Rachel Bacon — The Other Orebody | 2022 – ongoing

The Other Orebody | 2022 – ongoing


The Other Orebody is an ongoing research process focused on field trips and explorations of open-pit mining sites, that looks at the excavated landscape as a layered, temporal drawing. Material gathered at these sites forms the background for semi-sculptural drawings reflective of an exhausted and fragile earth. First started as an investigation into open-pit diamond mining in eastern Siberia, The Other Orebody is now situated in the anthracite coal mining region of eastern Pennsylvania.

Mir diamond mine, Mirny, Sakha Republic, Russia, photo courtesy of Ilya Varlamov, licensed under Creative Commons


The Other Orebody began with a plan to travel to a diamond mine in Siberia, as part of the project What Do Landscapes Say? This trip had been postponed because of Covid-19, and then cancelled due to the war in Ukraine. In the meantime, I had received generous funding from Stroom Den Haag and Mondriaan Fund to do site visits, make a small publication and take part in an artist residency as part of my longterm plan to start integrating the images from these mining areas into the drawings on damaged paper.

To give an overview of my original plans, I proposed going on a research trip to an open-pit diamond mine in Siberia to make photographs, interview residents and experience the landscape. I also had planned to stay at an artists residency in Moscow for one month. This proposal was connected to a research project What Do Landscapes Say? that took place in 2019 – 2020 and relates to my ongoing research into the connection between additive mark-making in drawing and extractive mark-making in mining. With the artworks made in the process of site visits and other research, I am interested in questioning the notion of a human- centered perspective on landscape and to exploring what a non-anthropocentric landscape would entail.

Of course, many of the images here, and in general the ones made during the research trips, are of just such idealized, aestheticized landscapes – it turns out to be quite difficult for me at least to let go of the framing devices so hard wired in to how landscape is traditionally portrayed. We “picture” landscape, and “take” photographs, while all the time the surroundings have something completely unknowable about them. This project is for me a way to try to wrestle with this way of looking, and to uncover alternatives that may be less invasive and destructive to our surroundings.

Terra-Nova, viewpoint, Elsdorf, Germany. There is a café and viewing point, as well as a children's playground, overlooking the Tagebau Hambach lignite mine


My first proposal to the funders was to switch my focus to a new area, and continue with the project in a similar form (site visits, publication, drawings, and an artists residency). I had been visiting the lignite mines in Western Germany on and off since 2019, when I first started thinking about the connection between drawing and mining as a form of extractive drawing. These excavated areas are so vast they almost don’t look like they have been made by humans, but are forms of the natural landscape. That is, until you get up close and can see the immense diggers, tiny from a distance. Getting close, however, is impossible. There is no way to get down into the mine to see the coal or the machinery from nearby. (Climate activists have entered the mine illegally, but this is not an action to be taken lightly, and certainly not on one’s own). Getting close has been one of the things most important to me, as I have been planning to combine images of the coal with drawings, contrasting the materiality of the graphite and damaged paper with the “taken” image of the damaged landscape.

Visiting these places gave me an idea of the scale of the enterprise, and the complexity of these areas. The different times of day that show different qualities, sometimes the air is clouded with dust and everything is gray and diffuse; at other times, the dust and mist from water sprayers combine to create a sublime haze, like the image at the top of the post, from another world. Miners and local residents working in the mines have jobs, and are supported by it; villages that are razed so farms and residents are forced to move; climate activists occupying old woodlands to preserve their unique character and prevent the expansion of the mine; nowhere does the mining company have any information on climate change, and they run windmill farms.

Tagebau Hambach


In the Summer of 2022, with a friend and colleague I started to explore the anthracite coal mines in eastern Pennsylvania, a fascinating area that has been mined for almost 200 years. Historically and culturally rich, both wild, green and extremely polluted, it is also visually enthralling. For the time being, this will be the area I will be researching, as we return to explore the landscape’s many layers of complexity and trauma. In making field trips to damaged mining landscapes, I approach the topic of excavation, of the history of geologic, artistic and social layers of portraying place in an open-ended manner. The process is slow, of both making and reflecting. I don’t yet know what I am looking for, I gather material and see what happens. Art has the ability to slow things down, to make it possible to examine complexities and contradictions. I am interested in understanding how contradictory realities co-exist, as this seems to me to reflect more closely the current, lived reality of spatial and temporal maelstrom, a whirlwind of competing narratives, scales and spaces.

These site visits are leading to series of works, a publication and other artist residencies. It is an ongoing project that even when the funding is finished I know will still be a continued source of inspiration and interest for me. Doing this research over the past two and a half years has made me very conscious of how important it is to address current conditions even through the admittedly soft form of an artwork. However within the deceleration that art allows, and the complexity, ambiguity and multiple layers that it can encompass, I feel that it can be a vital part of the ongoing dialog in this changing world. I am very grateful for the support to engage in this important conversation.

Block of pure anthracite, photographed outside the Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine in Ashley, Pennsylvania
Cross-section of a seam of anthracite, near Hazelton, Pennsylvania
Mahanoy Creek, near Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania. Acid mine drainage is acidic run off from old mining shafts, turning the water orange from iron oxide and other pollutants in the water.