The Mute Still Air is a new installation inspired by the social impact of Benjamin Biram’s work at Elsecar. The piece references Biram’s contribution through the movement of air, light, and sound.

With a striking hexagonal structure at its centre, the work incorporates lights, fans, and a series of tuned copper wind chimes, casting moving shadows throughout the former ironworks.

Biram introduced many improvements to mining safety, including a new design for safety lamps, an anemometer to monitor airflow, and giant mechanical fans to ventilate the mines.

The constant breeze from the fans offered reassurance to those working underground, mindful that it was providing fresh air and preventing the lethal build-up of explosive gases. Biram’s work provides a tangible example of social responsibility within a brutal commercial industry.

The Mute Still Air takes its name from a line in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “The Eolian Harp”, written the same year that Elsecar New Colliery was sunk (1795). The poem describes the sound of a wind harp, which is named after the Greek god Aeolus, who reputedly kept the wind in an underground cave.

‘O! the one Life within us and abroad,

Which meets all motion and becomes its soul,

A light in sound, a sound-like power in light,
Rhythm in all thought, and joyance everywhere—
Methinks, it should have been impossible

Not to love all things in a world so fill’d;

Where the breeze warbles, and the mute still air
Is Music slumbering on her instrument.’
The Eolian Harp, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1795)

Exhibition dates:
29 May – 27 June 2021 at Elsecar Heritage Centre.

Fan control system designed and built by Matt Jarvis.

Film by James Lockey.

Commissioned and produced by BEAM for the Wentworth & Elsecar Great Place project. Thanks to Fran Smith, John Tanner, and Dominic Somers.