Performing Memory: Art Community, Archive & St Ives

Posts Tagged ‘Cornwall

The Intangible Archive St Ives

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The Intangible Archive is the project that I’ve been working on, with sound artist/composer Philip Reeder. I presented on it last week at the Association of Art Historians conference, and I’m on my way to San Diego to present at Museums and the Web 2012. Rather than a linear, temporal sound walk, it’s a spatial way of engaging with memory. It’s an extension of the archive, where I’ve re-archived memories according to their links with place. People can search the archive by walking around St Ives, looking for memories to listen to. It comes out of my practice, which asks people to articulate their memories and finds creative ways of sharing those memories with others. Sharing memories with others is a form of re-archiving; augmenting the memories others through encounter. This creates a multiple, distributed archive, where there are many different forms of remembered encounter, each one unique, connected to place, and archived in the memory of each person that searches for fragments of the archive to make their own story of place. Voices that don’t often get heard getting their say in history. Making archival silence into archival noise.


The Intangible Archive is an archive without walls. It’s a way of encountering memories from the archive, outside of the archive itself. Using mobile technology and headphones, participants can create their own history of place by walking around St Ives. A soundtrack composed by Philip Reeder, from field recordings of St Ives, plays while participants walk, and at certain points, voices from the Memory Bay oral history archive will speak. Instead of being told a particular history from a particular point of view, the direction of walking determines the narrative.


There are more video snippets at http://theintangiblearchive.wordpress.com


NOTES: Feast Day in St Ives 6th February 2012

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Now that I’ve finally moved to St Ives, living in town means that my research can be more autoethnographic, which means my subjective experience of everyday life also becomes a kind of social research method. Things like going to the local hardware shop (every day last week, for a vegetable peeler, gaffer tape, airbed, tape measure) start conversations about St Ives. This means more stories to record and discussions to have. Being part of the community I’m researching is, I think, really important to gaining a deeper understanding of place, its rhythms and narratives.

One of the delights of this is Feast Day. I overslept after not sleeping well, and was woken to the sound of drums along Fore Street as the procession made its way up to St Eia’s well (up the hill past Porthmeor, by the cemetery). I managed to have a shower and coffee in time to be outside my house to see the procession on its way back down Fore Street. The band were followed by the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, some other town officials (I’m never quite sure of their correct titles, I really should know after the Knill Ceremony), and school children dancing. They all wore ivy wreaths, and some wore Cornish tartan.

I took my coffee and wandered after the procession with the crowd, through the mild February drizzle towards the parish church gardens. This is where the Mayor begins the hurling at half past ten o’clock, by throwing a silver ball to the waiting children on the beach below.

Cornish hurling is something like quidditch, played without broomsticks. There is a silver ball, usually made of wood and covered in metal, which is probably quite painful if it hits you. The aim of the game is to return the ball to the Mayor at the Guildhall by twelve o’clock. The winner gets a silver coin. There don’t seem to be any other rules, really. The first boy to catch the ball ended up with his face shoved into the sand. In the melee that followed, those involved in a scrum of punching and wrestling were so busy fighting that they didn’t see one of the bigger girls take flight with the ball. After that, the children dispersed to hunt the ball around the town. They also have to avoid being fooled into chasing one of the decoy balls, usually an orange covered in silver foil.

There follows an hour and a half of children running through the streets, shouting that so-and-so has got the ball, or that so-and-so had given it to someone else. Tactics are planned weeks in advance, hiding places pre-planned.

Bev, Special Constable of St Ives, was my tour guide for the festivities.

Everyone gathers in front of the Guildhall to wait for the ball to come back. In between, the Western Hunt (who weren’t hunting owing to poor dog health) and some saboteurs dressed as foxes came and went in Royal Square, which I missed.

Apparently, the bigger children are supposed to give the ball to one of the smaller ones to give to the Mayor. This didn’t really happen. A group of pink-faced older boys, steaming and over-excitedly restless as race horses, appeared, waiting for midday. They managed to get to the steps of the Guildhall without losing their ball, and presented it to the Mayor, to much cheering and applause.

The Mayor, Deputy Mayor and others then appeared on the balcony to throw (according to Bev, specially polished) shiny pennies to the children waiting below. I was quite surprised at the excitement of twelve year-olds to falling pennies, but the police were there to keep public order and prevent any injuries.

After that, the crowd dispersed, and I went home to get on with the long list of things to-do this week.

Written by JS101092

February 7, 2012 at 10:57 am

REPORT: St Ives September Festival

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What Phil and I were trying to achieve with this (a rhizomatic encounter with memory, looking at the intertextuality of memory in the form of oral history, and the materiality of place, and the spaces in which these encounters occur to create a continuous narrative of place. More or less.) proved to be tricky to communicate in the St Ives September Festival programme. We didn’t want to scare anyone off by describing it too loftily as piece of sonic art, which it wasn’t really, as it was a test project to see how people responded. But neither is it an historical audio tour. I wrote this for the programme, with Phil’s help:


Put on some headphones. Take a walk around town. Encounter memories of St. Ives as you wander the streets. Fragments of memory, swept up from cobbles and beaches, tidied away into the archive, are pieced back together to again litter spaces around town. Archive voices entwined with original material create a rich soundscape to find stories of creative community.

Devised by composer Philip Reeder and St. Ives Archive Research Fellow Jeanie Sinclair, UCF

Wednesday 14th - Sunday 25th September, Mariners’ Church Crypt, Daily from 10 am until 4 pm. Free.


We were hoping that would get the balance about right.

It didn’t. The first day was somewhat disparaging, and I began to wonder why I’d thought this would be a good idea at all. The first people to do the walk, an older couple on holiday, came back after an hour or so. That seemed positive to me. I asked them how they’d got on. They were somewhat hesitant, so I encouraged them to be honest as it was a research project and I wanted their opinion so I could make improvements. “It was quite nice, but we wanted to know more about the history of The Digey.”

So, lesson number one, explain things better.

It went on a bit like that for the rest of the morning, and I probably wasn’t doing a great job of selling as I ended up being a bit apologetic; I didn’t want to disappoint anyone else. I should probably mention that the demographic at the festival does tend to be older people and those with very young families. I realised that explaining that the HP ipaq PDAs that we were using work like satnav made more sense to people unfamiliar with smartphones.

One person actually said he wasn’t interested once I’d explained it, and left. Feeling very downhearted, I started to wonder if it was impossible to create something that would be accessible to everyone at all. The one person that I knew from the archive that came to have a go was foxed by the technology as a previous user had somehow managed to turn on the standby after three minutes button.

I realised that Phil’s sound track wasn’t going to work for anyone with tinnitus, as two sufferers reported back negatively.

I learned to stop talking about the project in terms of the negative, of what it isn’t, after one very nice local man came in and interrupted my weary apologia by saying yes, he understood what it it was thanks, and was very interested, and could he come back with a friend on Sunday? I felt then like a prize chump for patronising the only person to come to the Crypt Gallery that day who understood what we were trying to do.

So, be more explicit. It’s easy to get caught up in the detail and fail to summarise what is essentially a simple idea.

On day two, one of the ipaqs stopped working, so I only had two that worked.

I started being a bit more upbeat, and a few more people came. I’m glad, actually, that I didn’t have any more people come, as there wouldn’t have been enough equipment.

I got more positive feedback. Some people would, they said, rather be told where to go, and be given more direction. Others liked the idea of just wandering. There were some really lovely comments about Phil’s music, and in particular the way in which it enhanced a sense of presentness in time and place, making people look at things in new ways. I think in some ways that it worked better for those who were locals, or knew their way around the town better; existing knowledge and memories of place woven together with the sound walk created the kind of thoughtful intertextual experience I’d hoped for. At least it did while the technology was working.

The GPS drift seemed to be a bit of a problem. Areas I’d tested thoroughly didn’t deliver any content for some users. It’s very hard to get things in the right place using a pixellated map image when you need things to stay in a street that’s only a metre and a half wide. Using live maps in Appfurnace should solve this.

