A mining town which once held the title of ‘richest square mile in the world’, Redruth is now one of the poorest areas in Europe with 70% of households just a pay packet away from poverty. Despite this, Inland Art Festival exhibited the town’s creative wealth with a lively three-day programme of interactive installations, workshops, screenings and performances addressing prescient themes of futurologies, community and the legacies of de-industrialisation. The festival capitalised upon disused and overlooked spaces to explore its locus, The Future Project, with works meditating upon ‘both the possible and the impossible, the desirable and the disastrous’. Festival goers were asked to complete a census detailing their desired future for Redruth and, more broadly, everywhere else.
The Garden served as the festival’s hub; an empty shop on the town’s Fore Street transformed into a small green idyll by Sue Hill with help from local gardeners and allotment holders – the space spectacularly festooned with succulents and creepers. On the Friday night, The Garden hosted a series of talks including ethno-botanist Andrew Ormerod on the history of apples (read: cider) in Cornwall and a director’s screening of Gill & Gill, a visually poetic meditation upon the creative commonalities between stone carving and bouldering by Louis-Jack Horton-Stephens. The evening turned stellar with a performance by Sam Conran utilising his Kabbalistic Synthesiser, a device which transmogrified magnetic field data captured in three bronze age Neolithic stone circles proximate to the town (The Merry Maidens, Boscawen-Un and Boskednan’s Nine Maidens) with Jupiter/Jovian Decametric Noise, cosmic rays and the kinetic energy of the festival’s present audience into an overwhelming experience of transcendent blips and glitches.
Saturday also brought a remarkable experience for the ears; warbling buskers, coordinated by Liam Jolly, stationed down the high street, synchronously performing to enliven the passage between festival venues and somewhat surprising other pedestrians - the boundaries between art and life sonically smudged. Social boundaries were also tried with a performance by First Line Theatre: two astronauts casually traversing the town, leading a Gravity-esque audio tour riffing on increasing social isolation, caused the regular Saturday shoppers to stop in their tracks wide-eyed and mouthed. All this a stone’s-throw from Stuart Robinson’s sign in the Drapery Stores window instructing ‘con/form con/sume’ like something out of John Carpenter’s satirical film They Live. This cynicism was levelled by a DIY Manifesto Party run by Counter, which saw visitors creating party hats proclaiming their values for future life, which were dutifully worn by revelers throughout the day.
A heritage tour gave grounding to what exactly life was like in Redruth through the ages. An area associated with mining since the Bronze Age, the town’s name pertains to the iron oxide present in the river’s water, turning it – of course – red. This was something picked up by Rosie King with a somewhat sinister water-feature installation as part of KARST’s takeover of St Rumon’s gardens, the shell-site of the town’s long burned-out library and assembly room. However, a bespoke library for the festival was fashioned by Medium Rare in Murdoch House, providing a space to research participating artists, art theory, utopias, dystopias and heterotopias. Here one could also utilise Paul Chaney’s software artwork FieldMachine to speculatively construct a nutritionally balanced diet through selection of geolocationally specific foods according to a scenario in which the area was forced to decouple from the global economy. Chaney’s FIELDCLUB work, a self-sustaining experimental homestead created in collaboration with Kenna Hernly – the pair surviving on a diet suggested by the FieldMachine – was also present in Unit One of Fore Street, representing the artist and festival curators own Future Project for the same site: The End of the World Garden. This project promises an ecology centre hosting a combination of cultural activity, practical horticulture, philosophy and sustainability research. One question posed by The Future Project is whether Redruth’s currency would continue to be the British pound, develop its own coinage, trade in international bitcoin or work on skills and labour exchange. Krowji LIVE offered a taste of the latter, the creative studios opening its doors to the community to showcase works and provide friendly instruction in techniques such as screen-printing (Paul Bawden) and basic bookmaking (Vicki Aimers).
Prospect, a group show at CMR gallery, explored Kernow’s creative possibilities extrapolating upon past physical properties of the area as well visions of theoretical futures. This was evinced with paintings by Adam Grose working with a mixture of industrial pigment and that gleaned from local rocks, the coagulated substance wrought in roundels resembling Petri dishes. In the upper gallery, Tim Pryke experimented with mirrors to forge ladders to infinity – above and asunder – dizzyingly dissolving any boundaries to creative potentialities. A similarly disorientating effect was fostered digitally by Keiken Collective at the Buttermarket, ‘Keiken’ translating from Japanese as ‘experience’. Futuristic assistants clad in white jumpsuits, gemstones and shiny boots of red pleather, working a floor of shifting polystyrene balls under polythene, were on-hand to initiate festival goers to the experience of @MotherDigital – an epic VR romp through the luridly hued ‘network of networks’, a saccharine homage to the realm wherein you can ‘reboot into your dreams’. Sagely, Mother Digital states ‘I am fantasy and reality. U live a lot of ur life inside me’, freely connecting users to more than ever before, but ‘We need to think about how Mother Digital is affecting our consciousness, our soul’ – all’s subject to ‘LOW BATTERY’.
A more humane relationship to tech, or how tech can augment human relationships, was to be found at The Wesley Buildings with Finbar Conran’s Lover. The installation was set-up for visitors to seduce a new flame, or reignite with an old one, under ‘romantic conditions’: a room full of swirling, technically animated foliage and two chairs positioned opposite each other, enabling one to gaze into their partner’s eyes to a soundtrack of sentimental songs activated in the act of sitting down. Upon my sitting, Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg’s Je t’aime… moi non plus serenaded the room. I experienced the installation alone. Stronger bonds were to be found in the hall of this building, a large map sprawled on the floor exhibiting the culmination of a 2-day Connected Communities workshop convened by Architecture Making Community; wild annotations expressing excited visions for the locale’s built future, seeking to reinforce social ties.
Sunday offered screenings at The Regal cinema including Abigail Reynold’s The Mother’s Bones, a film exploring Cornwall’s Dean Quarry through a fantastic lens of the lesser-known Greek Myth Deucalion and Phyrra and Russell Hoban’s novel Riddley Walker, and Uriel Orlow’s Remnants of the Future which has been described as ‘a subtle paean to absence, survival and the resourcefulness of people in the aftermath of a cataclysm’. Not quite cataclysmic but also subsisting in tough circumstances, Inland Art Festival was a successful testament to the creative resourcefulness of Redruth, which shows great promise for the future.