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UnEaRthing rEdRuTh

By Anna Harris

Artist and archaeologist Rose Ferraby once observed that in the earthy cross-section of an archaeological pit, one can see ‘accumulations of time’ written into the landscape – the ‘stretchings and compressings’ of lives lived and years passed inscribed in layers of soil and stone.


At the end of October 2023, a pilot contemporary art festival, Flamm, took place in Redruth, Cornwall. Venues across the town hosted events showcasing the work of artists living and working in the county, as well as a small selection of work from Art Night Dundee, with whom Flamm was partnered. Self-described as an ‘ode to Redruth and its people’, the theme of the festival was ‘change’ – an apparent nod to Redruth’s growing status as a creative hub after years of its economic security and identity being tied to that of Cornish mining: thriving in the 18th and early 19th century but waning over the latter part of the 19th and 20th century. Three works in particular drew on this industrial history, focusing especially on its acoustic impact on the town; Core, Spill, and CLUSTER excavated the tangled strata in Redruth’s aural landscape, exploring how generations of industry and domesticity have fed into the town’s daily polyrhythms.


On the outskirts of the town lies a disused quarry, once used for testing Cornish rock drills. These drills were developed by Holman Brothers Ltd, a local mining equipment manufacturer who reached international acclaim. Repeated tests of the drills in the quarry’s rock faces have left them perforated with hundreds of holes, each just smaller in diameter than a spread hand. It is from these holes that Core was formed.


To create Core, artist Abigail Reynolds recorded the sounds made when the openings of each of these drill-formed holes were struck. These rocky reverberations became a palette of percussive notes, used by 30 producers to make dance music tracks which were played late into the night at St Andrew’s Church on Flamm’s Saturday night. Projections of shifting imagery from the quarry accompanied the music, spilling across the church’s stoney surfaces, both interior and exterior.

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In creating these noises, there was a bodily mimicking of the movement of the original miners – swinging, hitting, extracting. By then making music from these sounds, Reynolds orchestrated an intriguing mirroring; rather than the movement of bodies generating sounds, instead bodies moved in response, swaying and dancing to the sound of the stones. Geographical movement was also mirrored; the church, conceivably constructed from locally quarried stone, is where both the people and the stones re-gathered, and now the music too. The music’s heavy, thumping beats not only echoed the sounds that reverberated from deep within Cornwall’s granite belly for so many years, spilling up into surrounding towns, but also the movement of people, and of stone.


Along the road from St Andrew’s Church is Auction House, a project space run by artist and musician Liam Jolly. Currently in the midst of renovations, the space has been shut to the public since the end of 2022, but opened its doors during Flamm to show artist and filmmaker Rachael Jones’ work Spill.


Spill comprised two overlapping projections, one an edited film of found footage from in and around Redruth (from a DVD commissioned by the Town Council in 2009 called Redruth Revealed), and the second a glowing, slowly shifting shape made by digitally recording the light from a Super-8 projector through a stencil. A soundscape of slowed mining sounds underpinned by a drone accompanied the projections, to which viewers were invited to contribute using a series of tactile clay instruments made by artist Olivia Brelsford-Massey. 

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The space embodied the theme of change: temporary lighting hung spider-like from the ceiling, dust masks peppered the walls, and tidelines of new paint moved across exposed plaster. The films were projected onto hanging pieces of translucent plastic sheeting – tools of the construction site put to work catching light rather than plaster dust. The piece itself also spoke of change; by assimilating archival recordings and Super-8 film into this digital creation, Jones repeatedly moved between the age of analogue and digital, weaving strands of Redruth’s past and present tightly together into a new vessel. 


Around the corner from Auction House, another film was spilling out of its frame, also with the assistance of some unconventional percussion. CLUSTER was a collaboration between artists Naomi Frears, Alice Mahoney, and artist-musician SJ Blackmore. The film, made by Frears, was composed of footage from around Redruth – observations of the everyday remixed to accentuate their repeating rhythms: the clocktower striking the hour, clouds moving overhead, bins being collected, neighbours returning with shopping, schoolchildren walking home. A selection of sculptures made by Mahoney, which also featured in the video, sat in front of the projection – the pit band before the stage, theatrically lit and played percussively by small automated drumsticks throughout. This partnership was underscored by Blackmore’s soundtrack, which combined sounds from this alternative orchestra with those from the film, distorted and woven together – an ambient bed of sound to fall into and dreamily watch the show.


There was a domesticity to CLUSTER, an exploration of the accumulation of daily routines and the clusters of detritus they build around them. As opposed to Core’s heavy industrial rave, industry here was domestic: a gentle metronome, a reminder of time’s insistent ongoingness. Nonetheless, these mundane repeating rhythms, small as they were, still built to a crescendo – tiny strata building to the monolith.


From the local commutes of Redruth’s contemporary inhabitants to the formation of tin lodes in the (not-yet-)Cornubian batholith millions of years ago, Core, Spill, and CLUSTER cut a cross-section through the town’s ever-accumulating histories. The passing of days, seasons, and eras were folded into each work, all to be unearthed over the course of a 21st century weekend – time stretching and compressing, soaking into the land, new rhythms overlaying old rhythms.

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Anna Harris is an artist, curator, and podcaster based in West Cornwall. Since graduating from Falmouth School of Art in 2022 she has worked on projects at Tate St Ives, CAST, and the Eden Project, as well as assisting with the production of Flamm.


Flamm is a visual art-led festival that brings internationally and nationally important work to Cornwall, enables ambitious new work by locally-based artists and engages communities and visitors in its multi-layered programme. For its pilot year, Flamm was based in Redruth and took place over the weekend of 21-22 October 2023, and we are currently working towards the next festival in Bodmin in Autumn 2025. Flamm is part of Creative Kernow.


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