So, things to do for the next iterations: concentrate on specific places more, or specific themes to create micro-narratives of place, and join them together. Use more programming to improve functionality. Keeping it simple made sense, as it’s not about the technology, but the topography of place necessitates more careful thinking. Consider using narrative; the rhizomatic wandering can be retained, but perhaps reassure and guide without actually making a linear walk. Make some more recordings. Extend the stories, or at least identify them – possibly QR codes, possibly using good old paper, or possibly just a tumblr or similar. I still don’t want to interrupt the experience with material other than sound and place, as this disrupts the intertextual of the feeling of being both outside of the everyday and present in place.

NOTES: Letters to St. Ives Times & Echo, 21st April 1961

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In a letter to the St. Ives Times & Echo, local genuine artist Tony Shiels writes of ‘the plight of the thirsty St. Ives artists and their ‘beat’ comrades in the cause’. In order to ‘clarify one or two points raised and clouded in the press recently’ he reiterates the point that the ‘St. Ives landlords have stated that they would never refuse to serve a drink to a genuine artist, and the trouble has been caused by bearded strangers whose occupation cannot, instantly, be “pinned down”. This of course could be solved by asking these landlords to sponsor a scheme whereby any artist, after a stiff examination, could purchase a large badge or license, to produce, if at any time, he felt like a quick quencher.’

“It doesn’t matter about the rest, they’re not artists do they have no right to dress like them, or drink with them!”

The fact is that people who have lived and drunk in this town for years are now being insulted and ejected by landlords who recognise them, but don’t want to know them any more!

To say that it is only strangers that are banned is completely untrue. I am a painter with a wife and family. I own a house here and pay rates, but during the past three or four weeks I have been turned away from more than half the “public” houses, with no reason given.  Of course there is no reason; the whole affair is unreasonable!

I was more than a little annoyed the other day to read in two newspapers that Mr. Couch as chairman of the Penwith Society of Arts in Cornwall said that he fully sympathised with these landlords. He should rather sympathise with those members, like myself, who have had to suffer the annoyance…worst “beatnik,” so let us, please, have no more of it.’ [St. Ives Times & Echo, 21st April 1961]

And from Michael McCafferty, just below the Shiel’s letter, and under the header quote ‘The Gestapo didn’t like beards’:

‘Dear Sir, – I have always thought rather lightly of the occasional conflicts between those who regard the arts as an expression of their existence, and those to whom a conventional way of life appeals. Until now this conflict has always taken the form of little manifestations of differing temperaments, other than anything serious. When an individual objects to one because of dress or any other aspect of behaviour, it is quite easy, although the objection might be irritating, to take the broad view and allow them their personal predilection.

It is quite a different matter when a group of landlords, or any other group, take it upon themselves to object indiscriminately to any section of the community. It then becomes a question of conform or else.’ [St. Ives Times & Echo, 21st April 1961]

NOTES: Beatniks in Newquay on BBC Tonight, 1960

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Alan Whicker
, almost a parody of himself, interviews Wizz Jones, some ‘Beatniks’ and a town councillor about the ban on the Beatniks in Newquay‘s pubs and cafes, and the difficulty of keeping clean. From BBC Tonight, 1960.

NOTES: Martin Val Baker Interview, artcornwall.org 2006

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[...]Donovan was down in St Ives in 1962 or 63 – he was a friend of my sister Jane. I remember lending him a tent as he was living rough – a lot of his songs were inspired by St Ives. In autumn 1966 he returned with an ITV film crew to make a film. The hour long documentary was to be set half in London and half in St Ives, and Donovan sent the crew round to hire us all as extras. Eventually a dozen or so of us gathered on Porthminster beach with Don, his friend Gypsy Dave and also the American Folk Legend Derrol Adams who was travelling with the party. For three pounds a day, good money then, we were to play beatniks, sitting around a camp fire cooking mackerel and potatoes whilst Donovan mimed to a tape of his current hit record ‘Catch The Wind’. The props department rushed around town buying kettle, mugs, cutlery and rolls of tin foil, all of which were in mint condition and so we had to age it all with the aid of candle smoke. As for the mackerel, well there just weren’t any in St Ives on that day so the company had six driven over from Newlyn by taxi. Filming continued for a week, on the beach, in an old Second World War bunker above it and in the woods above the town where Don and his friends had camped first time round. The continuity girl would demand ‘who was smoking in the last shot’ all our hands would shoot up and we were tossed Senior Service cigarettes, a posh smoke that no self respecting beat would have been seen with in those days. In the end the film was actually quite good and clips from it turn up every now and again in ‘The Sounds of The Sixties’ series on T.V. – it really is quite strange seeing younger versions of us all after all these years.

[artcornwall.org, 2006]

For the rest of the article, see http://www.artcornwall.org/interview%20Martin%20Val%20Baker.htm

Written by JS101092

May 19, 2011 at 10:21 am

NOTES: From ST. Ives Times & Echo, 14th April 1961

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For whom is there no room at the inn?

One of the endearing things about St. Ives has been its comparative freedom from snobbishness and its tolerance of people who do not conform to the average middle class Englishman’s notions of respectability. The inns of St. Ives and especially The Sloop, must surely must surely have been for at least half a century among the least class-conscious meeting places in the world.

It is sad therefore that a deplorable and thoroughly untypical incident should have occurred recently at The Sloop to provide publicans with further justification for their growing disinclination to serve with drink young men and women who look as though they might qualify for the title “beatnik”.

A young German girl, a genuine art student who was enjoying the experience of visiting a town which can claim to be one of the world’s leading art centres, was an innocent cause, and one of the victims, of the ugly scene in which the licensee, Mr. Phil Rogers received a blow on the face with a water jug and a young man was ejected from the inn.

There will be sympathy too for Mr. Rogers and some sympathy too for the German girl who was deeply hurt and unable to understand why, in St. Ives of all places, she should be denied a drink in an inn infamous for its associations with art and artists. She was affecting the same style of dress and hair-do as many young people have adopted in Britain, America and on the continent – a form of dress which, as far as we know, has nowhere been declared illegal…[] or their employees and were not dressed like fishermen, postmen, bakers or bank clerks.

A licensee has  a right to refuse service he thinks gives, has given or might give offence to himself or his customers. He has to consider the desires and even the prejudices, of his regular customers. There are few people in the licensed trade for purely altruistic reasons.

In recent years a growing number of young, shiftless and often dirty and unkempt young men and woman [sic] have discovered that St. Ives and other Cornish resorts can just about provide them with a living. They work through the holiday season and somehow linger on through the winter. None of them are artists but some of them have attached themselves to the fringe of the modern art movements.

They are a social problem, and probably happy to remain as such. There are not many of them in St. Ives and they cause a good deal less trouble than the militant type of teddy boy of whom St. Ives – let all its highly respectable citizens thank the lord – is mercifully free.

But there are no “spit and sawdust” bars in St. Ives. St. Ives inns make no provision for people who are unkempt and whose manners are offensive. Toleration cannot be expected to stretch that far.

Mistakes have been made. Perfectly respectable and wholesome people  have been refused drinks in St. Ives – generally perhaps by mistake. The licensees say they have no intention of banning artists or art students or members of any other calling as long as they are clean and well behaved,  but not unnaturally their feelings about beatniks have coloured their attitude towards all young people whose understandable aspirations towards freedom from the restraints imposed by antiquated conventions lead them to grow beards, wear their hair long and dress sloppy.

Written by JS101092

May 18, 2011 at 11:04 am

NOTES: From ST. Ives Times & Echo, 16th December 1960

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The conflicting identities of place St. Ives are amusingly reflected by an article in the Times & Echo from December 1960, which reports on the previous week’s BBC West Round-up programme. It demonstrates the way that people from outside of the town can have certain expectations of place, which often come literally from the pictures that are painted of St. Ives, and the written portrait of place from outside.

