We are gearing up to our exhibition at Salisbury Art Centre starting next week. It runs Thursday 18th August-Saturday 24th September, open Tuesdays-Saturdays, 10am-3pm. Our Private View is on Friday 19th August 6-8pm – please come along if you are in the area!
As part of the exhibition, there will be a located GPS-triggered poetic audio-walk ‘ANTICLINE’ by Ralph Hoyte around the grounds of Salisbury Arts Centre. To access it, visit this link, and download onto your personal smartphone.
Terry Gifford, one of our crowd funding donors, has written an article featuring step in stone for the Alpine Journal, a hardback publication. Terry is the unofficial gardener of climbs at Fairy Cave Quarry, a judge for the Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature 2016 and was Director of the annual International Festival of Mountaineering Literature for 21 years. Former Chair of the Mountain Heritage Trust, he is the author of The Joy of Climbing (2004) and is in his 52nd year of rock-climbing. Terry helped Cath attach some of her Gabions high up on a sheer rock face at Fairy Cave, and was a great support throughout the project.
The Alpine Journal won’t be published for several months and a hard copy will be hard to get, so Terry has given us permission to publish his article in advance.
‘step in stone’ exhibition, Fairy Cave Quarry, Somerset, October 2015
(Review offered for publication in the Alpine Journal 2016)
Mountaineers on the Alpine Ridge (PD) under full winter conditions, catching the last of the winter afternoon’s sun, photographed in close-up, can look very impressive on social media. But this is Fairy Cave Quarry’s easiest route to the quarry rim, all one hundred meters of it. When I moved to the Mendip Hills of Somerset four years ago, Stephen Venables was summing up the local climbing for me, adding, ‘and there are some over-rated grotty quarries’. A month after I moved into Stoke St Michael, unaware of this particular locked quarry (BMC website for access details) just a lane away from my house, it announced itself in the guise of a Climbers’ Club guidebook all of its own. It has since become the best-selling CC guidebook ever. What began as a bit of a joke – a sop to activists down in the lonely Southwest – from the CC guidebook committee has become a runaway success going through reprint after reprint.
So what is the secret to Fairy Cave Quarry’s popularity that draws climbers not just from Bristol and South Wales, but from all along the M4, from the south coast, and even tempts Iain Peters out of Devon? Most of its climbing is north-facing and it has a reputation for limestone looseness and vegetation. But it has the nearest slabs to London. And there’s not a bolt or peg in sight. The clean line of the classic Rob’s Crack (4c), benign beginners’ routes on the west-facing Balch’s Slide (4a) area, and the thin steeper challenge of Withy Crack (5a), plus plenty of tricky overlapping slabs at higher grades, attract climbers on most dry days of the year. But actually this is a cavers’ quarry, owned by a caver, the locked carpark reserved for cavers and its management committee dominated by cavers whose base is the cavers’ hut at the top of the lane. Apparently the many locked cave entrances in the quarry give access to some of the best decorated caves in the Mendips, where many cavers are also climbers. Withy Crack’s first ascent is credited to Cerberus Speleological Society in 1992. Given that it is also an SSSI (great crested newts; at least two species of orchids; ravens reared three young last year; Western Red Cedar has just been discovered there) climbers need to be aware that Fairy Cave Quarry is a place that we share, like so many of our crags, with other interests.
But what about three gabions of orange plastic hanging from the diagonal crack of Halfway to Kansas? Or the quarry floor littered with strange white tents on wheels in which green shoots grew from teapots? Or a disembodied voice speaking from somewhere up in the West End? Then over 1200 people finding all sorts of other oddities around the quarry during the two weeks (three weekends) when it was open to the public? Actually climbers seemed to have enjoyed sharing the quarry with the ‘step in stone’ sculpture exhibition for two weeks in October 2015 and may not have realised that they became exhibits themselves in the time-lapse, attention-provoking, photographs of Christina White displayed at the Earth Science Centre down the road. Indeed, climbers were responsible for hanging those gabions at the request of the artist, Catherine Bloomfield, so that their impact (unintended by the artist, apparently) as people entered the quarry was like a parody of three ducks on a wall. Actually, more subtle than that, they were the highest of a line of orange gabions that had colonised the quarry and clearly wanted to join in the climbing.
