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 

No comments: