Miners - Tragedy, Hope, Resistance & Solidarity
"When the just cause is defeated, when the courageous are humiliated, when men proven at pit-bottom and pit-head are treated like trash, when nobility is shat upon, and the judges in court believe lies, and slanderers are paid to slander with salaries which might keep alive the families of a dozen miners on strike, when the Goliath police with their bloody truncheons find themselves not in the dock but on the Honour’s List, when our past is dishonoured and its promises and sacrifices shrugged off with ignorant and evil smiles, when whole families come to suspect that those who wield power are deaf to reason and every plea, and that there is no appeal anywhere, when gradually you realize that, whatever words there may be in the dictionary, whatever the Queen says or parliamentary correspondents report, whatever the system calls itself to mask its shamelessness and egoism, when gradually you realize that They are out to break you, out to break your inheritance, your skills, your communities, your poetry, your clubs, your home and, whenever possible, your bones too, when finally people realize this, they may also hear, striking in their head, the hour of assassinations, of justified vengeance. On sleepless nights during the last few years in Scotland and South Wales, Derbyshire and Kent, Yorkshire, Northumberland and Lancashire, many, as they lay reflecting on their beds, heard, I am sure, this hour striking. And nothing could be more human, more tender than such a proposed vision of the pitiless being summarily executed by the pitiful. It is the word ‘tender’ which we cherish and which They can never understand, for they do not know what it refers to. This vision is occurring all over the world. The avenging heroes are now being dreamt up and awaited. They are already feared by the pitiless and blessed by me and maybe by you.
I would shield any such hero to my fullest capacity. Yet, if, during the time I was sheltering him, he told me he liked drawing, or, supposing it was a woman, she told me she’d always wanted to paint, and had never had the chance or the time to do so, if this happened, then I think I’d day: Look, if you want to, it’s possible you may achieve what you are setting out to do in another way, a way less likely to fall out on your comrades and less open to confusion. I can't tell you what art does and how it does it, but I know that art has often judged the judges, pleaded revenge to the innocent and shown to the future what the past has suffered, so that it has never been forgotten. I know too that the powerful fear art, whatever its form, when it does this, and that amongst the people such art sometimes runs like a rumour and a legend because it makes sense of what life's brutalities cannot, a sense that unites us, for it is inseparable from a justice at last. Art, when it functions like this, becomes a meeting-place of the invisible, the irreducible, the enduring, guts and honour."
It seems clear that dreams of violent retribution leave Berger uneasy. For even as he blesses those dreams and pledges to protect the "avenging heroes" that they conjure, he also worries that the aims such heroes pursue could be misconstrued or, worse, provoke reactions that might well "fall out on" others. It is those worries that provide the context for Berger's oft-quoted remarks on art as an instrument of justice that regularly are taken out of context. In that way, though, the connection he identifies remains abstract, sanitized.
Une Tragedie Dans Le Nord. L'Hiver, La Pluie, Les Larmes
(A Tragedy in the North. Winter, Rain and Tears)
[Bas Relief, 1975-1977] © Raymond Mason
"Mason's masterpieces are awkward monuments made during the last quarter of this century to a class that was slowly disappearing, with many of its members forced into terminal unemployment. A class which today scarcely exists but which left the world its own word: solidarity."Among the works that most impress Berger is the one shown here which, he tells us, was "inspired by a mining disaster in Liévin" in the north of France. I have been wondering for some days of how to express solidarity with the miners who've been trapped below ground for the past week in Huntington, Utah - and with their families. So this post is a start. You will see others - each day until we learn the fate of those miners.
* This essay originally was published in 1989 in an exhibition catalogue - The Paintings and Drawings of Knud and Slowei Stampe.