Seventy-six year old Baron Ernst Rudolph Ferdinand Julian Marie de Bertouch had come from Littlehampton in East Sussex to stay in St. Ives to paint in the winter of 1959-60, and had left ‘disillusioned’.

He’d thought that the St. Ives ‘colony’ and its artistic traditions would provide him with the right environment to paint, however, he told the radio interviewer that St. Ives was ‘full of Beatniks and would be Picassos’, who were of low intelligence and of ‘high smell value’.

‘St. Ives was not a bit as I expected; the place is full of stinking Beatniks who won’t wash.’

He was politely asked to leave one of the town’s galleries, reporting that:

‘I had the honour of being thrown out of an art gallery exhibiting this abstract work. Apparently they didn’t like some of the remarks I made about some of their paintings’. The Baron concluded that the ‘most serious painters in the colony live outside St. Ives’.

The Mayor said that he had met the Baron at the opening of a show of the St. Ives Society of Artists at the New Gallery, where ‘his publicly expressed opinions about St. Ives are totally opposite to what he said to me in conversation then. He seemed very well pleased with the town’.

[St. Ives Times & Echo, 16th December 1960]

Written by JS101092

May 17, 2011 at 4:22 pm

BOOK: To the Lighthouse

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Portrait of Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

Image via Wikipedia

This is short extract from Helen Simpson‘s introduction to Granta’s new edition of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.

Porthminster Beach still holds the memory of the steam trains that came in round Hawke’s Point to the old St Ives station, in the glory years of the railways. In 1882, one of those trains brought the Stephen family from London. Virginia Stephen, then a few months old, was about to spend her first summer in St Ives. Her father, the alpinist, philosopher and man of letters Leslie Stephen, had bought the lease of Talland House in order to provide a summer home in Cornwall for his growing family of step-children and children. Until Virginia Stephen was thirteen, she spent every summer at Talland House, but the lease was given up soon after her mother’s sudden death in 1895. Leslie Stephen could not endure revisiting the scene of past happiness, and seems not to have considered that a more gentle weaning might have been easier for his children than a sudden rupture of their passionate attachment to the place.

One of my most favourite books, which will, I’m sure, feature somewhere in my work.

For the rest of the introduction, see the Granta site.

Written by JS101092

May 17, 2011 at 1:09 pm

SPACES: Viewing Platform

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I found this under construction next to the research building today. Three performance students making a site specific work. It’s a viewing station, built entirely from things found on campus. The idea is that, when it’s finished, you can look through holes or viewing tubes, and instead of seeing the expansive view over Penryn and Falmouth, you only see specific sites/sights. What you see will also have it’s own story attached. So, instead of seeing the macroscopic view of the landscape, you see a microscopic view of the very site/sight specific. Thereby using space and place to create narratives. Apparently, they’ve had the all-clear from health and safety, so it will be there indefinitely. It’s also rather well constructed, and much sturdier than it looks. Although it looks like it’s held together by luck and imagination.




WRITING: The Archive II

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The past is not simply there in memory, but must be articulated to become memory. The fissure that opens up between experiencing an event and remembering it in representation is unavoidable. Rather than lamenting or ignoring it, this split should be understood as a powerful stimulant for cultural and artistic creativity. The temporal status of any act of memory is always the present and not, as some naïve epistemology would have it, the past itself, even though all memory in some ineradicable sense is dependent on some past event or experience. It is this tenuous fissure between past and present that constitutes memory, making it powerfully alive and distinct from the archive or any other mere system of storage and retrieval. [Huyssen 1995]

My aim is to explore this gap between an event happening, and remembering it in representation.

Working with Memory Bay and the St. Ives Archive, I am looking at ways of rethinking the history of the creative community in St. Ives, uncovering hidden networks and connections. To do this, I have been exploring ideas of what an archive is, and how it can be disseminated.

How can a creative exploration of the archive articulate narratives of memory, identity and place to communicate notions of what constitutes an art community? What exactly is an archive, and can the split between experience and remembering be used to creatively articulate ideas of individual and collective memory related to place? What is an ‘art community’? Is it shaped by and understood through memory and place?

My work aims to rethink notions of what an art community is from within the community, using the space between experience and memory to creatively examine narratives of history, place and identity. It draws on theories of individual and collective memory, cultural history, the phenomenology of memory, cultural geography and new media practices, and uses the Memory Bay archive in St Ives (a collaboration between UCF, Tate St. Ives, St. Ives Archive, Leach Pottery and Porthmeor Studios) as a case study to explore how art and cultural practice, past and present, connects individuals and communities, and how memory and identity is intertwined with and performed through space and place.

Using space, real or imaginary, as a tool for memory is an ancient idea. In medieval times, imaginary cathedrals were built by monks to remember theological ideas as an aid to contemplation. By attaching things to be remembered to peculiar and exotic icons placed around these cathedrals, they could then journey around this space in order to create narratives of devotion. This is the same technique used to perform feats of memory today, like remembering Pi to however many decimal places.

The archive contains memory. But it does not operate in the same way as the mind.

Our ineptitude in getting at the record is largely caused by the artificiality of systems of indexing… The human mind does not work that way. It operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain. It has other characteristics, of course; trails that are not frequently followed are prone to fade, items are not fully permanent, memory is transitory. Yet the speed of action, the intricacy of trails, the detail of mental pictures, is awe-inspiring beyond all else in nature. [Vannevar Bush, 1945]

So, is it possible to create an archive of the imagination, a kind of reified version of Borges’ Library of Babel, where memory can be encountered by association? Or perhaps an emotional archive, where memory can be accessed by feelings? Or, could memory be put back in place, relocating memory in space, reflecting Bachelard’s suggestion that ‘space contains compressed time. That is what space is for.’ [Bachelard, 1958]

Instead of a cathedral, in St. Ives we have the freedom of a whole town in which to place icons and attach memories. These memories, once placed, can ‘hyperlinked’ to be encountered by moving through space, creating intimate or collective narratives of place. From this point, anything is possible.

To make this possible, to create an invisible archive that litters the town with memory, I am exploring different kinds of technology. Pervasive media is a broad term that is defined by Bristol’s research centre, The Pervasive Media Studio defines it thus:

The simple explanation:
Pervasive Media is basically any experience that uses sensors and/or mobile/wireless networks to bring you content (film, music, images, a game…) that’s sensitive to your situation – which could be where you are, how you feel, or who you are with. Oyster Cards are a simple pervasive device: so are audio guides at tourist attractions, which can give you extra information according to where you are and which bits you’ve been to already.
The more complex explanation:
Pervasive Media is Digital Media delivered into the fabric of real life and based on the situational context at the moment of delivery
The two defining features of Pervasive Media are:
1. Uses technology to understand something about the situation and
respond based on that information;
2. Uses digital media to augment (bridge) the physical environment, and
vice versa.

Written by JS101092

April 21, 2011 at 10:40 am

WRITING: The Archive I

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The St. Ives Archive is housed [housed; where the memory lives; the dwelling place for the memories; where memory sleeps until it is disturbed and rearranged to become history] in the Upper Chapel Room, St. Andrew’s Street. If you walk along the seafront towards the train station, you’ll find the St. Ives Society of Artists clinging to the very edge between land and sea. If you walk the other way, past the cafes and shops, weaving in and out between the holiday-makers in the summer, or trying to escape the penetrating winds in the winter, you’ll find the 15th Century church, and the harbour, and beyond that, Porthmeor beach and Tate St. Ives.

The building itself is constructed in granite, its walls almost half a metre thick. The Upper Chapel Room is found by going through a small set of blue double doors at the side, ascending the steep carpeted staircase and at the top, turn right and go through the glazed wooden door off the small landing. The space itself reveals its construction, white-painted beams hold-up the Methodist‘s architectural simplicity, the attic-like space filled with light by the large windows at each end [three per wall, two small with four sections, two with eight panes, two with six, and a larger window in the between, three instead of two wide, and an extra row of two-by-six windows on top].

