Kings of The Underground by Vision Fountain

An exhibition of three-dimensional (3D) portraits of Welsh Miners called “Kings of the Underground” opens at the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea, Wales 07th November.  The exhibition uses technology popular in gaming culture and virtual reality (VR) to create a cross generational project that engaged with young learners from geographically isolated communities.

Miners featured in the kings of the Underground project. ©Vision Fountain

“Kings of the Underground” captures the memories and physiognomies (facial features) of the last generation of Welsh coalminers. 

“Kings of the Underground”, produced by Vision Fountain, uses gaming culture to create a bridge between heritage, museums and young people.

Working throughout the south Wales coalfield, Vision Fountain captured over forty colliers’ faces in 3D using a process called photogrammetry. Photogrammetry converts 2-dimensional images into 3D images. 

3D portrait shoot of an ex-coalminer, in our portable photogrammetry studio set up in Trehafod village hall, Autumn 2021. ©Vision Fountain. ©Vision Fountain

As well as recording their facial features, the “last generation of coalminers” were nterviewed for the project.

Elenor Lee, Jennifer Thomas and John Thomas share their recollections of living in the Afan Valley through the decades as it changed from a centre of mining. The recordings are part of the “Kings of the Underground” project funded by Heritage Fund that will be exhibited in the National Waterfront Museum. Photo by Vision Fountain.

The project engaged with primary schools in ex-coalmining communities in the Rhondda valleys, the Afon alley, as well as a youth group in Cardiff Bay.  The young learners were introduced to 3D modelling and virtual reality (VR).

The technology Vision Fountain used in the outreach is popular with gamers and created immediate interest amongst the school children and young people.

The children were also given the opportunity to model their classmates and upload the results to 3D modeling platforms. Children also experienced a Welsh drift mine in VR.   

Children at ACE Cardiff photograph a miners lunch box on a turntable that will be converted into a 3D model. This model was later used in the VR experience, “Pwll Bach Cwm rhondda – an drift mine in VR. ©Vision Fountain
School children experience virtual reality (VR) mining experience in Glynncorrwg Primary School, Afan Valley. ©Vision Fountain

Coal heritage with sessions from the museum’s outreach officers introduced the youngsters to local heritage.

Outreach officer, Kath Lewis, from Rhondda Heritage Park with chilren from the Rhondda Valley. ©vision Fountain

The miners’ recordings were brought into the workshops and each school and the youth group created collages of coal-miners and a Somalian dock worker.  The collages are part of the exhibition in the National Waterfront Museum where the children were invited to the opening.

A portrait of ex miner Gerald Jenkins, 80. This portrait was created by Parc Primary School. Gerald Jenkins worked in several mines in the Rhondda valley. The portraits are part of a mixed-media audio-visual exhibition “The Last Voices of the Rhondda” where school children have created their own interpretation of the portraits after listening to the stories of the miners. The exhibition is open at Rhondda Heritage Park until 23 May 2022. ©Vision Fountain
Collages of miners created by 7 x primary schools in the Rhondda and Afan vvalleys as well as youth group, ACE Cardifff. ©Vision Fountain
Audio-visual displays are mixed with renderings of the 3D portraits to fill the Turbine Hall at the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea. ©Vision Fountain

Audio-visual presentations mix the miners’ 3D portraits with snippets from their interviews at the National Waterfront Museum.

Visitors at the Kings of the Underground exhibit opening 07th November, National Waterfront Museum, Swansea. ©Tiz/Vision Fountain

Whilst the school’s involvement was an integral part of the project , the need to capture, what will amount to be the last testimony of the “last generation of coalminers” was the initial driving force behind the project.

Several Welsh coal-mining museums have partnered on the project during it’s production phase, lending experienced staff, know-how, networks and venues. The National Waterfront Museum, Big Pit National Museum, Rhondda Heritage Park and South Wales Miners Museum have all been instrumental.

The long-term partner for the project is the National Museum of Wales’ archive and Swansea University’s South Wales Miners Library, who will store the recordings and the portraits for posterity, enabling future generations to listen-to and engage with their past.

Richard Jones, Creative Director, Vision Fountain:

“The King’s of the Underground project records the faces and testimonies of the last generation of Welsh coal-miners. As a nation we should never forget that these coal-miners, along with their forefathers, built modern Wales.

The project has used technology, popular in gaming culture and virtual reality (VR), to create a cross generational project that youngsters can easily engage with.

It has been a pleasure and honour to work with the Welsh miners. It is sad, but also pertinent, that several of the miners, that were involved in this project at the beginning, have since passed, which underlines the importance of capturing their likeness’ and testimonies for the Welsh archive.”

Jacqueline Roach, Exhibitions and Programmes Officer at the National Waterfront Museum, said:

“It has been a real pleasure to support this amazing project that has captured the important stories of the men and women of these coalmining communities. Through the advanced technology used and stories it has inspired, the project has connected generations through workshops and art.”

The importance of the project was made more poignant with the passing of several of the miners as the project progressed.  Around ten percent of the miners passed during the project’s production. 

The project was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Lottery Fund.  – ends