The Felling 2022

Commissioned by BALTIC for HINTERLANDS exhibition

Ferns, Felling 320,000,000,000 years ago

The Felling explores deep time, pollution and the way plants work together to undo the toxic residue of industrialisation. This is investigated through one plot of land in Felling Gateshead which was a swamp during the carboniferous period, a working mine during the industrial revolution and is now a contaminated brownfield site.

In 2012 Dawn Felicia Knox began studying paleobotany fossils excavated from Felling mine and now held in the Great North Museum. Some were type specimens, the first of their kind to be seen by humans, which helped early geologists to discover the actual age of the Earth.  Dawn then documented the site the fossils came from photographing a stand of trees that had grown twisted and gnarled as they struggled for purchase on the coal spoil heaps.  

Felling has had years of natural plant succession atop the piles of slag and concrete. In 2021/2022 Dawn filmed the plants now growing on the site. Bracken fern, white poplar, willow, annual honesty, fireweed and mugwort are just a few of the plants that have self-seeded in the once wasteland. Many of the plants are phytoremediation, working to pull pollution from the soil while others are nitrogen fixing, pulling greenhouse gasses from the air.

From this work created over the last decade, Dawn has made two films that are simultaneously projected onto a series of makeshift screens. The layers of material attempt to contain the shifting images as they bleed through and spill-over leaving the viewer to sift through the fragments of time.

Sound artist Anastasia Clarke created the soundscape from field recording of the site broken down and reconfigured using the sonification of phytoremediation data.

Ferns, Felling 2022