It’s not an very big space, neither is it small. The room is the whole of the floor, save for a small landing with a toilet and a cupboard, and at the far corner, a latch door leads to a little kitchen with its assortment of mugs, tea-bags and tea-towels, and a kettle that seems slow to boil [though not as slow as the one in the kitchen in the house in which I live].

At the kitchen end, is a computer that stores the oral history archive and slide-shows of photos, and next to it is the microfiche machine. Microfiche is still an esoteric thing of great mystery to me. I only partly understand it. We need to become better acquainted, the microfiche and I. Working clockwise around the room from the microfiche on the back wall next to the kitchen, there is the Family History Corner. This is for actual genealogy, rather than the genealogy of ideas or knowledge. Along the long wall that faces the door, are cupboard-topped shelves that reach from floor to ceiling, except because the roof is sloped, there is a gap. I’ve often thought it might be a good place to sleep [sleep with sleeping memories], rather than just daydreaming.

On the shelves are a rainbow of ring-binders, filed not quite according to their position on the spectrum. They are filed according to subject, and to each subject a colour is assigned. It starts with blue for Family History at the far end, then red for Buildings, purple for History, green for Maritime, and yellow, for sun, sand and Tourism. Black ringbinders are for the serious matter of the arts. Grey archive boxes contain monochrome memories in black and white photos. See-through plastic boxes hold precious glass plates and photographic negatives; look through to see.

Turning to face in the opposite direction is the other wall with the big windows which face the sea, with St. Eia’s Church to the left and the Society of Artists to the right. You can just see the see in the middle, between the rooftops opposite. You can also see Godrevy, dunes, sand, but no lighthouse. Along this wall are computers. These are necessary for lots of reasons, yet the data stored in the memory of the volunteers is far easier to access, and can be retrieved using simple voice activated commands. This is much more user friendly, and needs no special training to use. The search results are filtered, and come with intelligent metadata, and recommendations for further searches. Apparently, this is also how the Semantic web, or Web 3.0 will work. There are no accession numbers, or filing systems required. However, the system of memories is unique, sophisticated and individualised.

Turning again to the other long wall, there is a fireplace, not in use for fireside tales, with a sign above that says ‘THIS IS A DISUSED MINESHAFT it has been fenced for your protection PLEASE HELP TO KEEP IT SAFE’. Next to this there are three filing cabinets, two brownish beige and one royal blue. From left to right, they respectively contain administrative things, Artists and Sculptors and General Art (A-Z), and Volunteers and Displays and Writers and Poets. Next to filing cabinets is a dividing wall of desks and photocopier at ninety degrees to the wall, ending in a display table with local history books and postcards of local views for sale. The door to the stairs is on the other side of this half-wall. This divides the volunteer’s working area from the public’s working area. This separation is further defined by the difference between the assorted proper desks on the one side, and smaller tables, each with two assorted chairs, on the other. The visitors’ side tables, three of them, are an interwar shade of lemon syllabub. Modern red and black chairs sit in pairs with the lemony tables. The half-glazed door leads out on to the landing again, and on the landing is the cupboard where books are stored, and not unlike in Borges’ Library of Babel, the toilet.

But as Bachelard said, one never goes downstairs from the attic.

Written by JS101092

April 20, 2011 at 10:51 am

NOTES: Cryséde, Tourism & Souvenir, by JS101092

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Tourism & Souvenir

The idea of the summer holiday was instilled in the middle-classes, with most employed getting a week or two of paid time off work,[1] and as the train journey from Paddington to Penzance now took a reasonable six and a half hours,[2] more and more middle class people were venturing as far as west Cornwall on holiday.  Although ’s silks and gowns never functioned explicitly as souvenirs of the county, and thanks to an efficient distribution system, could be bought as far a field as Australia,[3] without the need to ever travel to the wilds of west Cornwall, it could be argued that Walker’s designs represent a continued commodification of the region. They projected the image of a romanticised primitive retreat from modernity, which offered an escape to a simpler way of life separated from the speed of urban existence that begins with the painted representations of Cornish life by the original Newlyn School of artists in the dying years of the nineteenth century, and is continued both in the craft production of copper, pottery and enamel jewellery.[4] Cultural products in turn produce an idea of culture, one bound up and reinforced by the site of production.

The world, along with the Empire, began to shrink for middle class women as travel abroad became more accessible and available.  The bohemian and artistic circles attracted to the freedom offered by the wildness on the edges of the English Riviera began to travel with greater frequency to the French Riviera, which also offered golf, tennis and swimming, but also sunshine and glamour in greater quantities.  The exotic beyond British shores became more familiar to the less glamorous and bohemian too, from society pages and novels, where even the ‘poor’ Mrs. Wilkins in The Enchanted April, wife of a thrifty solicitor, could save enough from her dress allowance to rent an Italian villa for a month.[5] Equally, Agatha Christie’s characters travel widely. Light notes:

Travel books are not like travel guides intended for bona fide travellers – rather they are armchair romances for the stay-at-homes.  Christie’s detective fiction, itself reading for leisure, must have been doubly appropriate for holiday reading.[...] From being a place known only as part of the empire, ‘abroad’ is amorphously exotic whilst at the same time being reassuringly familiarised.  [...] Abroad was being imagined as a place for consumption and leisure, a home from home.[6]

Cryséde’s catalogue for summer 1931 (see illustration 2.2) speaks to both the armchair traveller, and the visitor to the South of France in its promotion of hand-printed linen beachwear:

Printed by hand in original and very distinctive designs, Cryséde have again taken and kept the lead in these wonderful Linen Coats and Frocks.  So very different and so unlike anything seen elsewhere, they have captured even the imagination of the French.

Seen last year in other designs along every water’s edge from Le Touquet to the Lido, they are proving more popular than ever in 1931.[7]

This statement contains an interesting ambiguity, both declaring the class-based leisure activities of the imaginary Cryséde customer and a provocation to the aspirational buyer, whilst the use of ‘Lido’ – presumably the Venice Lido – could also be referring to the less glamorous popular outdoor bathing pools in Britain, of which several were built during the interwar period to meet the demands of modernist healthful ideals, such as the Jubilee Pool at Penzance in 1936.  So the domestic exotic is available to the female consumer, whether she holidays in glamorous resorts of the continent or the poolside of the newly built lido.  Cryséde is desired and admired even by the French, suggesting that Walker’s designs are so fashionable that they are equal to the designers of Paris.

The culture and politics of place are embodied in Cryséde’s fabric itself, in which intertextual threads of nostalgia and fictive history were printed on to the surfaces of silk.  The designs serve to emphasise the site of production, creating a double-layered reification of place and identity.  Motifs such as St. Michael’s Mount, Newlyn Harbour, and Godrevy Lighthouse, are specific and defined, metonymic  representations of Cornwall.  The Eiffel Tower, London’s Tower Bridge and Chinese junks signify affluence, adventure and travel, both domestic and exotic.

Susan Stewart asserts that:

[t]he double function of the souvenir is to authenticate a past or otherwise remote experience and, at the same time, to discredit the present.  The present is either too impersonal, too looming, or too alienating compared to the intimate and direct experience of contact which the souvenir has as its referent.  [...] The nostalgia of the souvenir plays in the distance between the present and an imagined, prelapsarian experience, experience as it might be ‘directly lived’.  The location of authenticity becomes whatever is distant to the present time and space; hence we can see the souvenir as attached to the antique and the exotic.[8]

The souvenir becomes a way of negotiating the complex present, mitigating alienation and taking refuge in nostalgia.  Cryséde’s vibrant pastoral fabrics perform the function of the souvenir, a corporeal external display of modernity that allows the wearer to escape the alienating present and take refuge in the nostalgia of the intimate of the domestic exotic.

