07 April 2015

clarissa beothy - weaver of lead

clarissa's retrospective exhibition at the heseltine gallery is full of light, reflections, shadows  - musings on humanity and the soul. for further information there is an article about her life and work here. a very moving collection of sculpture in a beautiful space.

04 April 2015

diskudha - uncover, discover, reveal

i have an unexpected day off work which is welcome news during a busy time. it means i can go and experience the diskudha project so i'm feeling happy.  diskudha is cornish for uncover, discover, reveal and the project is an art led journey linked by water. and with the promise of cakes what could be better. it's grey and a bit windy with a misty drizzle but this adds to the air of mystery and adventure.

"catch the diskudha ferry, re-trace old waterways and pathways, listen to captured memories and be inspired by contemporary art." 

.........so this is exactly what we do.

we board the little ferry in the wind and it carries us up the river to halwyn. the wooden planks of the landing pontoon are very slippery and it's actually easier to slide one wellie in front of the other to keep as much contact with the planks as possible.... a bit like a penguin.  there is a basket of damp  white clooties (strips of fabric) and a message suggesting to keep one in your hand whilst on the journey and to write upon it something you would like to release and heal at the end. ahead lies an interesting garden with steep paths hare-pin-bending through the trees. at the top we follow signs leading us into the unknown. 

we are taken along a narrow lane and tucked amongst exposed roots of trees on the banks are masses of small ceramic bowls. some have collected little pools of rain water, a few have soil, one has yellow flowers. people before us have left the traces of their passing. every now and then i hear voices. we come upon a post with a wooden box attached, a picture painted on it, covered in wax. from the boxes come snippets of conversations, memories and stories.... tales of things that have been and tales about the places yet to come. someone has scratched a heart on to the damp wooden stake of some of the boxes.

the clootie is tightly encased in my fist. a thought that i'm barely aware of simmers away at the back of my mind... if i hold it tight enough maybe the warmth from my hand will dry it out by the time i come to write on it........

we continue until a track branches off the lane past a lime rendered thatched cottage. and from here we cut across fields past some beautiful old trees. one is dead and like a river without tributaries. in contrast it's neighbour is full and rounded with boughs a fine filigree. and in the grey mizzly distance an old ruined church tower emerges cloaked in ivy. a blackened tree stump is painted with tiny constellations.

i knew we were heading for a church but this was not what i was expecting. as we draw closer it looms tall and imposing. dwarfed by its side is a less ancient compact little church with people wandering around the graveyard. at the top of the track outside a farmyard there is a 2CV van selling hot drinks and cake. a man from the farm takes us through all the ones he's tried. he's had the 'buns' the carrot cake and the lemon drizzle but is saving the chocolate for the following day. i don't think he can believe his luck - a cake van parked up outside his remote farm for four days!

we take our hot chocolate and cake and wander inside into the warm. for a small church there is a lot to see but we have to keep an eye on the time so as not to miss the last boat back. around the altar lie slabs of glowing sea glass. light shines through from below and breaking waves are projected faintly on the wall behind. these large pieces of glass are cast directly on the sand and are imprinted with undulations, ripples of the beach and the odd foot print. the sand is still embedded on the surface creating a rough opaqueness in places. other pieces stand like gravestones.

on the walls projections of painted faces shine in the dimness. a glass case is filled with curious figures and a squirrel is illuminated in a stained glass window. outside in the wildness of the graveyard, the concave break of a gravestone with half an inscription leans against the perfect convex curve of a supporting trunk. i unfurl my clenched wrist and of course the clootie is no drier than it was - it's just warm and damp rather than cold and damp. i write some faint words and lean out tip-toed on a wooden chair to catch a high branch from which to tie it. taken by the breeze it billows in unison with all the other tiny cotton messages. this is the pilgrim tree.

we walk around the tower which is double-fenced. i spot a gate and slide the bolt back but it clangs abruptly against a concealed padlock on the other side. more recorded words in the distance. it sounds like poetry but is muffled in the wind. i look up high to the top of the tower and see that a part of the stone mullion is leaning at a precarious angle. i'd still like to go inside. it looks dark, hidden and exciting. a place from where you could lie on the ground and gaze up to see the night sky framed within fragmented turrets.

