Concealed Community

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Well if you haven’t been here very long you may think that the High street or Woodlane or possibly Jubilee Wharf the quirky creative centre of Falmouth. However it is actually Falmouth Wharves better known to proper job locals as Coastline Wharves. The wharves are located just off of North Parade before Falmouth Marina, you can be forgiven for thinking that the entrance is just a rather large lay by. The numerous signs for businesses are indictor of the delights that lie below the steep lane.

At first you’ll be disappointed by the dilapidated and unforgiving structures that receive you here. Harsh pre second world war concrete leave an unromantic and practical reminder that this is an industrial site and was built as working wharves. Here large boats and even oil tankers were unloaded. In its recent industrial past the main warehouse was used to store pesticides. Peter Tonkin’s welding yard, is the only real and evident clue to the wharves working past. Peter’s yard is the only remaining large scale welding workshop left on the Fal estuary and important resource, especially for mariners. Peter teeters on the edge of retirement and with access to full Navy pension, awkwardly clutches the thought of carrying on the business. He’s a nice man and I don’t know why he continues, I’m not sure if I would, in his position. Often peering or catching glimpses of him at work, sitting there in his white and demure little yard office with the lead dormer windows welded shut he harkens back and musters up nostalgic images of a bygone era. Wearing a blue boiler suit smudged from head to foot in a mixture of blackened soot and oil. He has homemade sandwiches in a tupperwear box. He works hard and alone most of the day nearly everyday. I admire him. When I visit he tells me about the baby swallows that nest in the outbuildings of his yard during the spring time. I get the impression it’s been a long term yearly event that the fledglings should learn to fly bit by bit by flitting between the steel framework of the yard buildings. He gently tells how mother swallow has to slowly encourage and sometime forcible nudge chicks off the edges to get them to fly. I’d like to see it but my chances are slim, nature doesn’t tend to fit in with us humans’ pre-organised lives.

Pearces Mill as the name suggests was a mill, of what kind I’m not sure? Evidence of it’s commercial workings can still be seen in the building today. Ra remembers the building before it had been snaffled up the town’s homeless creative types. “It was like being inside a huge grandfather clock. You could see the interior workings of chains, cranes, hoists and winches that were used to move bulk materials up and down all three floors.” Initially the first person to essentially squat Pearces Mill was David a friend of Ra’s who had used it as a space for boat building. This was done with permission from the owners (who at that point where still the Fairweather’s) David apportioned part of the ground floor space off for himself building a breezeblock wall. This same area is now rented by Miff Crockford of ‘Salone de Lemone’. When David decided to vacate the premises Ra put David in contact with Rob Wood, who now the course leader of fine art sculpture at Falmouth College of the Arts. Rob was the first artist to move in, along with Camilla of Film Studies. Rob has little sentimentality about the place and thinks about it in a purely practical way. “It was a place for me to produce my work”. He had fond memories of Freddie the one eyed seal that lived under the wharves, surviving on scallop guts. Rob & Camilla’s arrival heralded to the Fairweather’s a need for affordable creative space to rent. It was after Rob left in 2000 level 2 of the mill was converted in to more appropriate artists spaces.

Ra & Clarissa are active members of the current community they combine as a couple to create the correct balance between the marine & arts elements of the wharves character; Ra’s skills as a boat tinkerer, Clarissa an artist. Clarissa’s art work intricate and dense tackles all the great evils of this world from the bottom to the top. Whether it be religion, global corporations, bad food, fascism or communism either way I think its safe to say she appalled by them all. Having experienced and suffered first hand the brutality of the communist regime in Hungary, she escaped to the west as a young woman, though life in the west has not always been easy. And certainly not what it was cracked up to be. Her current preferred medium is that of woven strips of lead. Then molded to create shells of objects, including her own face and body. Other works include a lead cast television set and man hole covers. The covers are intended to draw attention to some of the afore mentioned atrocities that the world is intent to keep swept under the carpet, forgotten from the human memory. The central logo of what would be municipal drain cover have been removed and replaced with globally recognised symbols for the likes of MacDonalds or the Atomic. In Clarissa’s own word she wishes to accentuate the fact “That whatever you do to the world you do to yourself”. Clarissa won the Ferdinand Zweigg Scolorship in 1994 and chose to research if the collapse of communist regimes in the Eastern block had had any impact on the art production of Romanian and Hungarian artist, having had many constraints removed.

Ra sits on the periphery of ‘Falmouth Wharves Winter Lay- up Association’ who use a space in the main shed to, funnily enough, lay-up their boats in the winter. The association brings an unexpected cultural edge to the wharves. These are well to do Falmouthonians who have enough expendable income to be able to afford the up-keep of classic yachts. They constitute a full range of professions from engineers through to solicitors. The association contribute a great deal to Falmouth maritime activities and history by continually maintaining a number of antique sailing boats as well as taking part in a number of yachting regattas across the South West. Ra has also informed me that three boats were built in the shed last winter. Long my in continue.

Other primary marine activities include that of ‘SERCO’ and ‘Coastlines’.

Serco or at least the ‘SERCO’ boats, have been based on the wharves for the longest time. ‘SERCO’ are subcontractors for the ‘Ministry of Defence’ as I understand the boats are used to assist in search and rescue operations. They help train helicopter winch men by throwing dummies in the water, seriously. There offices are supposedly the site of an old torpedo store from the war. If you speak to Dougie – who I’ll mention later, who reckons the strange metal shapes erupting from the entrance lane to the wharves are tank traps from WWII. ‘Coastlines’ a hydrographics company is a new addition to wharves mix and are soon to introduce there dredgers to the maritime vessels using the wharves.