The pain of the past is sublimated by unsentimentality, diverting and deflecting real emotion and real appearances into an imagined pastoral that refuses to negotiate with modernity.  It is not surprising that following a period of great loss, that the pastoral has such an appeal in exchange for the real past:

[i]t has often been said that the pastoral mode wins its reflective qualities only at the price of an inability to deal concretely with cultural reality, as the author takes refuge from complex cultural problems in evocations of an imagined, simpler realm.[9]

It is the search for the authentic, the handmade, the exclusive craft object which favours Cryséde’s designs, like the adventurous tourist seeking an exotic and authentic adventure, the fashionable modern woman seeks to be different from her peers, yet not so unfamiliar that her appearance is alienating.

The catalogue of 1931 depicts on its front cover a full-page aerial photograph of St. Ives, the square white block of the Cryséde factory ringed for the benefit of the reader.  The contrast between the ultramodern format of the image and its subject, a fishing village in a pastoral landscape, speaks concurrently of technology, modernity and speed, yet also crafts, tradition and slowness.  Its concomitant text reinforces the dichotomy of the domestic exotic, echoing the narrative of du Maurier, of smuggling and salty seadogs, of a place on the periphery, at the edge of the world resting precariously between land and sea.  The text extends an invitation for tourists to visit the factory, which by this time was running tours for visitors conducted by members of the factory’s staff.

St. Ives… Home of Cryséde Silks

St. Ives! What romance and history is associated with the name.  The fishermen of this little port have always been famous for their seafaring skill and boldness; in bygone days even smuggling was not unheard of.

Many artists have transferred its beauties to canvas and so made it one of the best known parts of Cornwall.  To many, St. Ives is linked with Cryséde Silks and it is fitting that such delightful materials should be produced in an old building, the latterly modernised, on the Island, St. Ives.

This building is enclosed in a white ring in the photograph above; bounded by the old harbour and the open sea.

We shall be pleased to welcome visitors to St. Ives at Cryséde, to show them examples of our work and some of the unique processes which Cryséde undergoes in order that it may attain its ultimate loveliness and charm.[10]

The blend of the old and the new, tradition and modernity is described in the promotion of the catalogue’s copy, romanticising the factory and underlining an alternative function as a tourist destination, as if it were a craft workshop.

The mode of viewing from the air distances and separates, confines and controls the wild landscape.  The patterns themselves speak of the domestic exotic in prints that are aerial views of Cornwall and further afield. The rusticity of Welsh Hill Farm is defined by its goat and traditional Welsh costume hat, London Pride by the image of London Bridge. Eiffel Tower is the essence of Paris in its most famous cultural landmark, and Chinese Junks shows the romance of the orient in a panoply of little boats.  Again, these are representations of romanticised and essentialised notions of place, functioning to reduce landscapes to simple motifs, like picture postcards.  Like the photograph on the cover of the catalogue, the prints take an aerial view of their subjects, reducing them to tiny cottages and miniature people.  They are separated by the camera’s lens, distorted and compressed by distance, as if viewed from an aeroplane.  In this way the ancient motifs of landscape and tradition are distanced and separated, framed by modernity.  The domestic exotic landscape becomes the domesticated exotic, transformed by compression and miniaturisation.

According to Stewart, the transcendent viewpoint implied by the miniature ‘erases the productive possibilities of understanding through time.  Its locus is thereby the nostalgic.’[11] Whilst she is referring here to the landscape of the amusement park or the historical reconstruction, it could be argued that Cornwall, in its role as tourist destination, functions as both, the landscape marking ‘nostalgic allusions to interiority and fictiveness.’[12] So the very modern aerial view by miniaturising the landscape paradoxically creates a nostalgic narrative of place which makes the modern more familiar.

Compared with the grounded and land based viewpoint taken by traditional toiles du Jouy, or Dufy’s prints, the viewpoint offered in Cryséde designs could be seen as a modern way of looking. It can be seen in many other designers’ work of this time.  Footprints’ Welwyn Garden City gives a bird’s eye view of the patchwork urbanity, as does Ruth Reeves Metropolis, to which the miniaturisation of the suburban or the city is most appropriate to confine and familiarise the image of modernity.[13] Technological advances in aerial photography made in the Great War led to cultural advances in image-making, in turn giving people a new way of seeing the world, a new viewpoint, which gives artists and makers a new creative eye.

The flattening of the picture (or pattern) plane and the style of the brushstrokes is suggestive also of the exotically fashionable orient, an anglicized version of Chinese or Japanese art, which had of course also been an influence on French design. This connotation creates an impression of layers of exoticism from the orient, via France, to England.  (Walker never travelled abroad apart from Paris, so it is possible that prints such as Koyoko, Coral Island and Samoa, in addition to those already mentioned, were realised from copies of photographs.[14] )

The tension between the domestic and exotic is evident also of Walker’s initial designs.  Polly Walker relates the story of events of the evening of Walker’s return from Paris, as witnessed by her uncle.  Having spent the trip sketching and encouraged by Dufy’s advice to create his own designs, Walker was so filled with creative vigour that upon seeing the table laid for dinner he refused to allow anyone to touch the food until he had completed a sketch of the scene.  This became Lobster Supper, the lobster a signifier of luxury, affluence and exclusivity as well as representing lobster pots, fishermen and a middle-class view of rustic peasantry, and features in many of the St. Ives Society of Artists paintings.  The lobster is at once a sign of continuity of tradition, of lack of change and the passage of time, and yet also of modernity, expensive and exclusive restaurants, momentary indulgence.

[1] Catherine Horwood, Keeping Up Appearances: Fashion and Class Between the Wars, Sutton, Stroud 2005 p.79.

[2] St. Ives, Carbis Bay, Penzance, Land’s End, Illustrated Guide Book, Ward, Lock & Co. London 1928, p. 12.

[3] Melbourne Argus, 2nd February 1921.

[4] Chris Thomas, 1997 p. 121.

[5] Elizabeth von Arnim, The Enchanted April, (Macmillan & Co. Ltd, 1922; Pocket Books Simon & Schuster, Inc. 1993) p. 77.

[6] Alison Light, 1991, p. 90.

[7] Spring Catalogue 1931, Cryséde Archive, Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro.

[8] Susan Stewart, On Longing, Duke University Press, Durham & London, 1993, p. 133.

[9] Glenn Adamson, Thinking Through Craft.  Berg, New York 2008, p.104.

[10] Spring Catalogue 1931, Cryséde Archive, Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro.

[11] Susan Stewart, 1993 p. 60.

[12] Susan Stewart, 1993 p. 60.

[13] Lesley Jackson 2002 p. 74.

[14] Interview with Polly Walker, 17th February 2009, Penzance.

Written by JS101092

February 7, 2011 at 7:42 pm

ARCHIVE: Dear Miss Brooks… A Love Story

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IMAG0025, originally uploaded by objectophilia.

This is a beautiful and sad story from the archive.


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February 4, 2011 at 11:47 am

ARCHIVE: Sorting Out

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The archive is closed this week for a stock take and general tidy up. This means that there are boxes of interesting things all over the place, and a great opportunity for me to have a rummage around and get to know the archive better.

I started on a few boxes of documents that had come from the St. Ives Borough Council Planning Department. More interesting than perhaps it initially sounds, highlights included grant approval documents for people living in downalong to have hot and cold running water and indoor toilets installed. These were dated right up to the early seventies and I found it shocking that several years after the moon landings, people still didn’t have indoor sanitation. I realise I’m probably being naive, and I’m sure this wasn’t unique to St. Ives.

The fascination with sanitation and utilities continued with the oldest documents from this box, beautifully copperplated contracts between the Town Council and an engineering company for the public works, including the installation of sewers, gullies, manholes, ventilation etc. which dates from 1893.

An interest in the town’s sewage system may seem far removed from the history of the creative community in St. Ives, but the works to improve the sanitation were essential to the local economy, making the streets more attractive to visitors and residents. It’s only twenty years earlier that a guidebook recommends avoiding St. Ives because of its open sewers and fishy stinking effluent. The population is growing again by this time, and more housing is being built and a growing population requires modern streetlighting and proper drainage.