but day dreaming aside, we have to go. we've left in good time so i stop to take some photos of the trees on the way back.  i become focussed on the shapes and silhouettes of the branches and those in the distance. i'm walking whilst snapping pictures and trying to catch up with my friend who has gone on ahead. we follow a path and see a big old rusty piece of farm machinery we're sure we didn't see on the way there. things don't look quite familiar. i climb through some brambles to see if the lane is the other side. it is but there's a big drop down. so we back track a bit and weave our way across a field and luckily come out on the lane a little further up. it's hard to run in wellies so we speed walk catching no more than a word from each of the boxes as we rush by. it's all downhill so we make up time and slip and slide down the muddy paths through the garden back to the pontoon. we hear the chugging engine of the boat before we see it and it's good to know it's still there.

it's stopped raining and we cruise gently back to trelissick. the wind direction makes mooring very tricky and at the point of pulling in alongside the pontoon the wind pushes the boat away. it takes three attempts for the boatman to manoeuvre us in and a big leap from the guy with the rope. fortunately this pontoon is newly planked and not so slippery.

sometimes you don't need to go far from home to have an adventure.

sea glass by val ashby - see here for further information
there is a website for the diskudha project here

25 March 2015

the beauty of mermaid's purses

it's a day of diffused sun filtering through a whitish haze - surprisingly bright as the foghorns have been sounding and the shore in the distance is barely discernible. boats are reduced to cut outs - simple flat shapes collaged against the even paler grey of the coast against the even paler hue of the sky. it is as if the day has been formed from nothing more than card in varying gradations of grey and a pair of scissors.

but down at my feet things are clearer. the equinox spring tide is receding fast and amongst the dark coppery kelp the milky white and palest celadon of the mermaid's purses are breaking the surface of the water. there are large numbers anchored in twos and threes bound tightly to the holdfasts of seaweed. their tendrils are spun round and round in a big tangled spiral suspending them securely against the rushing tides.

freshly laid mermaid's purse - nursehound (scyliorhinus stellaris) - on the red list

visible yolk and embryo of the small-spotted catshark (scyliorhinus canicula)

nursehound case with orange star ascidian colony (botryllus schlosseri)

most of this season's eggs have been laid alongside those whose hatchlings have long gone. empty inside but the tough keratin walls of the exterior are encrusted with a whole host of new life. each old egg case supports a miniature world looking like a tiny abstract painting. intense bursts of colour sing against a dark ground. a particularly beautiful one is bejewelled with star ascidian - two types of  botryllus schlosseri - on one side a translucent yellow with rust-tipped petals and on the other a deep aubergine with pale yellow centres.

i could spend hours here just looking, looking and looking some more. lost in unbroken awe and wonder i haven't noticed the time or anything around me. i feel bewitched, mesmerised and filled with wonder. the water lapping at the top of my wellies has come too soon. the tide has turned. there is so much more i'd like to see but the water is flooding in fast. i will have to wait until another day, to see them properly that will be another month.

i tread a reluctant retreat and carry my feelings of new found wonder higher up the beach. as i trace the high tide line there are many dried mermaid's purses shrunken and wrinkled amongst the heaps of crispy weed. most are old. but i'm alarmed to find a few that are fresh with yolks clearly visible attached to holdfasts broken free.

i gather them together and wrap them in layers of wet seaweed, fill a bag with water and tie them in another bag. i've no idea if they are alive. there are slits in the tendrils which allow water to flow through the egg case but i don't know how frequently this has to happen. one has a large tear across the centre and i fold back the flap and peek inside. i can just make out a tiny embryo attached to the yolk. sadly it has died. i cut it open to have a closer look.

the embryo usually takes 9-11 months to hatch

it hatches when it is 16cm long, can grow up to 1.6 m and lives for at least 19 years

i empty my water bottle, refill it from the sea and head home with a seeping bag which drips persistently down my leg.

i have kept the egg cases in a box of sea water in the garden overnight. the following day i fit the lid firmly in place and head out with strong twine and scissors. today the spring tide is not so low. it has to be a quick trip and although the tide has turned i'm able to take them out a reasonable distance and tie them amongst others. i have to be fast. i position them at the foot of a distinct rock so i can find them again. the wind is chilly and my hands are cold. i see a beautiful stripy case and a ribbon of seaweed covered in star ascidian before i have to leave. the day has clouded over and light rain begins to fall.