Light in the West

2nd May 1997 at 01:00
Jane Norrie looks forward to a summer-long contemporary art celebration in Cornwall.

For more than a century, artists have been drawn to Cornwall by its elemental landscape and luminous light. In the mid-19th century a plein air group formed the Newlyn School while the second World War famously saw St Ives become the cradle of the avant-garde.

Since it opened in 1993 the new Tate Gallery there, with its collection of modernist work by artists such as Naum Gabo, Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson, has attracted thousands of visitors. Now there is to be a new initiative, A Quality of Light, a summer-long event of contemporary work.

Fourteen leading artists from Britain and abroad have been selected to produce new work in response to selected Cornish sites and on the theme of light. From an installation at Land's End to a neon light sculpture at Penzance Railway Station, the aim is to demonstrate a wide range of different approaches.

St Ives itself will be the focus of the activity with several of the participants making work for the Gallery, for chapels in the town and for outlying sites. Among the artists at the Tate are abstract painters Bridget Riley and James Hugonin whose work creates illusions of surface light. Also at the Tate is Roger Ackling whose speciality is to burn wood by focusing sunlight though a magnifying glass. From Buenos Aires comes Victor Grippo who, according to the advance publicity, "will fuse art and science to produce the essence of a studio".

At the Newlyn Gallery, Mona Hatoum, one of the more controversial 1995 Turner contestants, can also be guaranteed to produce a thought-provoking piece.

The more remote sites have been chosen for their sense of place or history. Among them are Porthcurno where the first cable links were made with America. Here Paul Ramirez Jonas who is based in New York will use computers to transmit images in a code of lights. At the Count House, Botallack, St Just, David Kemp is engaged in making a playful mini-museum of found objects reflecting the past. Among them is an assemblage of old wellington boots made to look like a pack of dogs - a piece of alchemy that is bound to appeal to young visitors.

Meanwhile, in a huge abandoned shed at Geevor Tin Mine Museum, Glen Onwin has already completed a series of kite-shaped vats filled with liquid ore. Seen from a viewing platform, this exploration of Cornwall's industrial past is said to be on an extraordinary scale and of great beauty. In addition to these invited artists, all round the peninsula some 50 resident artists will be mounting their own exhibitions.

A Quality of Light has been organised by St Ives International, a collaboration between Falmouth College of Arts, Inniva (The Institute of International Visual Arts), South West Arts and the Tate St Ives. An extensive accompanying education programme is planned.

Falmouth College will present a series of one-day seminars in May and June including contributions by the artists and curators. Cross-arts events are also planned with Gavin Bryars composing a piece to accompany James Hugonin's paintings. Happily, two school groups have also been involved. GCSE and A-level music students from Humphrey Davey's School, Penzance and St John's School, Gravesend, Kent, will take part in a weekend workshop with composer Graham Fitkin exploring the theme A Sense of Place.

Consequently two performances will take place in the Tate and Barbara Hepworth Museum on July 6. Later in the summer, Kneehigh Theatre will perform at the site of David Kemp's sculpture at Botallack. Throughout the summer then Cornwall, with the sea as its constant background, promises to reverberate with the throb of artistic activity.

Tate and Newlyn Galleries education officer, Susan lamb: 01736 796543. In-service day June 12. Talks by exhibiting artists through May and June. Fees and bookings: 01736 333024. musical performances: 01736 796226. Guide to artworks and map from St Ives International PO Box 117, Penzance, Cornwall TR18 2YH (01736 333024). The Women who Threw the Day Away from August 19 - September 6 Kneehigh Theatre: 01872 262466.

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