Further documents show public health improvements were made in the town in the 1930s, around the time of the slum clearances. According to Greta, WWII interrupted the clearances, or St. Ives would look quite different today, and as it is, only the area which is now the Sloop Inn car park was cleared. The residents were moved to new council houses in estates like Penbeagle, with proper indoor bathrooms. Considering the number of applications still received by the council for grants to install indoor plumbing and bathrooms in 1971, as documents in from the archive demonstrate, it was probably a sensible move. The oil-painted poverty may have attracted artists and tourists, but the reality of living without modern conveniences must have been a lot less poetic in reality.

Other really interesting things included an accounts ledger from a clothes shop, containing details of purchases from the early 1900s until the 1950s, and another ledger detailing the fund-raising activities of some eminent St. Ives ladies who worked hard to raise money for a variety of causes during the First World War.

I’ll upload some photos next week, once I’ve got my fancy shiny new smart phone.

Written by JS101092

January 27, 2011 at 2:25 pm

ST. IVES: A Walk with Janet Axten

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This afternoon, Janet was kind enough to talk me on a tour of St. Ives. We wandered along Fore Street to the St. Ives Society of Artists in the old Mariner’s Church, then to Porthmeor Studios. We visited John Emmanuel’s studio at Number Two, which is a really incredible space. Built of stone and wood, its large windows look out over Porthmeor beach in the late afternoon December sun. The St. Ives School of Painting at the other end is currently being renovated, and when that’s finished, work will begin on the other studios. The higgledy piggledy studios used to be fish cellars and net lofts, bits built here and there, as required, at different times, making dating the building extremely complicated, although building along Porthmeor beach began around 1840. Ben Nicholson and Patrick Heron worked at Studio Number Five.

We continued along Back Road East, then Back Road West, down smaller lanes, surprising some cats and wandering into the nooks and crannies of the town to have a peek. These spaces are not quite public, but at the same time not private. Liminal spaces, the spaces in between.

We also met Alban, a film maker. He makes brilliant short films about the town, which you can find at here, at St. Ives TV.

As we carried on, I mentioned a video I’d seen of St. Ives following a fire in July 1970, and asked Janet where it was. She told me that it destroyed four restaurants and twelve flats on Fore Street, and showed me the newspaper clippings back at the archive, as well as a copy of the Fire Service’s report about the incident. The aerial photo showing the devastation was fascinating. As was the Daily Mirror’s take on the fire, Inferno at St Ives: Hippies raise alarm as fire sweeps resort.

From The Tre Project/Awen

As we walked back to the archive, Janet pointed out the Salvation Army building that was rebuilt in 1916 following a fire. At this point, Fore Street was still the main street through the town. Wharf Road was built in 1922; until then, the town ran down to the beach.

Written by JS101092

December 19, 2010 at 5:03 pm

Posted in Notes

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PRESENTATION: Context, 7th December 2010

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The desire for narratives of the past, for re-creations, re-readings, re-productions, seems boundless at every level of our culture. History in a certain canonological form may be delegitimized as far as its core pedagogical and philosophical mission is concerned, but the seduction of the archive and its trove of stories of human achievement and suffering has never been greater.

[Huyssen  2003]

Eric Curnow remembers St. Ives


Willie James talks about Ben Nicholson


The history of the art colony is currently being written by historians and specialists such as David Tovey (2009), with his work on the art colony in Cornwall, Laura Newton’s (2007) research on the British art colonies, and Nina Lübbren’s (2001) work on artists’ colonies in Europe, and this project draws on and develops that material.  Instead of examining the art colony in isolation (or connected geographically to other art colonies), however, I want to examine the notion of ‘creative community’, which better describes the links and disjunctions between creative practitioners and the communities – places and spaces – in which they operate. As Lübbren suggests, and as I discovered in my own MA research into Alec Walker and Crysede, in many cases it is the artists themselves who ‘escaped’ to Cornwall who conceptualised it as place of creative isolation, obscuring important networks and creative practice within local communities, even as they interacted with them.

This research aims to contribute to a reassessment of Cornwall’s art communities, past and present.

There is much still to be discovered at the St. Ives Archive, as director Janet Axten suggests. For example, her research looking at changes in the local population at the end of the 19th Century demonstrates a dramatic reduction in the numbers of people resident in the town, followed by a large number of incomers in the years immediately following. Women’s roles were also changing, shown in the census where women heads of households were no longer fishwives, but described themselves as landladies offering lodging to meet the increased demand. The St. Ives Directory published details of all visitors to the town and where they were staying, listing the increase in the number of visiting artists and tourists.

Guidebooks also reveal much about the creation of the identity of place. Whilst guidebooks from the late 19th Century suggest avoiding the squalid nastiness of the town altogether to those visiting the county, the repeated motif of books from only a few decades later is that of nostalgic regret at the decline of traditional fishing. It is this contrast that reveals most clearly that it was only with the decline of fishing that St. Ives becomes a more appealing place to visit, and that the romantic idea of the town’s prosperous fishing heyday is a myth.

My theoretical approach draws on theories of individual and collective memory, the phenomenology of memory, art history, and cultural geography. In particular, I’m interested in three or four dimensional theories that I feel reflect my subject matter, that offer a framework for the examination of space and time, together with memory and everyday life. Bachelard’s Poetics of Space gives a poetic reading of the phenomenology of intimate spaces, and The work of Foucault and Latour (2007) will help explore community, networks and connections, and the ideas of Radstone & Hodgkin and Huyssen on individual and collective memory will inform the project.

I’m looking at Actor Network Theory to explore how memory and identity is intertwined with and performed through space and place, and employed here as a theoretical framework I hope to reveal hidden networks.  Nigel Thrift’s work on materiality of memory and performativity of space is also interested in its multidimensionality, where he states:

There is no such thing as a boundary. All spaces are porous to a greater or lesser degree. For example, bodies caught in freeze-frame might look like envelopes but, truth to tell, they are leaky bags of water, constantly sloughing off pieces of themselves, constantly leaving traces – effluent, memories, messages – through moments of good or bad encounter in which practices of organization and community and enmity are passed on, sometimes all but identically, sometimes bearing something new.

[Thrift, 2003]

Lefebvre’s (1991) Rhythmanalysis and Production of Space, also offer interesting ways of analysing space and place and its power structures, which also has a playful nature to its methodology. that  Lippard’s (2007) on the multiple meanings of space.

No matter how long or short a time we live in a place we inherit the responsibility for knowing about it, valuing it, working to keep it viable, and illuminating our dynamic cultural spaces and their underlying, often invisible meanings and uses — for those who don’t. If a local is someone who gives more than she takes, everybody is a candidate.

[Lippard, 2003]

Huyssen’s work on collective memory is also important, and this quote in particular perhaps describes something of what I would like to achieve through my research as practice.

The past is not simply there in memory, but must be articulated to become memory. The fissure that opens up between experiencing an event and remembering it in representation is unavoidable. Rather than lamenting or ignoring it, this split should be understood as a powerful stimulant for cultural and artistic creativity.

[Huyssen 1995]

I’m really interested in the performative aspects of memory. I think that oral history is a performance of memory, and I want to expand on this idea in order to explore how people encounter the archive outside of the museum. Pervasive and locative media and technologies are central to the context of the practice element of the research, so examining different work with sound, narrative and space, such as Bristol’s Pervasive Media Studio, Duncan Speakman’s subtlemobs, AntiVJ, Blast Theory and The Mixed Reality Research Lab at Nottingham University will be critical. Theories of gaming and movement will also be relevant in addressing how participants’ experience can be controlled moving through space, coming out of research by UWE, IgFest and Slingshot.

ARCHIVE: Exciting Beginnings

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So, I’m a little late in posting this as there has been so much to take in in my first couple of weeks at the St. Ives Archive. Janet Axten and the archive’s volunteers have been really brilliant and helpful in introducing me to the archive, and I’ve even got my own badge, which I’m really pleased about.

