How can I replicate the smell of midnight at the steel plant, the feeling of shift work for over 40 years? The image of my father having cereal alone, the sound of him leaving before the sunrise, coming home rolled a bit thinner, a bit more blistered each time. A running joke, more often becoming the source of dry throat, spit-fuelled arguments. It became anger always brewing right below the staircase.
A steel worker spends 12 hours a day in a crane 70 feet above the floor. From the window of the cabin, he watches the crane slowly shift a cauldron of molten steel from one part of the room to another. In a corner a colleague bends over a spectrometer. A hundred feet away, another worker monitors cameras trained on the innards of red-hot furnaces where steel slabs are formed and plucked out by a mechanical arm. "You either have the temperament for it, or you don't" guiding ladles full of super-hot liquid metal weighing as much as 120 tons above his co-workers "If I were to bump up against something, I could cause someone to get hurt"
'While bodies become whole callouses' examines the ramifications blue collar labour has on the body, focussing on the steel industry in Hamilton, Ontario. As a child of a steel worker, I try to emulate the industry through my material choices while rendering visible labour associated with the often invisible infrastructural materiality of steel. A key element in this work are the rows of Stelco Steel keychains mounted on a wall, each one imperfectly molded in concrete from the original steel keychain given to me as a child from my father.
I bend and manipulate sheets of steel using my own physical strength to emulate a bodily form. I draw parallels between the body of a steel worker and my own body as a child, both byproducts of the industry. The pieces of steel become frames for images of the steel plant. The images consist of ones taken by a worker inside the factory over the past forty years (the invisible), contrasted with images made public by the company (the visible).
Accompanying poems personify steel as a body that is used and manipulated by the Stelco corporation: an excellent foil for the bodies of the plant labourers. Through sharing my personal experiences growing up with a Steel working father, I explore the ramifications it can have on family life. An affinity can be drawn between emerging artists – often working precarious, low-wage jobs with no benefits to support their practice – and blue-collar labour. In this work, I explore the implications of contemporary art-making becoming entangled with manual labour jobs and how the legacy of my fathers work has become my own.
the day is rock-like and dirty
while bodies becomes whole callouses
a crew wearing heat-resistant jackets,
face shield and gloves
move liquid steel into a mold
where it hardens into a specific shape
understand how close they are
twelve hour shifts do that to you
houses in steel towns once had separate basement doors
dust yourself off there before
entering living rooms.
(i started in 1978 and never looked back, i have over 35 plus years of disappointments,
i worked harder than most, i know who i am because of it. I gave my heart and soul,
believed in the need for quality steel believed in Canada- but it all seemed to fade away.
I am retired, time is no longer a factor. )
steel is vulnerable
from start to finish
deficiency can cause
the orange peel effect
spots all over the surface
wide enough to collect
but is not large enough to allow
fluid to drain
(it’s regrettable, but you
have to understand the
WELCOME TO HELL ON EARTH:
ROOF OF STELCO STEEL
on top of the coke ovens
an hour on
an hour off
in the summer hours were shorter
with extra bodies
around 84 bellies
(i was 54 years old and 34 years with stelco
i still smoked a pack a day
the place smelled rotten
and i don’t mean the smell of coke
what a place
what a hole
broken backs in place
of a workers pension )
the sky was always there
to look at on a clear or
cloudy morning when coming
to this place for 36 years,
many mornings in that time.