Poet Ralph Hoyte’s voice works were both an echo of the human construction of the quarry and an eerie post-industrial mysterious communication of echoing absence. Sally Kidall’s white tents on stick and sisal platforms looked like some post-industrial survivors’ attempts at nomadic domesticity that were now abandoned and being reclaimed by nature. From the climbers’ perspective on the quarry rim this seemed to be a community that had run its wheels into a dead-end before it simply gave up. Duncan Cameron developed a picture of the quarry site through evening, day and overnight ‘expeditions’, collecting fascinating found materials (including a wrist watch – but no old pegs!) that he finally mounted in his ‘Fairy Cave Cabinet’ on the dramatic cliff-edge start of the Alpine Ridge. For those climbers who walked around into the West End with their eyes open, a dome set into the ground will have revealed another miniature world of insects, ants and a dead bird. Tessa Farmer’s fairy world was a predatory one that certainly suggested ‘Alice’s unsettling journey down the rabbit hole into Wonderland’ as she puts in the excellent catalogue representing all fourteen artists who took part in the larger project involving six venues with workshops, walks, talks and performances that attracted 8114 visitors in total. Amazingly, the curator of all this, Fiona Campbell, found time to make work for at least three sites where ancient sea creatures that might have inhabited what is now limestone. Here, her ‘Eviscerated Earth’ combined rusty steel bits with wax, cloth, paper and wire to evoke, ironically, the strange formations lost in the destruction of caves by quarrying. Actually, what remains was not only the inspiration for the artists, but also for the audience: the natural folds and features of Fairy Cave Quarry itself, especially in the Death Wish Area, attracted a lot of public attention, which should remind us of how lucky we are to have access negotiated by BMC volunteer Ian Butterworth.
So could there be limits to sharing climbing rock with other artists? (Like bullfighting in Spanish culture, rock-climbing, we know, is an art form.) Only one climb was made more difficult for only two weeks here. And from the quarry rim climbers still get the benefit of various imitations of the famous Salt Lake land art ‘Spiral Jetty’. But on some gritstone boulders in West Yorkshire and Lancashire six poems by Simon Armitage have been carved into the rock to comprise the Stanza Stones Trail of 47 miles. Each poem is about a form of precipitation: ‘Rain’, ‘Snow’, ‘Mist’, etc. These are semi-permanent, although expected by the poet to be mossed over, erased by their subjects and climbed over. Unlike bird-bans, they don’t require art-bans. But they have, with a kind of hubris, humanised the natural rock we come to climb. Is it our rock? Of course not, and climbing is still possible. Indeed, you might feel enriched by being reminded of climbing ‘up here where the front of the mind distils the brunt of the world’ in ‘Rain’, for example. For years we’ve shared the crags with ravens and ring ouzels, and now we must share them with conservationists and curators.
My three nuts from which the gabions hung stayed untouched by other climbers for two weeks. When I mistakenly removed them, thinking the exhibition was finished, other climbers replaced them with stones so the final weekend show could go on. But at another, open, quarry, a weekend rave of six hundred people destroyed one artist’s work. There are other people we should resist sharing the crags with – the ‘green trail’ 4×4 drivers, the destructive trail bike riders, the access improvers, the commercial bolters, the selfish route-hogging groups. Beside these, a few though-provoking, amusing or distinctly odd fellow artists are life-enhancing presences for which we should be grateful, as many climbers obviously were at Fairy Cave Quarry in 2015.
step in stone by numbers:
Website/blog views: 16,984 visitors: 4,974 from 68 countries
Facebook Friends: 2475
Twitter followers: 201
Workshop Participants: 257 for workshops (16), 102 for Walks (6), 56 for Talks (4)
Family Day: 190
Age range 0-95
“I have been utterly entranced by what has been achieved by this extraordinary collaborative event. The fourteen artists are from a myriad of artistic disciplines yet have created a glorious spectacle. From the vastness of the quarries to the intimacy of the Black Swan’s Round Tower, the site-specific works harmonise with their environment. Fiona Campbell and her artists have achieved something wonderful.” Amanda Sheridan, Black Swan Arts
“Visitors have been fascinated and intrigued by the installations, which have brought together the arts and sciences. We have been able to reach a new audience by looking at geology from a new angle.” Juliet Lawn, SESC
It’s been a very intense and challenging few months. Incredible seeeing step in stone through to fruition, and so fulfilling. Overall, the project was a tremendous success, very well received by an extremely varied and broadly based audience. We were overwhelmed by such a high volume of enthusiastic visitors from the area and further afield, who visited our 6 venues. Through special events (workshops, walks, talks and performances) we enjoyed engaging a whole spectrum of the public, participants of all ages and interests, including school children, families and the elderly. We received massive public support for the project; people were genuinely delighted and inspired by the fusion of sound, art, landscape and wonderful use of unique quarry settings.
The project gained momentum as it progressed in steps to its finale. The final fortnight, tied in with Somerset Art Weeks Festival, was brilliant! Each weekend approximately 300 people visited the magical Fairy Cave Quarry venue alone. Family Day was really special, a huge success, so many enthusiastic children, grown ups and in-betweenies enjoyed a range of organised activities in the quarry. The 3 Finale venues added fresh impetus, with all 14 artists showing together for the first time in the project at Black Swan Arts.
The Black Swan exhibition was a beautiful, strong, inclusive show in a wonderful gallery space, including the Round Tower and Hall (where the young sculpture design entries were on show). It came together naturally in a grid-like structure, echoing the work. The Preview was buzzing and feedback excellent.
