National Graphene Institute

From Seathwaite (2015), inscribed graphite on wall, permanently installed at the National Graphene Institute, The University of Manchester

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Above photos: Michael Pollard

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National Graphene Institute

From Seathwaite

Within the hillside of Seathwaite Common in Borrowdale, Cumbria, lie the disused workings of many ‘wad’ or graphite mines. This was the first place in the world where graphite was found and from it developed a massive industry with men picking their way through the horizontal levels and vertical pipes of the mineral, people processing it on the valley floor, working it into pencils in nearby Keswick or sending it to be used in the casting of cannonballs and machinery. The gleam of graphite can still be seen on the walls of these mines, long worked out and abandoned for new finds in the Americas, India and China.

Specially commissioned by the National Graphene Institute, From Seathwaite is a wall drawing that is about the discovery in graphite in Borrowdale and also the isolation of graphene in a laboratory at the University of Manchester. The work is a permanent part of the NGI and was drawn directly onto the plaster wall of the building’s atrium. Graphite was layered on by hand and then burnished to a high sheen. Into its dense blackness lines were cut by hand, revealing the white plaster beneath and delineating a 13m high abstract drawing. The topmost panel contains a zig-zag line and recalls the steep path that the miners had to climb up to the entrance of the mine. This white path edges down the wall and into the second panel, transforming into the hexagonal structure of a single atom of graphite/graphene. The third panel takes this single atom and grows it into a tessellation of graphene atoms, suggesting the revolutionary potential of this new material.

The drawing’s highly polished black surface transforms the reflections of the internal architecture and the street outside. A steel beam becomes a hazy white line, a passing car’s colour is caught fleetingly. Gazing at this vast drawing the viewer catches a glimpse of herself, a small speck of carbon mirrored within ancient geological strata and brand new science. In such a place, all things are possible. (MG)

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