On Friday, found myself in Bosahan, a disused granite quarry not far from Falmouth. I was with a mixed group of environmentalists, artists, researchers and academics on a seminar jointly delivered by Andy Whall (CAZ) and Misha Myers (UCF, Rock Jam: Landscape Sandpit). The trip to the quarry was partly in response to a request from locals who were wondering how best to preserve it as part of Cornwall’s industrial heritage. It was also part of the Being IN [Landscape] 2 seminar.
The quarry is a monumental rock sculpture, its angular edges now softened by disuse and creeping vegetation which disguises a potentially treacherous environment. On this day, in the sunshine, it felt benign enough as we explored salient aspects of ‘quarryness’.
Standing still in the armchair-shaped crater, the quiet is broken only by the alarmed call of the kestrel disturbed from her nest as she circles in the eddies above the cliff’s edge, and the intermittent, rhythmic tappings of David Paton’s chisel being hammered into a small lump of granite he has placed on a sturdy wooden plinth. I tasted the dust on the air and heard the sounds reverberate around the steep walls in waves, bouncing off surfaces at variant angles.
We also banged small rocks together in unison setting up an improvised wall of sound; we mingled, we dispersed; covered our palms with chalk and ran them over rough scratchy surfaces, pressing finger tips into small divots and dimples in the rock.
We used the space to play with our creative imaginations, working fingers into lumps of brown clay that Natalia Eernstman had brought with her from St Austell, whilst enjoying the warmth of the sun on our faces. We chatted about the possibilities for the future of the quarry and smelt the sulphurous sparks flying from the point of the chisel as it pierced the granite.
I gazed into a peaty-brown pool covered by patches of elongated leaves and the bloated body of a dead frog; squelched across boggy ground following Andy Whall’s chalky bouldering ‘line’ through the scrub and up onto the escarpments whilst some of us (which didn’t include me) crawled and slithered cat-like over its boulders. I photographed the rusty metal doors of the largest building on the site where I heard what I at first thought to be people working inside. Squinting into the gloom of the interior through a gap in the rust, I realised it must be some loose shuttering banging in the breeze (or was it? I’m really not so sure).
We also sat in a small abandoned building listening to recorded noises from a working quarry: a disembodied orchestration of harsh, industrial sounds seeping back into the fabric of the building.
Some of the later discussions centred around the notion that as sentient beings, being present IN landscape, you could just as easily be an intrinsic part of the landscape, itself. BEING as LANDSCAPE. Supposedly, much in the same way that the native creatures that inhabit the quarry might experience it.
The over-riding sense of the quarry for me was its scale. The sculptor, Cornelia Parker, describes her sculptures as drawings, and I experienced some of that same sensibility in this quarry. The fault lines that traverse the rock faces assume graphic drawings on a grand scale, and if you linked up all the drill holes (as illustrated) that remain in the boulders that are scattered on the quarry floor you would create a massive version of a child’s ‘dot’ drawing. The imaginary connecting lines would probably criss-cross in all directions forming an invisible 3 dimensional web, which would span time, place and space much like this quarry, now merging back into the encroaching vegetation, has done.
My quarry experience? I witnessed a moment in the dilapidation of post industrial Cornwall; heard the quarry workers but felt their absence; imagined the grit and toil of their labours and heard the grind of their machinery. I made a large quarry drawing by joining the dots. Saw some dazzling white granite from a quarry in India in a film made by Radhamohini Prasad, and heard about the ‘migration habits of stone’ by Alyson Hallett, a poet and Royal Literary Fellow at the University of Exeter. Overall, rather than being impoverished by neglect, being ‘quarry landscape’ has been a seminal experience.
The consensus in the closing stages of the seminar was that this is not so much a landscape that is scarred as one with a ‘scab’ because it is already in the process of healing itself. Note of caution: scabs are wont to be picked. Perhaps this is a golden moment in the story of Bosahan where it is in a perfect state of suspension before it is either turned into a public playground or left to be reclaimed by nature. I remember such a moment at Geevor before it was ‘made safe’ for a paying public. It is worth savouring this moment of innocence because once gone, it can never be regained.