A coal-fired boiler powers a network of computers exploring the relationships between power and media. Coal Fired Computers explores the ecologies that have created and maintained power, and the subsequent health residues and crisis of fuelling that power. The work responds to the displacement of coal production to distant India, China or Vietnam and our industrial heritage, in particular the work of Charles Parsons whose steam turbine is used to produce 40% of today’s electricity. In many countries this rate is much higher (more than 70% in India and China).

According to the World Health Organization, 318.000 deaths occur annually from chronic bronchitis and emphysema caused by exposure to coal dust. The common perception is that wealthy countries have put this all behind them, displacing coal dust into the lungs of unrecorded, unknown miners in distant lands, coal returning in our lives in the form of cheap and apparently clean goods we consume.

Coal fired energy not only powers our computers here in Europe, but is integral to the production of the 300.000.000 computers made each year. 81% of the energy used in a computer’s life cycle is expended in the manufacturing process, now taking place in countries with high levels of coal consumption.

Commissioned by AV Festival 10 and produced in partnership with Discovery Museum.
Supported by Metal Culture, Isis Arts and The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

Artefact version produced by STUK arts centre and supported by Kulturama.
Special thanks to Preston Services.

Graham Harwood: Coal Fired Computers from AV Festival on Vimeo.