Aldrian, Co Tyrone.
One good thing about the temporary ‘one car per household limit’, is that I dedicate the daily 40 minute bus commute to the business stuff I hate devoting precious studio time to. Issues with supply and demand to the electric car industry mean the wait time for a new car is approximately 6 months, but the outlawing of ‘inbuilt obsolescence’ means that the average person will buy a car at most twice in their lifetime. Today my freed-up hands and head are taking advantage of this twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity to clear a mountain of administrative work. Since 2037 every metal order must be accompanied by government ID, maker’s license, purpose of use and practically what you ate for breakfast. All sales of precious metal goods must also include a Certificate of Ownership. People scoffed that they might as well wear security collars around their necks at the introduction of licenses for not only jewellery but any item using materials listed on the Endangered Resources Appendix (ERA) but the measures gained support as burglaries and other crimes have fallen drastically due to the difficulty in trading anything without an ERA license.
When my new car arrives, despite it being self-drive, I’ll return to savouring the dawn-drenched mountains, my soul-fuel, on the daily commute to my studio, imagining the ancient smiths at Beaghmore standing stones about to also begin their daily rituals. Just a handful of cottages and farms dot the ancient landscape until the perfectly unsymmetrical symmetry of nature, is rudely interrupted by the silhouette of a newly grassed hill that looks like a child drew it with a ruler. This strange anomaly prepares the eye, somewhat, for the square-mile concrete forest of semi-detached and dormer bungalows alongside acres of giant galvanised-roofed warehouses that are allegedly, according to the planning proposals “in keeping with the style of rural buildings in the area” . They are certainly indicative of rural buildings in their emptiness and want of a lick of paint! The town of Aldrian, renamed after the mining corporation who finally began extracting gold here in 2035 following years of controversy, was abandoned in 2039 when the corporations claim to being completely “net zero” was challenged in the high court with evidence of water contamination and soil deterioration in neighbouring farms. Having invested millions, in the years prior to being granted a license, funding all kinds of community programs and clubs, and ensuring a steady workforce for the mines with the establishment of a technical college , Aldrian Corp weren’t about to scarper off into the sunset. With new local support in the form of their now unemployed workers, and testimonies from respected scientists in support of their endeavours, Aldrian might well be back in business sooner than the mounds of tailings redefining the topography of The Sperrins are pathetically ‘landscaped’.
The hypocrisy of my opposition to the extraction of gold, as a goldsmith, is not for a second lost on me. My work aside, the deposit for our house was paid for from my husbands 5 years working in The Wheatstone Gas Project in northern Australia.
My studio is a crumbling, patched up cabin on the estate of a rundown country manor. There is an old forge at the other side of the yard and I like to imagine the neighbours I might have had centuries ago. I also like to imagine the studio I would build in that forge, the ghosts of hands-past lingering in the ether whispering ideas to me.
Caroline Gardner is already in the yard and I apologise profusely for my lateness. Caroline works with a social enterprise called We Make Good, who for over 2 decades have transformed the lives of rehabilitated drug-offenders, ex-prisoners, migrants and others facing social challenges. They collaborate with makers and designers to create meaningful employment for their clients. The items they produce for sale carry the belief that the things around us should reflect who we want to be as a society. She is here to collect a commissioned piece that incorporates the treasured gold jewellery of many generations of her family. She is genuinely fascinated by the tools and materials that permeate every shelf, crack, and corner of the cabin, and I am delighted at any opportunity to discuss my most prized possessions; including an antler bearing the imprint of years of hammer work, found in the old forge, and a spoon and hammer from the workshop of 18th century silversmith Hester Bateman gifted to me by my first tutor and dear friend master silversmith Peter Donovan. I inform her that her torc bracelet is a descendant of an iron age ribbon torc, that the tools used to make it descended from antlers, and that the excess gold added to her piece was recycled in Ireland, so maybe even more of her ancestors are having a reunion in there! I have the skills to produce this work authentically, thanks to a master craftsman named Brian Clarke, who was asked to replicate a ribbon torc for The National Museum of Ireland at the turn of the century, provoking a decades long enquiry into this visitor from another world. We talk at length about the hand skills that are vital to our existence and that have the ability to rehabilitate and redefine people.
As she recounts the history of each piece of jewellery in her bracelet, including one anonymous gold ring that emerged from her grandmother’s vegetable patch, we talk about the ideas, skills and stories that can be lost with the passing of generations, sometimes forever, but sometimes to be reborn after an eventful journey through soil and time. As she attempts to leave, upon realising that an hour has evaporated with the flow of conversation, I remind her that if she doesn’t complete her ERA form, her beautiful torc might be confiscated to the Assay Recycling Centre, probably destined for a circuit board. We joke about her entire family’s history that permeates the gold, and the millennia of skill and knowledge that passed through my very hands, being lost forever in a giant burning crucible, maybe to be reborn as a computer chip that houses all of the information we have just discussed.
Please see previous news post for the full draft of A Hand in Humanity, 2022.