This is a blog of ongoing projects starting with: 1) Antarctica -Dec. 2006 - February 2007 2) Work made from the experience 2008 3) Nevada Feb. - Oct. 2008

Friday, July 22, 2011

University sculpture upsets Wyoming coal industry

So now the row has gone global. Here is the article by Suzanne Goldenberg for the Saturday Guardian on July 23rd



The sculpture was always going to be hard to ignore – a giant 36-foot whorl of silvery logs and lumps of black coal in front of the main campus building at the University of Wyoming.


But British artist Chris Drury thought his commentary on the connection between the coal industry and dead trees would merely generate some polite on-campus debate in Cheyenne.


Not anymore. Drury's work, Carbon Sink What Goes Around Comes Around, sits in the heart of coal country, Wyoming, which mines more coal than any other state in America.


The work's existence and the links it draws between coal, climate change, and the pine beetle infestation that is devastating the landscape of the Rocky Mountains, has set off a debate about artistic and academic freedom, with the mining industry and Republican state legislators expressing outrage that a university that got money from coal would dare to turn on it.


"I thought it was a fairly innocuous thing to do," said Drury . "But it's kind of upset a lot of people here. Perhaps it was slightly more obvious because it is slightly more crucial in this state. But this is a university so I expected to start a debate, not a row."


He said he got the idea from a conversation with a scientist who complained that nobody was drawing the connection between the daily coal shipments from Wyoming, and the pine beetle infestation that was killing the region's forests.


The beetles are endemic to the Rockies but with climate change the region no longer gets the plunging temperatures that used to kill them off. Milder winters have allowed the beetles to live on and eat their way through the Rockies, stripping the bark off lodgepole pines from Colorado to British Columbia.

Some of the logs used in the installation were still crawling with beetles.


But as Drury charts on his blog, his comment on the connections between that calamity and coal was too close to home. By day three of construction, the mining industry was accusing the university of ingratitude towards one of its main benefactors – in what some have seen as a veiled threat to cut funding.


"They get millions of dollars in royalties from oil, gas and coal to run the university, and then they put up a monument attacking me, demonising the industry," Marion Loomis, the director of the Wyoming Mining Association, told the Casper Star-Tribune. "I understand academic freedom, and we're very supportive of it, but it's still disappointing."


Then two Republican members of the Wyoming state legislature joined in, calling the work an insult to coal. The subject of university funding also came up.


"While I would never tinker with the University of Wyoming budget – I'm a great supporter of the University of Wyoming – every now and then, you have to use these opportunities to educate some of the folks at the University of Wyoming about where their paychecks come from," Tom Lubnau, one of the state legislators, told the Gillette News-Record.


The university said it was standing by Drury's work, although it was not necessarily endorsing his message.

3 comments:

Gardener in the Distance said...

When industry thinks it can buy silence, regardless of the consequences of its operations, it is even more important that works like 'Carbon Sink...' be made and exhibited and discussed. Not that you seem to be setting out to provoke or accuse, Chris.

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