The archive was set up in 1996 and has been developing steadily ever since. Currently based in the Upper Chapel Room in St. Andrew’s Street, there are plans for further development, and therefore it’s a very exciting time to get involved.

I’ve been introduced to so many interesting people, I’m creating new networks and connections and becoming part of the community here at the archive, as at the same time I begin to explore the historical connections of the creative community in St. Ives. I’m really starting to understand better what I’m trying to do, here, and how by extending my research networks I can extend my research. I’ve also been considering what John Hall has said about the autobiographical nature of research. Previously, I was aware that this research allows me to explore and combine my interests in education,cultural heritage and technology, but I think I realise now that my research is autobiographical on so many levels.

The town has got its own internet TV channel, St. Ives TV and the archive is hoping to produce one film a month on something from the town’s history, so I’m hoping to be able to get involved in that.

Mary has kindly invited me to the 91st anniversary meeting of the Old Cornwall Society in January. This will not only give me a chance to hear her speak in Cornish dialect, which she’s written several books on, but also hear some other talks.

Janet has suggested that I attend the meetings for the planning of the St. Ives Festival, which happens every September. This will be a great way of meeting people involved, and I hope to have a project to launch at the festival. I’m excited.

Written by JS101092

December 3, 2010 at 2:03 pm

NOTES: Travel Guide Books

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I am developing an obsession with guidebooks. I’m particularly fond of the little fold out maps. They contain opinions and advice on the nature of place and encounters with place.

The idea of sites for painting becoming sights for people to come and look at through the circulation and distribution of images is interesting. A site is somewhere artists come to paint, the site becomes a scene, tourists come to see the site of the scene, the scene becomes a picture postcard, more tourists come to see the sights/sites. This is something pointed out by Lubbren, that the art colony is a precursor to the holiday resort, where artists make a place known for its particular beauty, then the images of that place become known, which attracts people to visit. In turn also, the presence of the artists mean the development of facilities to meet their needs, which are developed further to accommodate the needs of tourists.

Denys Val Baker suggests this too in his book about the St. Ives artist community:

Thus that one scene, perhaps one moment, of local life, might be translated into a series of other moments, many of which would later be sent out into the world, to be hung in galleries, reproduced in books, and so on. And because of seeing those results, all kinds of people might be tempted to visit the place that inspired them.

Denys Val Baker, Britain’s Art Colony by the Sea 1959 p.22

So, back to the guidebooks. The images of Cornwall and St. Ives produced by artists which in turn attract other visitors are interesting, but a textual version of these images come in the form of the guidebook. The earliest one that I have stumbled across in a second-hand bookshop in London is Black’s Guide to Dorset, Devon and Cornwall. Published in 1877, its tenth edition, it pre-dates the first ideas of art colony in the county. The theory that it is indeed the artists which establish place as tourist site/sight, endowing a place beauty, making it attractive/attraction, is perhaps best illustrated by the short piece on St. Ives from Black’s:

The position of St. Ives, [...] is one of picturesque and uncommon beauty,; and it is to be regretted that the favourable impression which at first the tourist necessarily forms should be dissipated on his entrance into the town by its accumulation of nastiness. The streets are narrow and crooked; the shops mean and squalid; and everywhere pervades a fishy smell, “most tolerable, and not to be endured”.

Black’s Guide to Dorset, Devon and Cornwall, 1877

As David Tovey points out in his survey of early guides in St Ives Art Pre-1890: The Dawn of the Colony, visitor accounts refer to St. Ives as being disorderly and putrid-smelling, and some even recommend avoiding the town completely. 1877 is the year that the branch line is completed, during a decade which sees the beginning of a decline in the fishing and mining industries.

BOOK: St. Ives Art pre-1890 – The Dawn of the Colony, Tovey 2008

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David Tovey’s book on the early years of art in St. Ives aims to cover a previously neglected era in the town’s history.

p. 9

Prior to the ‘discovery’ of Cornwall by Edwin Harris and Walter Langley in 1882 and Whistler in 1884, Tovey’s research shows that the Bristol Academy for the Promotion of Fine Arts show catalogue notes perhaps a couple of Cornish scenes per year in the years to 1859. In 1860, there are fifteen.

It was in 1859 that Isambard Kingdom Brunel‘s railway bridge over the river Tamar was completed, making travel into the county much simpler.

p. 10

Whilst paintings of the natural landscape begin to be seen and circulate, St. Ives still has a reputation as a ‘dirty fishing town’.

In the 1850s a number of guides to Cornwall began to be published, and they were less than complimentary about the town. Murray’s guide, for instance, having mentioned that the distant vista of the town, with ‘it’s old rickety houses… nestling on the very skirt of the sea’, was likely to make the visitor ‘draw rein’, for it formed a very pleasing picture, comparable with Grecian scenery, nevertheless warned that his admiration would be somewhat qualified on further inspection, as the town was ‘tainted with the effluvia of the pilchard cellars. Some of the open channels on the streets, down which the juices of the pressed pilchards were allowed to flow, can still be seen. Walter White, in 155, was even blunter, telling his readers not to disenchant themselves by going down into the town at all, for it ‘appears to be going through the process of of dilapidation and to have been built without any regard to order’. St. Ives was, accordingly, a dirty, noisy, stinking town that no artist was prepared to select as his home, whilst the scenic attractions of the town and its environs were significantly impaired.

p. 11

In the 1870s, the mining industry collapses, resulting in mine closures and job losses. Shipbuilding and ropemaking were no longer viable industries, and fishing too was in decline. Efforts to introduce a branch line to the town had been going on since 1844, completely unsuccessfully. Tovey suggests that the only reason that the rail link to St. Ives was eventually built was that the town council was persuaded that the only way forwards for the town was in its reinvention as a holiday resort. Started in 1874, and completed in 1877:

An illustrated article in the Pictorial World in June 1877 proclaimed that St. Ives was ‘one of the most beautiful of our seaside resorts’ and offers equal attractions to the tourist, the artist and the invalid. The views are grand and extensive, comprising hills and vales, coast and sea, cliffs and gorge, sands and beach – the run of country differing entirely in appearance and fertility from east to west. For position and climate, here is all that is desirable to bring this port into popular favour, not only as a watering place, but as a health resort’. In truth, there was still much to be done to remove the ‘dirty fishing town’ tag from St. Ives and, for some years, the initiatives taken seem not to have worked.

Tovey goes on to tell how Sir Edward Hain suggests that the new railway line was only good for taking people away from the town in the years following its opening, a claim backed by Tovey’s census research.

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November 24, 2010 at 2:42 pm

BOOK: Britain’s Art Colony by the Sea, Denys Val Baker, 1959

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p. 9

Why do artists come to Cornwall?

It is a mixture of material and mystical, facts and fantasies, all equally important. The climate, the brilliant light, the almost Mediterranean blue of the sea, the fascinating formations of rocks and cliffs, hills and valleys, sand and pebble shores – these are some of the more obvious attractions. So, too, is the comparitive freedom and easiness of life in a small but cosmopolitan town such as St. Ives, as compared to most of the provincial towns and industrial areas; the congenial atmosphere of working and living among large groups of fellow artists; the facilities of numerous art galleries and show-rooms, several art societies, clubs and other meeting places; and last but by no means least, a sympathetic local population and press, conditioned by several decades of growing-up alongside the art colony, so that what might seem an oddity if dumped in some other part of Britain has come to be taken for granted in Cornwall.

p. 10

The bones of this land are not speechless

And first you should learn their language

Frances Bellerby

This is a hideous and wicked country,

Sloping to hateful sunsets at the end of time,

Hollow with mine shafts, naked with granite, fanatic

With sorrow. Abortions of the past

Hop through these bogs; black-faced, the villagers

Remember burnings by the hewn stones.

John Heath-Stubbs

Heath-Stubbs makes Zennor sound like the vision of the countryside/Cornwall portrayed in Straw Dogs or An American Werewolf in London. It’s a strange, alien and terrifying place. Part of England, but not of it. It’s a truly hellish vision.

