Cararra and Florence, Italy
The Apennine mountain range forms a 1200 km-long backbone down the peninsula of Italy. A seperate branch of the Apennines, the Apuan Alps, are a range of high magnificent peaks that form a border between the River Serchio on their eastern side, while the steep vertical western flanks drop down into the Tyrrhenian Sea. Geologically, the Apuan Alps are of a different composition than that of the Apennines. The Apuans are made up of metamorphosed limestone called marble. The prized Carrara marble is quarried from them.
On a hot, muggy July day in 2015, I finally visited Carrara, to see the Apuan marble mines. I had put off this excursion on my six previous trips to Italy. But given the work I do and the research that goes into developinng that work, I knew I needed to finally face the reality within my own field - how marble mining has exploited this natural resource - and destroying the mountains it is leaving behind.
Standing inside cave Cervaiole, listening to my tour guide, Luciano, my thoughts turned to the two thousand years of marble sculpture found within art history. I was reminded of Michelangelo's David, and within my own backyard, James Turrell's Roden Crater in northern Arizona, and the marble obtained from these caves for these artworks. I think of the dismantling and deconstruction that has been happening to the western slopes of these mountains since ancient Rome and the miners who have given their lives doing such dangerous work.
Each year, an average of five miners are killed in mining accidents. I look at Luciano, who gets paid so little, 1800 Euros/month, and his need to cobble together tours to supplement his income. Where there used to be two hundred miners working within each cave, now because of technology and mechanization, it has dwindled to five per cave. Over one hundred caves are being mined by thirty families, who have a monopoly on marble production. The majority of the marble blocks are transported down to Marina di Carrara and then shipped to China, where labor is cheap, and then cut and shipped back to Italy for the refined work.
Luciano keeps using the parallel between the Italian marble trade and the Columbian cocaine network. I wonder, is the sacrifice of these mountains and these people worth the price of the beautiful artwork produced? If given the opportunity to work with Carrara marble, would I, now that I have this knowledge, work with this gorgeous stone that seems to glow from within?