Performing Memory: Art Community, Archive & St Ives

Posts Tagged ‘Cornwall

The Intangible Archive St Ives

with one comment



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

leave a comment »

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

leave a comment »

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

leave a comment »

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

leave a comment »

NOTES: Martin Val Baker Interview, artcornwall.org 2006

leave a comment »

[…]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

leave a comment »

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

%d bloggers like this: