A masterful merger of space and artwork, Russell’s film Good Luck (2017) occupies the cellar underneath the Fridericianum (you enter from the square through what looks like it would be the stairway to a subway station). Co-produced by documenta, the four-channel, 71-minute film lays bare the human and ecological toll of the gold-mining industry in Suriname.
We see wide shots of a marching band playing along the mine’s edge in colonial garb. At the far end of the cellar, installed in the curvature of its roof, black miners’ faces, one at a time, fill the entire wall, staring out in a way that allows for prolonged eye contact and an emotional punch in the chest. (Another screen gives the same compositional treatment to a set of suspiciously clean white mine workers who, at times, appear to laugh off the exercise.)
More casually shot footage plays on a flat-screen TV around yet another bend of the cellar cave. In it, the same black miners share stories of how they ended up in the mine, the conditions there, and what they hope for the future. “When I first came here I didn’t know how they mine for gold,” says one, describing with some horror the first time he saw the deep gash made into the excavated earth. Explaining that they only get Sundays off, another says, “The jungle wants to rest too; all day the machines cry out.” When asked about their children, the men take a more pragmatic view. “I work here so they can work in an office with this thing here,” says one, holding up a pen.