Reclamation: Exposing Coal Seams and Appalachian Fatalism with Digital Apparatuses

The mountainous geography of Appalachia has been shaped by the coal industry since the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era of the United States. Mountaintop Removal (MTR) is a controversial and highly destructive surface-mining method flattening the mountains of Appalachian since the 1970s. The rise in massive energy consumption correlated to consumer electronics, automation, and technocratic neoliberalism have irrevocably flattened the surface and culture of Appalachia. Reclamation is the final act in MTR mining in which the mine operator is obligated to ecologically restore the land. Where MTR sites were once hidden away, and even photographing them is considered an act of trespassing, today I can bear witness to the destruction of the mountain topology by connecting to Google's Earth (not to be confused with earth-Earth). Despite the remote locations and inaccessibility of the sites, the data is particularly rich due to the economical advantages of mapping the region for the coal industry. In this exposition, I make my own reclamation as one in the generation born after the boom of coal production and its inevitable decline. I am reclaiming the 3D geospatial data of MTR and mining disaster sites, extracted from the servers of Google Earth. I recontextualize these geospatial assets to compose a visual prosopography of those surfaces.


Ernie Roby-Tomic is an artist, researcher and performer currently based in the upper apartment of a former coal company store, now Buxton & Landstreet Gallery in Thomas, West Virginia in the United States. His work includes live, immersive audiovisual performances, traditional art and purely digital constructions that are currently about fatalism in Appalachia. Ernie is currently working with the Vandalia Heritage Foundation to produce an exhibition at Baltimore & Ohio Railway Station in Grafton, WV, and shortly thereafter moves to Tromsø, Norway to live with his wife, who is beginning a postdoctoral program at the Arctic University of Norway.