Invading the Skin of the Earth Supporting the Centre for Human Ecology through our Shifting Ground programme

The Centre for Human Ecology dig into the archive for stories of resource extraction.

Extractivism is the – suitably alarming – watchword for a new series of archive film events taking place in Glasgow this month under the equally stark banner of Invading the Skin of the Earth. The programme, developed by the Centre for Human Ecology and supported by our Shifting Ground fund, cuts to the heart of our ongoing archive film season exploring people’s changing relationship with the environment by broaching the often hidden and sometimes uncomfortable human history of resource exploitation.

Focusing on two key materials – coal and soil – the events will introduce and explore the concept of extractivism: the process of removing high-demand natural resources from the Earth to sell on the world market. In contemporary environmental discussions, extractivism is typically associated with developing nations harnessing their natural resources for economic ends. But these screenings challenge any comfortable assumptions that extractivism is something that happens in some other place or time - they will highlight the legacy of resource extraction in the UK and the role the moving image has played in documenting extractive industries on our doorstep and in the recent past.

A curation partnership with film academics at the University of Stirling will see the Centre for Human Ecology dive deep into the collections of the BFI National Archive and the National Library of Scotland’s Moving Image Archive to uncover little seen items that illustrate society’s changing attitudes to extractivism. On the one hand, there is work like People Will Always Need Coal, a 1975 recruitment video for the National Coal Board that doubles as a delirious lifestyle ad for an industry seemingly brimming with swagger. We're presented with a bombastic medley of images following a group of subterranean alpha males from the pit to the poolside to the pub while a voiceover confidently assures viewers they will “get a job… and get more out of life.” While, on the other hand, work like Margaret Tait’s Land Makar (1981) takes a more meditative approach to our connection with the land. This is a portrait of an Orcadian crofter - Mary Graham Sinclair, the titular “Poet of the Land” - who maintains her farmstead with the minimum of mechanical intervention and a deep-rooted commitment to respecting nature's cycles. The film itself even mimics the seasonal changes that structure Mary's life; slipping from a hard winter's harvest by frozen lochs to the sunlit haystacks of summer and, eventually, back to winter as Mary feeds her hens and reflects on the rising costs of her way of life.

Post-film conversations lead by academics, artists and activists from across the spectrum of film and environmentalism will provide key historical context to an industry that is normally invisible to its end consumers. Many of the films’ positive portrayals of extractivism will spark debate around contemporary issues like resource depletion, climate denial and industrial inaction – while audiences and guest speakers will also explore the possibilities of moving towards other methods of resource use, such as circular economies.

Find out more at the Centre for Human Ecology

The Centre for Human Ecology presents Invading the Skin of the Earth with support from the Shifting Ground Engagement Fund. For more information on the programme, visit the Shifting Ground homepage.

Images: People Will Always Need Coal (BFI National Archive), Land Makar (National Library of Scotland’s Moving Image Archive).