Sunday, 16 November 2014

Porthleven Residency Day 2

This is the second of a picture diary of the Bath Spa Porthleven Prize residency in Cornwall that took place Spring 2014.

Overheard at the bus stop

Sae doing french knitting in the harbour

generating ideas for my project in the sand rather than my notebook. 

Sae on the pier 

at Loe Bar

Emily and Sae working hard while I take some snaps

Porthleven Residency Day 1

This is the first of a picture diary of the Bath Spa Porthleven Prize residency in Cornwall that took place Spring 2014.

All of us took a walk from Porthleven to Helston

This image was used in one of my final pieces. 

This too was used in one of my final images

Above Loe Bar. 

Penrose estate

The lifeboat studio roof was destroyed in the February storm, so we were given a studio space at CAST studios in Helston. It was an amazing building, being renovated. Once an old school room.

chalk graffiti on the studio roof (not our studio) at CAST, done by school kids back when it was a school.

Helston pond

Emily and Sae walking back to Porthleven via Penrose

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Porthleven II

Further facts about my Porthleven responses

1) According to local resident Vic Strike, there have been multiple Jack Williams's who've lived in Porthleven - at one time there were so many that to identify which Jack Williams you were referring to, you'd identify them by which side of the river they came from. The Jack Williamses from Breageside were nicknamed Jack Bill, and the Jack Williamses from Sithneyside were named Jack Bruno.
This is why the leading lady in Home is called Jack (Jackie Williams being her full name).

Porthleven is divided into two parishes either side of the river that feeds into the harbour: Breage and Sithney. Breage is the side of the harbour with the Ship Inn, and Sithney is the side with the clock tower.

2) The main character of Home is called George. One of the many reasons I used this name is: When I was a toddler I insisted that my name was George; I wouldn't answer to Jenny/ Jennifer or anything other than George. My mother became so irritated that she proclaimed that "this here plate of biscuits is Jenny's. Only Jenny may eat any of the biscuits on this plate." I quickly accepted that my name was actually Jenny and have never insisted on being called George since. I still feel a great affinity with the name, and several Georges appear in my stories.

3) In Change the main character finds a Lego pirate cutlass, circa 1997. 4.8 million pieces ofLego were lost to a storm off Land's End in1997. Many of them nautically themed.  Pieces are still being washed up on Cornish beaches today.

Lego cutlass

4) One of my original ideas for the residency was to write a message in a bottle and send it out to sea. This idea came from reading Jean Sprackland's book Strands, a key text for my MA Writer and Place module last year. Place is hard to think about in purely local terms because everywhere is interconnected. This is especially apparent by the sea, where items from across the world wash up on the strandline everyday.  Sprackland suggests 'Is there a sense in which every message in a bottle, however apparently light-hearted or banal is, "an SOS to the world."'

Local distinctiveness can be lost under the vastness of globalisation. I'm interested in messages in bottles because it is the one media in which on finding it, you cannot help but be excited. Your curiosity is piqued. Even if the message originates very locally the finding of a message in a bottle is exciting - it has been suspended in the liminal zone, out there in the vast unknowable and has come back again, "a message from the other side".

This idea was adapted, we transcribed a story told to us by Vic Strike (old Porthleven boy) and wrote it onto the side of a buoy that Emily made, then we threw it overboard whilst on The Starfish, and later pulled it back in. (Long Peter).

5) One of my in-progress novels is set in Dark Age Britain, and in my research I learnt about the ancient British practice of throwing your treasures into water to appease the gods. I've often felt strong urges to throw things into the sea or rivers. These things fed into Change. The other thing I have often felt compelled to throw into water is myself. This comes through in a few of the stories, particularly Leap into the Sea. This piece came out of a character-exercise I was doing while undertaking the five day Porthleven residency in February. I was writing from the point of view of a character in my MA novel, Mark. Mark once felt this compulsion so strongly that he did leap into the sea. This is described in the story Memory/ Dream (an extract from the first draft of my MA novel).

For a long time I've been obsessed with Saut dans le vide (Leap into the Void) by Yves Klein; my blogs are named after this work. One of my favourite songs of the moment is Nara by Δ (Alt-J), which references this work  "Saut dans le vide, my lover. In my youth the greatest tide washed up my prize. You." I won't go into what all this means to me, but here you get the tip of the iceberg.

6) The word "legend" has many meanings. A story, a history, an account.  A roll, list, record. Written character, writing. The written explanatory matter accompanying an illustration, map, etc. (OED)  

7) At the end of Legend there is a quote from Rene Daumal's Mount Analogue. I am totally obsessed by this book, and have been ever since I went to an art exhibition titled MT. ANΔLOGUE - the degree show of the BA (Hons) AUCB Photography students, 2012. Read the essay about the show here. Everything about Daumal's book fascinates me: it is a journey to the self, but Daumal died before the characters reached the summit
I could go on and on about this book and what it means to me. Essentially what I think is important about art and literature is to explore it, take what you will from it, and then use what you have learnt to inform your next adventure. This way we can bring a whole tapestry of ideas with us to every book we read and every piece of art we see. Everything becomes richer because we are richer.
This is the last point on the Legend, I chose to include it for many reasons. The most obvious of which is that the last thing I photographed was of a hillock in the shape of a mountain. And also because I felt it gave the Legend a similar sense of being taken half way along a journey and left there, looking up at the summit but not actually scaling it. To scale it, you must go there yourself. So go! Go to Porthleven. I can recommend some very lovely accommodation!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014


I'm working on an essay about my response to Porthleven and my involvement in The Porthleven Prize 2014. For now here's some snippets from the first draft.

