Every five seconds someone dies prematurely from air pollution (UN, 2019). Environmental degradation, however, is not limited to the air above alone, but also affects the conditions of life underneath the surface. Black lung disease (pneumoconiosis), a respiratory condition, is by far the most common occupational illness in China today. Official reports suggest that over half a million people, almost exclusively rural migrants, live with the incurable disease. The real number could be 10 times as high (SCMP, 2021). The respiratory condition is a powerful reminder of the shared geological intimacy that exists between the bodies of miners and the materiality that constitutes the enveloping atmospheres of the underworld. Inspired by Hawkins’ (2020b, p. 4) idea of the “underground’s imaginative force” and the so-called “geologic turn” (Ellsworth & Kruse, 2013), this paper explores the politics of subterranean atmospheres in China by problematising the relationship between the ground above and the ground below. I analyse this “geologic politics” (Clark, 2013) through the artwork of filmmaker Zhao Liang and the painter Yang Shaobin, both contemporary artists working on subterranean lives, bodies, emotions and atmospheres. Through their art of the subterranean, its environment, lived experience, embodiment and the specificity and intimacy of its materiality, I capture a politics that challenges false binaries of a separate above and below.
Nieuwenhuis, M. (2022). The politics of subterranean atmospheres in China: a study of contemporary chinese mining art. Ambiances (En ligne), https://doi.org/10.4000/ambiances.4409