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Bosigran Farm, Zennor
BOS-08 was a context-specific programme of art named after, and taking inspiration from, Bosigran, a hamlet clustered around a farm outside Zennor on the spectacular coast road from St Ives to St Just. Quite apart from its breathtaking views, this road is very much steeped in the mythology of the artists of St Ives. Patrick Heron, Bryan Wynter and Roger Hilton all lived near it, and Peter Lanyon based a number of his paintings, including the celebrated 'Rosewall' on locations accessible from it.
The four artists involved in BOS-08 deliberately chose to swerve around the sometimes specious and overworked history of Cornish modernism, however, and drew instead on more strongly rooted local histories as embodied and made manifest in the landscape.
Arriving at the farm, with chickens clucking contentedly and the dark blue Atlantic Ocean spread out behind, the visitor was invited to go on a short walk across a field towards some mine-workings. Here nestling incongruously amongst the renovated ruins was an elaborate fountain structure made using plants and planters. Water was squirting out the top, having been diverted from the stream nearby. Called 'Crowned Glory', it was a sculpture by Veronica Vickery, and like the work of most amateur gardeners it was very much a labour of love. Although, therefore, on one level it parodied impersonal corporate or civic planting schemes, it was actually much more intimate and tender than this, and all the more moving for it.
On the way back to the farm was the remains of a simple farmhouse or croft made out of local stone. On one wall it appeared to bear what looked like an estate agent's sign. The sign, made out of tacky corrugated plastic by Vickery, was part of a larger meditation on the nature of property ownership: a politically sensitive subject in Cornwall where traditional communities are being broken-up as cottages are turned into holiday homes.
Two cowsheds at the farm were also being used as part of BOS-08. One as a kind of visitor centre, with books and reading material available, and the other as an exhibition space for an extraordinary work by Ian Whitford.
The Captain's Triptych is three short films that were shown one after the other in the second of the cowsheds, the space being dominated by an imposing, centrally-placed coffin. Each film took a nearby holiday home called the 'Captains Cottage' at the starting point for what was described as a series of 'forays into the psychotopology of the place'. The centre-piece (or centre-panel) of the triptych was a film of Whitford - looking like an extra from 'Poldark' - dragging the coffin from the cottage to the church at Zennor.
Carrying a coffin to the church from the hamlet of Bosigran would have been the norm in centuries gone by, yet of course this is a duty that would have been willingly shared by the grieving community acting together as coffin bearers. Quite who or what might be in the coffin is left unclear, and this is where the work derives its undeniable metaphorical power. Given, however, that another of the three films features a woman (played by Rebecca Weeks) knocking on the door of the cottage but not being answered, it is hard not to conclude that the triptych as a whole refers to the death of community.
In fact communities in Cornwall now take a variety of forms. Many in Cornwall interact with the landscape through walking, cycling, sailing and surfing and the proliferation of such leisure activities, each with their own subcultures, is an interesting but largely undocumented feature of post-industrial life in rural parts of the country.
Andy Whall has been interested in bouldering (a form of climbing ideally suited to the granite hilltops of Penwith) for a number of years, but only recently has he presented it in an art context. For BOS-08, he organised a torchlit procession to the top of Carn Galva, and there, in the twilight, visitors saw him give a demonstration of the technique used which is both physically and mentally demanding. Documentation relating to this event was displayed in a large barn, which was shared with straw bales, horses and chickens, and which served as the focal point of BOS-08.
Like Whalls work, Rebecca Weeks' contribution was centred on a performance that occurred a week or two before the main event. Friends and associates were invited to a tea-party in a nearby field, where they were given especially made postcards. The postcards bore photographs taken by Weeks whilst on a walk to find a fogou (or neolithic burial chamber) known to locals as as the 'Beehive'. Each postcard bore suggestive fragments of text and at the farm later, were displayed under a garden awning.
BOS-08 was many months in the making, and in comparison to other recent site-specific shows in Cornwall felt very strongly embedded in its site. This was exemplified by the way it engaged the local community both physically and in terms of debates it provoked. It may have benefitted by being placed in a farm that is still functional, in contrast to eg the recent 'MINED' that was in a museum setting where meanings were linked predictably and inevitably to the heritage of site.
The fact that three of the four artists taking part have been involved with performance art for a number of years may have helped give it a structure and feeling that was more open-ended and diffuse. The works had an admirable level of complexity and depth, but, the local themes explored raised the question of whether localism in art is desirable. Rebecca Weeks discussed this issue in an excellent essay written for the exhibition, in which she refers to both Miwon Kwon and Lucy Lippard in claiming that such localism can be seen as a form of sentimentality.
This was an issue also raised in 2007 by MORE Cornwall and touched on by Virginia Buttons essay for ProjectBase (see feature: Radical Ruralism). In fact the majority of the worlds population still live in rural locations, and it is only relatively recently that shows like BOS-08 that explore regional histories and identities have been attempted. If done rigorously enough such an embedded approach can be just as radical and interesting as other more nomadic approaches. The challenge lies in bringing the work to a larger more extended audience - perhaps other communities with similar histories - and this is where new technologies can help.
The artists would like to thank the National Trust for their generosity and support.
Rupert White 20/9/08.