The Lion and the Unicorn, 2008

The Lion and the Unicorn (2008)
Matthew Cornford & David Cross
British coal on gallery floor

For solo exhibition — curated by Kate Pryor 
Wolverhampton Art Gallery
8 November 2008 — 31 January 2009 

It is generally accepted that the Industrial Revolution originated in the West Midlands. This revolution was at first powered by renewable energy. But it was coal that provided the phenomenal power that allowed people to overcome many physical limitations of the body and the environment. The result has been the most radical transformation of our economy, society and culture since history began.

The physical form of this installation, The Lion and the Unicorn, was an expression of limitations: the maximum safe load on the gallery floor is 14000kg, and the minimum legal width for a safety access way is 1500mm. By extension, the work pointed to a limitation so large that it seems beyond our frame of vision: the limit to industrial growth. This is determined by the earth’s ‘ecological carrying capacity’, the ability of all living systems to absorb the waste products of human activity. Burning fossil fuels, including the coal used to generate the electricity that powers the gallery lights, is destroying the earth’s climate system.

We switched off the lights. 

The title of this installation references an essay, ‘The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius’, written by George Orwell during the Second World War. In it, Orwell tested the limits of social obligation in terms of the bonds between people of different classes, and the continuity of collective identity between generations.

Cornford & Cross