home exhibitions | interviewsfeatures profileswebprojects archive


Groundwork pt two

Various locations in West Cornwall

Rupert White




New works appeared intermittently, in phases, throughout the summer and as they did the cumulative beauty of the Groundwork programme became apparent.

At the end of May one of the most impressive was unveiled at Richmond Chapel in Penzance. Janet Cardiff's Forty Part Motet (2001) is a huge, all-enveloping sound piece comprising 40 loudspeakers on stands, each of which plays a recording of a singer performing their own part of a Thomas Tallis choral work.

Up close to the speakers, you become aware of each performer's voice, and its unique visceral character. Standing back the majesty of Tallis' work washes over you like a wave, and it is certainly uplifting, but Cardiff's version is also shot through with melancholy. On the one hand it seems to acknowledge the ways in which technology is coming to replace human beings in so many spheres of life. On the other, placed here in a Cornish chapel, it is a reminder of a very particular moment in history. Tallis worked at the Chapel Royal serving, amongst others Edward VI who oversaw the imposition of the English Common Book of Prayer. This attempt to suppress both the Cornish language and Catholicism, led directly to the the bloodshed of the Cornish Prayer Book rebellion of 1549.



Artist-talks and related events also took place throughout the summer. The most notable was the conversation between Nicolas Serota and Steve McQueen (OBE, artist-filmmaker and Oscar winner) which was held at The Plaza Cinema in Truro on a Sunday morning in early June (picture above).

Outside the Plaza, church bells were peeling across the town whilst inside, lit under a spotlight on a wide stage, McQueen spoke patiently for around 90 minutes on his career and his films. He came across as a thoroughly modest and likeable man, and an artist still clearly entranced by the power of images and image-making. With gentle probing from Serota, McQueen systematically described the origins and genesis of many if not all of his artworks; confirming for example, that he has made a film of the Grenfell tower, but it will not be released until the enquiry has finished, when hopefully the time will feel right.  McQueen also had some nice things to say about CAST, about the impeccable installation of his film 'Gravesend', and about Teresa Gleadowe, the Director of Groundwork.

The weekend McQueen spoke in Truro, was the weekend his film at CAST in Helston made way for another in the same space by Frances Alys; another international artist who visited Cornwall that week. Lighter in tone than 'Gravesend', and more playful, 'Silence of Ani' (2015 - 13:21mins) which has not been shown in the UK before, is equally cinematic, and compares favourably to Pasolini's 'Gospel According to St John' or Maya Deren's 'Meshes of the Afternoon'.



Shot amongst the ruins of the ancient city of Ani on the border of Turkey and Armenia, discarnate, shadowy figures are glimpsed darting between rocks, trees and clumps of grass. It slowly transpires that the bird-like sounds on the soundtrack, carried on the wind, are being made by them; several boys and girls blowing on bird whistles; scattered through the landscape, engaged in a musical conversation or perhaps an elaborate courtship ritual.

They slowly emerge from behind the tussocks and bushes, and as they come together, coalescing physically, so their birdsong becomes more formed, into something like structured four part harmony. The human protagonists eventually fall asleep amongst the ruins (picture above), and a small, simply drawn, cartoon bird alights on top of a pillar; a digital sprite apparently summoned by the whistles.



Outside the cinema space at CAST were scores of small wooden whistles and flutes looking, perhaps, like the once proud towers of Ani itself, displayed in a row on a lit shelf (above). Apparently they included double-reed flutes called 'duduks', and are Alys' own collection.

Throughout May, and on into the scorching hot month of June, the immaculately planted gardens at Kestle Barton offered a peaceful oasis of colour. Here Manon de Boer's film 'Bella Maia and Nick (from Nothing to Something to Something else)' 2018 was shown in the cool, dark space of the nearby gallery (picture below).



Filmed against the backdrop of a large studio window in Porthmeor, we watch three teenaged musicians improvising informally using clarinets, flutes, saxophones and an assortment of drums.  A swollen green sea churns silently behind them, as they play music that is tentative and unformed, hesitant and awkward, like social encounters between young people often are. Unlike Gravesend at CAST, the sound in the space was quieter, and it tended to merge pleasingly with ambient sounds as they floated in from the garden.




There is more documentation in 'exhibitions'. See 'interviews' for a video of the Serota-McQueen conversation http://artcornwall.org/interviews/Nicolas_Serota_Steve_McQueen.htm