Spring 2014, myself and four other Bath Spa students won a place on a ten day residency in Porthleven, Cornwall. Our response to the residency is currently on exhibition at the O3 gallery, Oxford until the 26th of October. The five participants are Emily Furnell, Fiona Haines, Lucinda Burgess, Sae Murai, and me. 

Whilst in Porthleven themes of memory, loss, regain, change, and loss of identity/ control became apparent. Being both a historic fishing port and popular tourist destination, Porthleven is a liminal place, supporting two distinct communities (residents and tourists). It is a place of shaky cultural pluralism which is at risk of losing the local distinctiveness that makes it an interesting destination for tourists.

Porthleven is particularly good for walking, everywhere everyone is walking. So we walked, often with GoPro cameras strapped to our heads. Kids laughed at us. Old women stared. On a GoPro walk in Helston I befriended a curious and bemused college lad/ photographer, Jake. (I'm still in contact with him; he made my website, which is hosted through a Helston IT company).

Emily, Sae and I collaborated on a Peripatetic experiment, whereby the walk itself generated the work. Sae mapped out the contours, measuring how many footsteps between each contour line. At each contour point we took a photograph, and I made a textual observation. There were 23 points. The resulting work comprises of 3x23 small photographs of each contour point, a short edit of the three films we shot, and an intricately french-knitted contour map by Sae with plotted numbers at each point that refer to my textual observations.

Images from the O3 gallery instagram

The act of walking binds us together. We all walk and we all respond, whether we are visual artists, sculptors, writers, residents or tourists. The tourists become photographers of their walks. The residents may write about their walks in journals, or talk about them, or channel the energy gained in their walk into their work and their family life. Walking is a real time action that everybody can relate to.

I was struck by the importance of narrative to the people who live, work and holiday in Porthleven and Helston. Their history isn't a list of dry facts, it's rooted in narrative. Helston's folk museum (near to our studio) is testament to that.  

Emily and I visited Porthleven resident Vic Strike and his wife Mon. They enchanted us with glorious yarns, stories that linked them to their ancestors and to the land itself. Together Emily and I collaborated on the piece Long Peter - a metal buoy made by Emily. The buoy was part of an older idea of ours to send a message out to sea in a vessel. Instead of a message we etched one of Vic's stories onto the side of the buoy. Local ex-fisherman Oscar took us out on his boat The Starfish, and we launched the buoy over the side, tugging it behind us for a while before pulling it back in. (This action in itself links to my story Beneath, one of the 6 stories on exhibition in Oxford)

Emily launching the buoy from The Starfish, with Oscar.

Narrative is a powerful tool in communicating a message. Narrative empathy allows us to share the feelings and perspectives of those who experience things outside of our own situation. I wanted to give my readers a window into the themes that interested me when in Cornwall: change, loss, memory, regain. This is a place with a deep history, in flux. Whilst on the residency I was working on my MA novel manuscript, the characters in which are at a point of flux, learning to accept their past and move forward into their futures. The concluding story in the six part Porthleven Collection sums up my whole feeling about the place, and also about the novel I am working on. Don't look back. If you are pulled back then you will only ever be what has happened to you. How can you reach that flat horizon if you don't face it? ... Jump into the void. Feel your stomach flip as gravity tugs. You hit the water hard, your skin stings. The horizon has disappeared - you are immersed in it. (extracts from Beneath).

My individual responses, The Porthleven Collection and Home, have elements of fiction and fact. In Home, the main character George goes on a boat trip with Oscar, and on returning he disturbs the skipper of a small yacht sleeping off a late night. Let's be having you, you salty sea dog! Oscar yells. In my story he yells it to the girl Jack, a teenager who's lived all her life in Porthleven, and who George falls in love with. This scene between Oscar and Jack is based on a real life scene. We didn't disturb the girl called Jack, but we did disturb three young lads sleeping off their Masked Ball hangovers. Oscar really did wake them with a bellow of Let's be having you, you salty sea dogs! I too went to the Masked Ball. A container ship full of Lego really did wreck off the Cornish coast in 1997, though I personally didn't find a Lego cutlass in Porthleven.

The stories are exhibited alongside manipulated photographs I took around Porthleven.

Porthleven: A Peripatetic Encounter is on exhibition at the O3 Gallery, Oxford until the 26th of October. It will then move to Bath Spa University, Sion Hill on the 12th November.

Gallery of photographs taken whilst on the residency but not featured in the exhibition