Soul mining: Glyn Marshall's grandfather died 46 years ago. Now the artist recreates the rigours of his life in the pits. Dominic Cavendish met him

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The Independent Culture
It's 10am and Glyn Marshall is taking a stretcher down from a wall in the hushed reception area of Wakefield College. Frowning with concentration, he hoists it onto his back and, almost bent double by the load, steps outside via a fire exit. During the next five hours he will walk through the West Yorkshire city until he is totally exhausted.

To the casual observer, Glyn Marshall might be raising money for charity - the last time he carried his stretcher round the city several people thought he was collecting for Children in Need. But Marshall's deliberate self- exhaustion is a piece of live art. Entitled The Bearer, it is a tribute to his grandfather, Frederick Marshall, a miner who died of a heart attack at the age of 33 on November 18, 1947 following a 13- hour shift at Glass Houghton Colliery.

The full circumstances surrounding Frederick Marshall's death only came to light this year after his 24-year-old grandson saw three photographs of him for the first time. On showing them to residents at the Disabled Miners' Centre in Pontefract he learned that his grandfather had gone back down a seven-mile- long tunnel at the end of the shift in order to rescue a miner who had broken his leg. He collapsed with exhaustion on his return to the surface.

'I was shocked,' says Marshall. 'There was nothing to acknowledge what he had done or even that he existed. There was no obituary in the local paper and the NCB didn't keep records until the 1950s. There was just the death certificate.' What also concerned him was that Frederick Marshall had been forgotten by his family. 'My father was three at the time he died. My grandmother developed Alzheimer's so she had no recollection of him either.' A former Fine Art student at Coventry University, he decided to use the techniques of live art 'to get closer' to a man he had never known.

The result is a mix ture of drawings, sculpture and performance. Today, dressed simply in a cotton vest, track suit bottoms and DMs and striding against a bitterly cold wind, he is performing the central section of the piece - eight circuits of about three-quarters of a mile, each time taking a heavier stretcher. Last week he mimed a working day at the coal-face. Next week he will construct a wreath out of the stretcher, and hopes to lay it in Wakefield Cathedral in memory of all miners.

The Bearer has found a wider audience than Marshall first anticipated, particularly among local communities hit by pit closures. He performed at the now disused Glass Houghton Colliery and at the Yorkshire Mining Museum in August; a wreath he left on the colliery gates has not been touched.

Today, the students show only occasional interest in his efforts, but Marshall attributes this to having scaled the piece down. 'I were close to collapse after eight miles at Glass Houghton. I could barely walk.' Fighting off flu, by the time he has completed his final circuit he admits he is washed out. 'Obviously, there's no way I can ever recreate what he must have gone through. I've never had to work a 13-hour shift.' His voice quavers. 'Some people have said I must be mad, that I'm tiring myself out for no reason. Well, maybe I am punishing myself because I never stopped to think about him. You could say it is a penance - but I know I feel better for it at the end. I think my granddad knows. When I'm walking it's like he's saying 'Thanks for remembering me'.'

Glyn Marshall performs the final part of The Bearer, Wakefield College, Margaret St, Wakefield 10am 20 Dec (0924 810339)

(Photograph omitted)

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