Steve McQueen Heads to Cornwall for a Starry New Art Season Launching With a Bang

Curator Teresa Gleadowe organizes new commissions at sites off the tourist beat and lures A-list artists to the West of England.

Semiconductor (film still). A new commission for Groundwork, filmed at Goonhilly Earth Station on the Lizard in Cornwall. Image courtesy of the artists.

Locals in Cornwall, the picturesque western tip of England, grumble that it has been “ruined” by Poldark when tourists descend every summer. But this year an ambitious contemporary art project called Groundwork, which launched last weekend, brings work by leading international artists to sites across the county that are far from the frenzied crowds heading to “Poldark Country,” or another another tourist magnet, the giant greenhouses of the Eden Centre.

Groundwork is a “harder sell,” than Poldark and Eden admits Teresa Gleadowe, the curator who has organized the festival. Gleadowe has a few trump cards up her sleeve, however. Sites include Goonhilly, the radio communications station boasting massive satellite dishes, and several of the works presented at them are by five-star artists. They include Francis Alÿs, Steve McQueen, Janet Cardiff, Tacita Dean, Simon Starling and Christina Mackie among others.

The artists she has enticed to Cornwall include Steve McQueen, who is due to be in conversation with Nicholas Serota, the former Tate director and now chair of Arts Council England, on June 3 at the Plaza Cinema in Truro. Gleadowe hopes Alÿs will make it to Cornwall too. He is due to be in the UK next month for his solo show at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery. Many of the other artists have already been to the county of Cornwall.

McQueen and Alÿs’s works are helping to inaugurate an arts center in a converted Victorian school in Helston. McQueen’s video works Gravesend (2007) and Unexploded (2007), opened on Saturday, May 5 (on view until June 3). Alÿs’s The Silence of Ani follows, from June 8 (on view until July 8).

Six years ago when Gleadowe first saw the school, it was boarded up, fenced off and destined to be developed into flats, she recalls. Now it is home to the Cornubian Arts and Science Trust, or CAST for short. Inside the Victorian school house there is now a black-box space that many major art museums would envy. After Groundwork it will become a flexible art space.

“There are an incredible number of artists and creative minded people in Cornwall,” Gleadowe says. “[Groundwork] has grown out working with this community and is an opportunity to see really great works of art in this remote rural setting.” The local audience will be able to enjoy more than one premiere as Groundwork has commissioned three new works. At Goonhilly, the aptly named Semiconductor launched As the World Turns on May 5. Semiconductor’s Ruth Jarman and Joseph Gerhardt filmed their sci-fi work at Goonhilly.

Manon de Boer, Bella, Maia and Nick (2018), film still. Image copyright Manon de Boer, Courtesy Jan Mot, Brussels.

The Brussels-based, Dutch artist Manon de Boer premiered her new commission, a film shot in the Porthmeor artists’ studios at St Ives. She invited three music students from Helston Community College to improvise a piece where artists including Ben Nicholson once worked. Called Bella, Maia and Nick, the artist plans to expand the work filming other young musicians. It is being screened at the artists’ studios at Kestle Barton, a stone’s throw from the river that Daphne du Maurier made famous in her novel, Frenchman’s Creek

Another new work, this time dance based based, will take place on the wide beach at Par in June, near St Austell’s still working clayworks. It is not a classic Cornish beach with such an industrial backdrop, but it glistens magically because it has so much quartz, Gleadowe says.

At the turn of the tide on three evenings 30 women will rhythmically snake their way across the tidal landscape in a durational piece choreographed by Rosemary Lee, called Passage for Par (June 22-24).

Groundwork’s inaugural program quietens down in August “when everyone heads to the beach,” Gleadowe says, before it ends with a final blast in September. In a parking lot that is yet to be announced, and for one morning only, the assembled vehicles will form a temporary FM radio station cum mobile nightclub, which will rock to new music by DJ Luke Vibert. He will make the tracks using sound from Cornwall, played through the sound systems in each car. More details of the site-specific work by Naomi Frears and her chosen car park will be released at a later date. The finale couldn’t be further from Winston Graham’s Poldark, let alone du Maurier country. 

Groundwork, May 5 through September 30, various venues across Cornwall.


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