‘step in stone’ – a multi-disciplinary art project featuring work by fourteen leading artists – offers a unique opportunity to encounter contemporary artworks while exploring the spectacular, wild landscapes of working and abandoned quarries. Local and international artists, all with connections to the South West, are creating a series of site-specific artworks inspired by the nature of quarries and their place in the cultural and industrial heritage of the Mendips.
Opening in July and stepping up in three phases to its finale in October, the event will occupy 6 different venues. Step 1 starts on 8 July at Somerset Earth Science Centre, near Shepton Mallet. On 15 August, Step 2 starts at Westdown/Asham and Halecombe quarries and Step 3 will be part of Somerset Art Weeks Festival’s Momentum programme, 3–18 October, at Fairy Cave Quarry, Black Swan Arts Centre and Frome Museum. Special events include workshops, artist talks and guided walks run in collaboration with ecologists from Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Save Our Magnificent Meadows project. Walks in Westdown/Asham Quarry will lead groups into stunning areas, normally restricted.
The quarries’ natural history, ecology and geology are inspiring works in surprising forms. Tessa Farmer’s installations will feature tiny skeletal, anarchic fairies, preserved insects and taxidermy. Bristol poet Ralph Hoyte is creating a downloadable aural word-symphony and a motion-activated poetic sound intervention. Artmusic will perform ‘Echo’, a theatrical response to the rock itself and the mechanics of quarrying, in Westdown Quarry (22/23 August) and each weekend of step 3 in Fairy Cave Quarry, tying in with family days.
The project was conceived by Fiona Campbell, step in stone curator/artist, who discovered disused quarries on dog walks, finding inspiration in the huge ruins and rusting machinery: fossils of the modern era and a great source of scrap used in her sculptures. Fossilised remains of ancient sea life found in local rock dating back 350 million years provide inspiration for Fiona’s constructions rendered in found materials.
Mendip quarries are among the largest in Europe, though surprisingly well hidden. From the air, however, they dominate the view. Bronwen Bradshaw’s etched aerial view plates will emphasise the vastness of these hidden places, inviting people to interact with her work by making rubbings. Catherine Bloomfield will exhibit works relating the industrial impact of cutting black limestone, a colour she finds seductive. Amanda Wallwork’s interest is geological time and she explores its representation with colour in large outdoor work as a new departure.
‘Natural history detective’ Duncan Cameron is fascinated by wildlife and the evidence left behind of its presence. He uses a range of techniques – casts of animal tracks, drawings, collections of shells, bones, leaves – recorded and displayed within crafted cabinets. Landscape artist Caroline Sharp’s gentle sculptures woven from natural materials explore the contrasts of layered rock and consequent layering of plant recolonisation in quarries. Her work will be exhibited during Step 3 at Black Swan Arts. Christina White focuses her large-format camera on Mendip’s heritage of quarrying, ancient and modern, to give a closer glimpse of industry and rock in sharp contrast to the rural backdrop. Christina’s spectacular photographs of the inner quarry will be found on Halecombe’s peripheral path. Suzie Gutteridge combines ‘finds’ from the industrial past with local wool – product of the rural present – as well as felted rock pieces. Duncan Elliott uses found stone fragments to construct sculptures with a classical influence. Against convention, Duncan will animate a life-size stone marionette.
The pros and cons of quarrying are controversial, fodder for comment and enquiry. Environmental artist Sally Kidall, from Australia, is creating a series of works using an intriguing combination of objects – clear plastic bags filled with water, other consumables, some growing – to prompt discussions around consumerism, materialism and increasing awareness of the preciousness of natural resources. International environmental artist Stuart Frost has been exploring the qualities of limestone dust for a large construction.
A Sculpture Design Competition was recently held to engage young people in the project. Winner Charlotte McKeown will create her sculpture with help from step in stone artists, for exhibition at SESC. Some of the work at Halecombe will be the product of school workshops run in July with Fiona and Suzie as part of SAW’s inspirED educational programme.
Funding for step in stone has come primarily from Arts Council England/National Lottery with additional support from IdeasTap crowdfunding, Mendip Hills Fund, Somerset Art Works, Gane Trust, Frome Town Council and partners Somerset Earth Science Centre and Black Swan Arts among others.
Leaflets and maps will be available at step in stone venues, Frome and Shepton Tourist offices and other local outlets. For further details or to book a workshop, guided walk or artist talk visit: www.stepinstone-somerset.co.uk
For further information:
Laundry Cottage, 13 Cooks Lane, West Cranmore, Shepton Mallet, Somerset BA4 4RH
01749 880 394; mobile 07515 537 224; email@example.com
step in stone trailer film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLcCe6Ya1t8&feature=youtu.be
Image: Idea for installation at Westdown Quarry (inspired by sea life, tumbleweed and seeds) Fiona Campbell – step in stone artist