Inheritance

September 9th, 2019

A multimedia artwork to uncover the sublime beauty of fossilized forests.

The field of geology has long been intertwined with extraction of coal and petroleum. This project contemplates the two sides of geology through the voices of paleo-geologists who read the earth’s layers to construct a history of our planet, and miners who have visited the earth’s ancient records in the process of extraction.The resulting installation asks what we have inherited–and what we bequeath to the future.

Beneath the rolling hills of Southern Illinois lies the fossilized section of a forest that once covered this continent. Stretched for 100 miles along both sides of an ancient river as wide as the Mississippi, this fossil forest cuts across the heart of the Illinois Basin coal seam, forged from peat soils where ferns and giant trees (Arborescent Lycopods) once anchored their roots.

It took over 300 million years to sequester the carbon that lies under Southern Illinois in the form of coal. It has taken a mere 200 years and the labor of thousands of coal miners to extract that carbon destined to fuel the lifestyle that defines our inheritance.

Miners are on the front lines. Many of them have seen the remnants of the fossil forest that remains hidden to those above ground. Coal miners are also the first to personally experience the costs of the industry.

This exhibition will be accompanied by a guided walk with geologists Scott Elrick and Jeremy Breeden.