Unusual creative explorations of Cornwall’s china clay mining area

Cornwall’s extraordinary clay mining landscape is a zone of rapid transformation, which will continue to evolve and change in the future. Human efforts combine with natural processes in sculpting and changing this unique landscape.

Environmental artist Antony Lyons is the current artist-in-residence at Wheal Martyn – the UK’s only museum which celebrates china clay mining – past and present, near St. Austell in Cornwall. Lyons is occupying an industrial heritage space at the museum as an ‘open studio’. He is also working with musician Adrian Utley – the composer and guitarist for the band Portishead – to develop new video-sonic artworks for temporary display at the museum.

Mid-Cornwall’s china clay country has seen many changes over the past several hundred years, and it continues to change in dramatic ways. Mining has left enormous artificial hills, once known as the Cornish Alps, in the area near St Austell. Visitors to the museum will encounter film showings, sculptural installations and photography – all designed to prompt reflection on change, impermanence and potential futures. The project raises questions about decay and decline, as well as regrowth and renewal.

The Bristol-based artist has already spent two years exploring and researching in Mid-Cornwall, and is collaborating with academics at the University of Exeter and members of the China Clay History Society in carrying out his creative research.

One of the features of interest is the “Sky Tip”, a pyramid-like, 50m-high artificial mountain of mining waste material north of St Austell. The Sky Tip, a relic of the industrial past, will soon become the centrepiece of a new Garden Village development. The works at Wheal Martyn include a poetic film ‘Sky Tip Circumstance’ which reflects on change of such familiar features in the landscape.

Exhibition dates:

The artist-residency exhibition, called LIMBO LANDSCAPE LAB, has been extended and is now open until November 4th. To coincide with the final two weeks of the residency exhibition (Oct 19-Nov 4), Wheal Martyn will also be hosting a linked student art-show, by Year 11 GCSE photography students from Poltair School in St Austell. This class has been working with Antony Lyons, and the main focus for their work has been their immediate environment, including the ‘Sky Tip’ landscape feature. The students have explored still-imagery, filming, editing and sound recording to reflect on changing surroundings and imaginative futures. Joining them in exhibiting artwork will be their teacher, Eileen Pearson, and former teacher – and artist – Maxine Whitbread-Abrutat.

The project is supported by Arts Council England ‘Grants for the Arts’. Another partner on the project is the Cornwall-based social enterprise, Future Terrains.

Dr Caitlin DeSilvey, from the University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute, said: “This collection of artworks offers a creative reflection on change and continuity in Cornwall’s clay-mining landscape. Of course, people have played a major part, but many changes have come about through natural processes, having unpredictable and sometimes surprising effects.”

The exhibition is linked to the Heritage Futures research project, a four-year project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in which Dr DeSilvey is leading research on heritage in transitional landscapes. Sites beyond Cornwall include a ‘rewilding’ project in Portugal and the ex-military site of Orford Ness on the Suffolk coast. In May this year, the Heritage Futures project hosted a workshop at Wheal Martyn which invited representatives from the clay-mining industry and local government to join in conversation with artists, curators and academics to explore creative approaches to managing dynamic landscapes like the china clay area.

For more information click here, call 01726 850362 or email info@wheal-martyn.com.

Photo credits – Antony Lyons: antonylyons@mac.com, 07809602206

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