Val Baker goes on to recount Walter de la Mare‘s reaction to his first visit to Corwall, who wrote that he didn’t feel safe until he’d crossed the River Tamar and was safely back in Devonshire. He also mentions that Aleister Crowley was rumoured to visit West Penwith regularly to conduct black masses.

It’s not really surprising that the freedom felt by artists engendered by landscape also attracted those in search of other kinds of freedoms. The ancient wildness of Cornwall’s landscape , along with its Iron Age dwelling places and standing stones has the suggestion of the pre-Christian, and perhaps could be described as godless.

It is then that the drowned sailors of the past can be heard hailing their names above the moaning of the waters. It is then that the sense of the primordial, the strange and the savage, the unknown, the very long ago, fills the dusk with something that is akin to dread. It is then that the place becomes haunted; a giant heaves grey limbs from his granite bed; a witch sits in that stone chair on a cliff…

Ruth Manning-Sanders

p. 11

Past and present, moments and centuries, all are entangled and interwoven in Cornwall. Eternity is contained in a hundred years. And this is not only reflected in the landscape but in the people.

The past of their lives has lost neither face nor voice behind the shroud, nor are the passions of the flesh, not is the animate soul, wanting to it. Other races forfeit infancy, forfeit youth and manhood, with their progression to the wisdom age may bestow. These have each stage always alive, quick at a word, a scent, a sound, to conjure up scenes in spirit and in flame.

George Meredith

The Cornish people themselves are like their land, an old and knowing race, withdrawn to strangers, living as much in the past as the present; without, as has been said, much creative inspiration, yet with a quick response to all things of that nature.

reaction to a sensitized soil

The thing about the Cornish is that they are not nice: exciting and attractive, but not nice. They have colour enough to turn the spectacles of most onlookers pink but it is not fast to light. The impulsiveness that goes as far as magnanimity does not sustain generosity; the devotion, loyal to fanaticism, has no fidelity; the forthcomingness keeps much more back than reticence – like an iceberg, two-thirds under the water, if there were not anything less like an iceberg than any Celt… Where does it go, then, all the colour? The warm tones of manner, the light and shade of speech? the colour goes into the personality. Almost one might say it is enough for the Cornish to be Cornish; btu not quite for they have a full measure of Celtic discontent. The energy that makes  for colourfulness goes into the business of living – always a hard one in Cornwall – the fervour into congregational worship, into a personal relationship with omnipotence, not into embellishing its dwelling-place; the enterprise into seeking fortunes afield.

R. Glyn Grylls Cornish Review

A somewhat dark and damning description of the Cornish, really, although R. Glyn Grylls is herself Cornish, that I dare say would be unpublishable now. At least you’d hope so. But that idea of both the landscape and the people, its/their fundamental alienness, persists in popular culture as the aforementioned films demonstrate just one example. The English middle-classes love to holiday in cottages across the county, but will still make jokes about its ‘primitive’ nature unthinkingly.

p. 12

The open coliseum of each little cove of sand or rock may be the theatre for any natural, supernatural or unnatural event. The unending presence of the sea breathing ceaselessly over the shoulder of each hill, the the rock charged with a thousand sunsets or carved by a hundred years of rain, the little trees loaded with berries growing away from the prevailing wind, offering crimson to green, the mind’s incessant vertigo at the cliff edge, and the slow constructional flight of the seagull – these things in some way act as the charming of magicians and open up the deeper rooms of experience in man, making him aware of his being part of the natural universe, at the head of a great unseen procession of gods, and devils, spectres and dragons; of being a channel for unknown and undefined forces; of facing the mystery of life, awakening powers of perception which search beyond the frontiers of normal events.

Sven Berlin

p. 19

There is a good reason, of course, for the fascination which the streets and buildings of St. Ives have for artist. It is simply a lack of change.

p. 22

Atmosphere! Yes, that its the important ingredient of St. Ives as an art colony: an atmosphere that gives as well as takes, to and from the artists. Did St. Ives have atmosphere before the artists came and settled? Of course. But is that atmosphere stronger because of their presence? Again, of course. We are on subtle ground here, but then the atmosphere of an art colony is a subtle thing. [...] Thus that one scene, perhaps one moment, of local life, might be translated into a series of other moments, many of which would later be sent out into the world, to be hung in galleries, reproduced in books, and so on. And because of seeing those results, all kinds of people might be tempted to visit the place that inspired them. And once they had seen St. Ives at first hand – the cobbled streets, the fairy-like harbour, the Mediterranean-blue sea, the artists at work before their easels, pictures hanging everywhere, studios tucked away down almost every little by-way – what would be the general reaction? Wonderment, delight, fascination, ‘there’s nowhere else like it in Britain’. How many thousands of people are there who come back to St. Ives year after year for this very reason; how many indeed, as I know myself, who have come for a visit and stayed a lifetime?

Finally then, how are we to define what it is that draws them? The place? The paintings? The fishermen? The artists? Or perhaps everything curiously mixed up?

It is on these lines, I fancy, that St. Ives has become what it is today. It remains, underneath, what it has always been, a Cornish fishing port; but it has had imposed on it the everyday life of an artists community – an imposition at first resented and resisted, but later accepted and even assimilated so that today ‘them artists’, as the fishermen used to refer to them, with a wealth of disparagement, are as familiar to the locals as the postman, the butcher and the baker. If you stop and consider those last words, perhaps you may experience their full impact.

PRACTICE: Small Projects #1

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Talking Points

The aim of this project is to create a reactive sound installation, using sensors to detect the presence of an audience.

I want to start a ‘conversation’ between the archive and passers by, located in a specific place.

Located outside, a motion sensor will trigger a device to play a series of mp3s of oral history clips from the Memory Bay archive. These clips will be randomised. I hope to edit the clips in order that they relate to each other to create the illusion of conversation.

I hope that these ‘conversations’ will trigger conversations in passers by, creating a talking point.

It would be interesting to have a simultaneous recording device running to capture people’s reactions, however this may present ethical issues. A QR code/web address on a nearby wall could lead people to give feedback online.

I may need some technical advice
Equipment (small costs involved)
Location: need to be able to safely install equipment so it’s weather and vandal proof.
Edited sound clips.

I would like to build on this further in the future if it is successful, creating more Talking Points around town, possibly with the facility for people to record their own reactions.

Further still, I would like to create multiple randomised conversations at each point. This would include recording other ‘ordinary’ people’s voices talking about place, who are then ‘involved’ in the conversation.
I would also like to project images of people talking on to layers of mosquito net, giving the illusion of depth, and people floating in space. Perhaps this could be done using a shop window.

BOOK: Designing the Seaside, Gray 2006

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p. 7

Western seaside resorts are multilayered places, redolent with meaning for the present and memory of the past.

Seaside architecture, combined with a multiplicity of images related to the seaside, define its meaning and consumption.

p. 36

Discussion of arguments surrounding the perception and consumption of nature. Can nature be consumed? If not, how is it used, experienced, represented, perceived?

John Urry: The tourist gaze.

The visual sense was increasingly hegemonic in the sensing of the natural world, and nature, including the sea, was transformed in to an overridingly visual spectacle. In turn , the fundamental process of tourist consumption became capturing the gaze, each one of which could ‘literally take a split second’. Everything else in the tourist experience and tourist services was relegated as subsidiary.

p. 53

Once the middle and working classes were able to holiday by the sea, one persistent conflict revolved around whether resorts were select and respectable or popular and open to all comers. … A higher social tone could be attempted, for example, by resisting the the freeing of restrictions on bathing, entertainment and transport that might lure working class visitors and opposing the development of facilities, including piers in the second half of the nineteenth century and holiday camps in the  interwar period of the next century, thought to endanger a resort‘s reputation by making it more popular.

p. 65

Buying a room in a hotel, a ticket for a seaside attraction or simply sunbathing on a beach [also] involves buying into a more general idea of the seaside or a particular resort. We consume a reality and an image, and the two may not match.


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