worth of passion and pain into a distinctly personal—albeit depressingly common—synecdoche, that of the miner crushed not only by his company but by the very earth he both serves and butchers. The stop motion lends Hartigan’s re-creation of the collapse the halting, limping gait of time and trauma; the books, which range from beautiful black patterns to a simple, informational treatise, span the holler that so many considerations of coal die at the bottom of, between coal’s place as a romantic-but-deadly cultural linchpin and the hard science of its devastating cost. It is the diorama, however, which is the true heart of the show. The cardboard box factories and tissue smoke, fragile yet imposing, are perfect analogues for the mining towns where support was flimsy but rule absolute, bordering on despotic; the whole chthonian horror is basically based on paper, as apt a description of the mining industry as any. In mixing the subterranean and surficial, Hartigan creates a brutal pastiche of injury and infrastructure, a Boschian hellscape ruled over by that weathered, hard face. Of course, modern mining practice would demand that the head be the first thing to go; hilltop removal akin to decollation. (B. David Zarley)
Through May 17 at Corner, 2912 North Milwaukee