An ambitious project for the budget, with a very small management team, it was incredibly hard work. I really enjoyed working with such a fantastic set of high calibre artists, whose work I admire. All of us explored and developed new areas of our practice. We had immense support from many quarters: in-kind gestures, discounts, time given, technical help, assistance at special events and manning. Partner Nick Weaver helped me enormously throughout and volunteer photographer Duncan Simey was a huge asset. It was highly motivating to have such support. Our legacy includes a documentary film, catalogues, website, and artwork donated to Somerset Earth Science Centre permanently for educational and recreational purposes.
Bringing step in stone to fruition is the fulfilment of a dream to have contemporary art exhibited in these enigmatic, spaces in the Mendips. I have so many people to thank for this, particularly our funders including Arts Council England/National Lottery, partners, venues, supporters, visitors and of course, the artists!
Some visitor comments:
“That was my best HOUR of this year”
“In many years of visiting art events, I have never experienced anything as fascinating and inspiring as my visits to quarries today – especially this one.” (Fairy Cave Quarry)
“Had a lovely day with the boys exploring, was great to combine being outdoors with some interesting art..”
“Spent a fascinating afternoon at Halecombe and Westdown/Asham quarries. It was a treat for the senses and a revelation about the environments on our doorstep. Thank you!”
“Wonderful – best art gallery I’ve ever been to”
“We’re really enjoying the step in stone events and seeing places/quarries never been to before!”
“A hit for all ages”
“What a brilliant, inspirational and unique exhibition in a stunning setting”
“Love the work in this setting, quite magical in amongst the trees, and thank you to SESC for a warm welcome”
“Ingenious art in a spectacular setting. Do go! Fairy Cave quarry”
“Amazing creativity & lateral thinking. Our family enjoyed a really interesting ‘exhibition’. A wonderfully different experience.”
“Inspiring and fun – creativity thrived in the kids as a result”
“A wonderfully different experience”
“Like being back in Africa in my village – brilliant! Can’t wait to bring my grandchildren – thankyou!”
“Unique and surprising”
“As a geologist (amateur) married to an artist I found the combination of the 2 subjects absolutely fascinating. Especially loved the sketchbooks, also Catherine’s and Amanda’s work..”
A few best pics to tell the story…
Above: Caroline Sharp, Pioneer Seeds, Stoneware and Whatley Clay, Willow. Photo Duncan Simey
Below: CarolineSharp, Birch Layers, Birch, Split Hazel, Willow. Photo Duncan Simey
step in stone Exhibition at Black Swan Arts. Photo Sally Barnett
Fiona Campbell 23/11/15
After a number of cancelled dates, due to the weather, I finally managed to spend Tuesday night in Fairy Cave quarry. The mini 12 hour expedition allowed me to observe the space on it’s own terms. Quietly lying up on the ridge I watched the sun setting over the west horizon, listened to the rooks and jackdaws roosting and then their calls replaced by those of the tawny owls that live in the woods around the quarry perimeter. Dark by 8pm, I lay making notes and observations as part of the collection case artwork.The moonlight and clear night allowed me to walk around the quarry by moonlight alone, a place with a very different character than in the daylight, the long monochrome shadows, the reflections of the moon in the many puddles and the vast black quarry walls. Woken at 2am by a barking fox and at 4am the constellation of orion came up over the rocky butress at the south end of the small ridge on which I was sleeping. The sun began to rise at about 6am and by the time I packed up to get to off to work at 8am the West wall was brightly illuminated in the warm morning sunshine as the sun crested the woods at the top of the Eastern cliff.
Duncan Cameron 24/9/15
The Fairy Cave Cabinet is wheeled into position and assembled on the ridge.
Duncan Cameron 21/9/15
Spent the evening exploring the Fairy Cave perimeter and collecting feathers and old metal washers. The quarry echoing with the sharp clinks of climbers enjoying the last evening sun on the cliff face and the ever-present crow calls. I had intended to cast more tracks however the recent heavy rain meant that the the little mud was underwater with large puddles covering large areas of the quarry floor.
Duncan Cameron 1/9/15
A terrific afternoon and early evening exploring Fairy Cave quarry. Walked the perimeter collecting evidence of natural history and human activity and picked up snail shells, feathers, broken plastic car light fragments, pieces of ceramic, a glove, a wheel, a watch, bones, unusual stones and many other treasures for mounting and presentation. Worked with card and plaster to cast interesting tracks in the little mud that remains and stood alone in the middle of this wonderful sunken void as the rooks called and the light faded.
Duncan Cameron 7/8/15
Enjoyed a terrific day at the Somerset Earth Science Centre working with competition winner Charlotte McKeown making her ‘sculpture in a day’. We all collaborated to grind, weld, glue and assemble the conveyor belt inspired piece and were delighted to help charlotte successfully complete the work in time for the 5-o-clock opening.
Duncan Cameron 17/7/15
A good day working with Charlotte McKeown, the young sculpture design competition winner, in the Strode College workshop. We made good progress with the development of her fantastic sculpture ideas in advance of the launch day at The Somerset Earth Science Centre next weekend.
Duncan Cameron 30/6/15