Helga Griffiths

18C – Memory of an Evanescent Landscape


Carbon atoms—the essential building blocks of life on Earth—are created in supernovae, far distant from our solar system, and reach the Earth as cosmic dust. Besides the usual form, 12C, the carbon isotope 14C also occurs in nature and the ratio between these two isotopes allows scientists to determine the age of fossils in the process known as carbon dating. The characteristics of a third isotope, 13C, are used in nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR) to decipher molecular structures.


Coal is the result of an impressive process of transformation. Arriving in the Earth’s atmosphere after the explosion of a star, carbon reacts to oxygen to form gaseous carbon dioxide, which was stored in the primeval plants from the Carboniferous Period. In a process lasting millions of years, dead vegetable matter was compressed into coal. Finally, it was mined and then used to provide heat or in manufacturing industry.


A reflection upon the material transformation of carbon as well as the accompanying changes in the shape of the landscape serves as the starting point for the project 18C – Memory of an Evanescent Landscape. The name of the element, 18C, serves as a reminder of this year, 2018—the year that Germany ceases  the production of coal from underground mines.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Essence of Coal