Charcoal Measure 2016, Onya McCausland (Decommissioned 2018)
“Charcoal Measure” was a temporary sculpture set into the ground that was made from charcoal produced from the remains of “Place”, a decommissioned sculpture by Magdalena Jetelova. Onya McCausland was approached by the Trust to lead the process of decommissioning through an act of transformation, burning the giant oak chair in a charcoal pile, in collaboration with charcoal burning experts. The resulting artwork consisted of charcoal compressed into a series of black trenches scored into the ground.
The work enabled visitors to the Sculpture Trail to trace the locations of hidden coal excavations that exist 1000ft under foot. Artist Onya McCausland worked closely with the Deputy Gaveller of the Forestry Commission in Coleford to explore surveys of old mine workings and map the charcoal markings on the surface of the Trail.
Onya said of the process: “The huge heap of charcoal made by burning “Place” was so visually and physically related to coal that my first urge was to return the charcoal to the ground — where it ‘belonged’ — and where its life began in the form of an oak tree.
The ‘coal measures’ underlying the Forest are a record of a geological cycle of transformation, and their exploitation as fossil fuel a record of our relationship with the Earth, I am interested in how these two material processes — geological and human — intersect, overlap and converge in the Forest.”
Charcoal Works: An exhibition at Hardwick Gallery, Cheltenham, April 2016
Soon after Charcoal Measure was installed, an exhibition curated by Onya McCausland in partnership with Hardwick Gallery, University of Gloucestershire, present new work by 17 artists invited by the artist to also create artworks made from the remaining charcoal.
The Decommission of Place, October 2015
Place was commissioned 29 years ago by the Forestry Commission following an exhibition by the Magdalena Jetelova at The Arnolfini. It was one of the first sculptures to feature on the newly opened Trail.
Jetelova, has built a number of monumental chair sculptures in her career, influenced by her experience as a young woman in communist Czechoslovakia.
Her work for the Forest of Dean was intended to be a short lived artwork that would then be burnt intact using traditional Forest of Dean charcoal methods. The artist had visited a traditional charcoal burn event at the Dean Heritage Centre and was inspired by what she saw.
“When I first visited the Forest of Dean I heard about the tradition of charcoaling there. I was fascinated by this landscape due to the contradiction between the beauty of the imposing view and the scar which was incurred through the logging on this site. This is why I chose this location for my art. I strove to connect the imposing view with the positive energy of the charcoal tradition.” Magdalena Jetelova.
In 1986, at the artist’s request, local charcoal experts began the process of building a wood pile to cover the monumental sculpture so it could be burnt. But eventually it became clear it was too huge and risky an undertaking and the burning event was cancelled. As a result, the sculpture remained on its hilltop position overlooking the Cannop Valley.
In the years that followed, the sculpture entered into the imagination of local people and visitors to become a much-loved icon of the Trail and the Dean. However, it has inevitably suffered wear and tear and is now deemed beyond repair by health and safety experts.
“Over the past few years during our inspections of ‘Place ‘ we have noted that it was in decline, so talking it through with the Sculpture Trust we have made the decision to decommission this artwork. This was particularly hard for me as I have found memories from when I had my wedding photos taken there. The process will involve the sculpture being dismantled under the supervision of the Forestry Commission, two of the larger legs will be placed nearby and over the years will provide a wonderful habitat for a whole host of invertebrates and associated wildlife”. Judith Lack, Recreation Manger, Forestry Commission.
The sculpture was eventually dismantled, an event that was captured and broadcast by BBC News. The remainder of the timber was then sawn into sections and constructed into a traditional charcoal hearth called a “clamp”. The timber was then transformed into charcoal in a public burning event overseen by Onya McCausland and Magdalena Jetelova who returned to the Sculpture Trail for the first time in 29 years.
“When I met Magdalena I wanted to understand more about her original plans to burn Place. I learned how important this gesture was to her life. Since then, the sculpture has touched many peoples lives so the gesture is a material change that connects to the landscape and with the people that live there. This act of burning is a transformation, not an end “ Onya McCausland.
“Place– or the Giant’s Chair as it is known colloquially – has become the repository of so many memories. The Trust decided it should be turned into charcoal and transformed into other artworks. There is an intriguing symmetry to this because it was the intention of Magdalena Jetelova, the artist who created Place, that this should be done soon after its construction those 29 or so years ago.” Andrew Stonyer, Chair of Forest of Dean Sculpture Trust.