Sunday, 1 April 2018

The Unlovely Sea

Over on Instagram, I've decided to join in with the 100 day project, which sees thousands of creatives commit to producing something on their chosen subject and in their chosen artform every day for 100 days, starting on April the 3rd.  Committing to a single project for three months seems like an excellent way to maintain focus which is sometimes something I find challenging - I'm always thinking of all the other things I might be writing.  But not for the next 100 days!

The project I've chosen to concentrate on is inspired by my trip to St Ives in Cornwall at the beginning of March.  I went down there to see an exhibition at the Tate St Ives on work inspired by Virginian Woolf's writing.  From the Tate site: "Author of classic texts including To the Lighthouse and the pioneering feminist text A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf spent much of her childhood in St Ives.  This exhibition is led by her writing, which will act as a prism through which to explore feminist perspectives on landscape, domesticity and identity in modern and contemporary art - with works by over 80 artists, including Laura Knight, Gwen John, Vanessa Bell, Winifred Nicholson, Sandra Blow, and Dora Carrington."

The exhibition more than lived up to my expectations, but just as inspiring was the time spent staying in St Ives.  I grew up in a landlocked county far from the sea.  All my encounters with it are tinged with the strangeness of the foreign, even on the beach at Llansteffan in south Wales, where the estuarine expanse of the river means a walk along the hard sand to reach the coast itself, or at St Bees in Cumbria, where the roar of the water infiltrating the gaps between the pebbles on the beach is deafening well before the waves reach you.

St Ives is a town surrounded by the sea on three sides and thronged with tourists for most of the year, but in early March it was quiet, alternately slapped with torrential rain that comes in horizontal off the sea, and baked by a bright warm sun that shone long enough to dry the sand piled in the streets closest to the shore.  It was filled with art, good and bad.  It was a riddle of streets and cobbled alleyways.  Behind the new frontages of the restaurants and cafes on the harbour front, the buildings were mostly old fishing cottages with self consciously quaint names that had been added in the last few decades.

There was the sense, always, of shifting curtains of light which hid the town's recollection of a recent past: of the artists' colony; of a living made from the sea; of the cultural tides which met and mingled there. When it came to thinking up a project I'd be happy dedicating 100 days to, it struck me that I couldn't have hit upon a richer vein of inspiration than this mix of salt water and artistic history.

The flotsam and jetsam.  The artists and writers who made St Ives their home, real and imagined.  The mythology of the sea: the selkies and sirens and smugglers, the Jenny Hannivers and forgotten, shell encrusted creatures of the shoreline.  The landscape beaten into shape by the hammer of the wind.  The spells knotted into fishing nets, and the songs sung under the white moon which brought the boats home safely.

I'll be exploring all of these things and more over the next hundred days, through a mix of poetry, prose poems, short stories, creative non-fic and little snippets.  Very excited to see what appears!

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