Coal is traditionally seen as a completely functional raw material; its value is derived solely from its own destruction. Jesper Eriksson’s installation considered whether this cheap and dirty fossil fuel has a more complex emotional significance – particularly in Britain – and whether it has an alternative future as a desirable material. “Problematic, glorious, scandalous, essential—coal has many facets to it,” Eriksson said. “It has sustained communities and enabled technological progress, all the while polluting and harming health of those who work it.”
Eriksson presented a speculative future for coal as an organic material for architecture and interior design. In this way, its image is transformed from a fuel that releases carbon dioxide to a material that encloses it. The installation contained flooring, furniture and other objects in solid coal – “Britain’s most iconic material”, as the designer put it. Some pieces were left in the material’s raw state, others were processed into a finish similar to black marble. By changing the material’s aesthetic, Eriksson opened a debate about our relationship to this utilitarian substance: "If the idea of coal as a building material is accepted, how and why does a coal mine differ from a marble quarry? Can we not begin to call the mine a coal quarry? This future narrative is intentionally problematic."
Much of Eriksson’s work is concerned with challenging the conventional use of materials. “When processing them in novels ways, pushing them in new directions, there is always great uncertainty,” he said. But there is also possibility – even for an unloved, unfashionable, dirty substance such as coal.
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Photography: Ed Reeve
Shôta Sakami, Miriam Bröckel, Lia Forslund
Embassy of Sweden