Bob Woon or Bob the builder as he is better known and Jim Webster of Webster Pools have both been down on the Wharves for nearly thirty years each. Jim initially started out from here working with his Dad helping move deliveries of pesticides that used be shipped and off loaded here. Both these guys are staunch born and bred Falmouth men and are very refreshing to speak to. As always in Falmouth you never know who you are speaking to and you might be right to think that these guys wouldn’t have any interest in the arts world. Although of a working class mindset you must acknowledge they have watched swathes of art students come and go like strange flotsam and jetsam over the years. These men actually have a balanced perspective of the positive cultural contribution the Arts School has to offer Falmouth and the surrounding area. Men of foresight they see that at least for the next ten years or so Falmouth’s developing path lie with the school, rightly or wrongly. Their emphasis is that something should remain for the young Cornish trying to make a life here as well as those who are willing to make an active contribution Cornish society.

Martin an Ex-Soldier, Jim’s son may be considered an unlikely candidate for taking up the creative cause. However he is deeply immersed in writing and directing his own documentary. The documentary throws light on his and his friends first hand experiences of the deeply disturbing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Thus demonstrating the 21st century British soldier trapped between there own personal moral commitment to the protection of our country against the short sighted unpopular political decisions of our democratic government. The production’s aim is to unfold the open secret of our armed forces on the edge of mutiny as active soldiers and young veterans, who are treated with disdain by the very people they risk and give they’re own lives for.

The soundtrack for the film is in part written by Martin and has been mostly recorded at Troubador Studios also located on the wharves. Troubadour has been down on the Wharves for 5 years now. Over this time Chris Gray who owns and runs the studio has dedicated his life to transforming one of the barren warehouse floors of Pearces Mill in to a comfortable labyrinth of doors and rooms. Troubador is one of the largest recording studios in Cornwall. Over the last year it has been used by numerous musical types including Cornish band Rarebird formerly Rootjuice who are signed to One Little Indian. For the youthful phenomenons of The Astrofurs Troubador has become home turf. At 18 these guys have already been signed to b-unique, the same label as the Kaiser Cheifs and now branded ‘full-time professional musicians’ pretty impressive huh? What were you doing at 18? Chris himself hasn’t got a bad resume having worked with a few big names like The Police’s and Miles Davies and been part of an underground band the ‘Tesco Bombers’ with Keith Allan. There has also been a rejuvenated interest from the east coast of America in an experimental album that he produced with the Homosexuals. However some time in the eighties Chris wandered into running co-operative landscape gardening company, returning to music in the late nineties. His keen love of gardening is reflected in the number of pot plants in the studio some of which are over 20 years old, giving a good indication of Chris’s creative nurturing side. By the time this article is published Chris will be combining his role a Troubadorian with that of a ‘Sex Slave from Hell’ as their replacement drummer for this long standing Cornish gypsy folk rock local band. Who will keep on fighting the good fight through 2008.

Another well kept secret and possibly the wharves best is that of Darren who has a very slow but worthwhile production of handmade guitars. Darren could be mistaken for being Cornish with a loveable deep set South West accent but actually he is from Somerset.

A prominent strain of the wharves creatives are woodworkers whether it be boats, guitars, furniture or puppets there all here. Scott Voyka has to be one of the most prominent among these. Both Scottish, Scott and Andy moved down here over ten tears ago to attend a furniture making course at Falmouth Marine College and stayed. Scott who owns the business comes from a family of furniture makers originally from Hungary. Scott Voyka have a number of clients including some prominant London design houses that commission Scott and Andy to produce there work. Of course they also design and make there own furniture and are happy to make you anything you want. Though it must be mentioned some of there work carry price tags of up to £20,000, which is not to be scoffed at. Here under our very noses lies the opportunity to watch genuine master craftsmen at work.

Other woodworkers include Mark from Touchwood who is a sole trader and speciales in luxury boat refits. Ask to take a look at Peter Tiearny’s nice little river cruiser and you’ll get a good idea of the high end and stylish finish he capable of producing. Fe makes puppets on the top floor of Pierces Mill with a very continental feel, you’ll be impressed by the bohemian stance of her work and not only that, her family. Fe shares her workshop/studio with her delightful husband Dom, who you may have seen working in Peapods. Ella takes up large percentage of the studio space in a custom built baby cage. Dom also an untaught artist experiments with the deconstruction of the noise elements of children’s toys, soldering them back together to create investigative sound switchboards that can be amplified. His visual work is concerned with Visual Jamming (VJ) and the appropriation of randomly found subliminal cult images. Which in my mind reverberates the proto-pop work of Edwardo Paulizzi. The three of them, Fe, Dom and Ella resonate the ideology of a young Cornish alternative family. Intelligently they married before they had children, not needing, wanting or owning a car, preferring to use a bicycle trailer to transport often cumbersome equipment back and forth from there neighbourly home on the water.

Fe and Dom’s studio is the first in a row of about ten that occupy the top floor of Pearces Mill. Their studio, used to be Jamie Boyd’s a graduate of Falmouth College of Art who is capable of fulfilling the sterotypical role of a traditional artist. Jamie is frequently found paintbrush and pallet in hand splattered with a variety of colours. From my position as Barmaid at the near by Greenbank Hotel I am intrigued and amused by energy in which Jamie puts into his arts practice. Jamie has become a recurrent feature in my working day as I watch him missioning along DunstanvilleTerrace mainly carrying canvases or again painting in park adjacent to the Greenbank Bar. After a short trip to New Zealand he has returned and now rents a space from within Troubador Studio that in turn used to occupied by the Great Carlos Zapata, Sculpture and Automata maker who has now progressed out to Spargo in Mabe, where the rent is cheaper. It was in what is now Jamie’s studio that most of Carlos’s work over the last five years have been produced. Chris is pleased to have housed such diligent artists within this space. Martin who rents Troubador’s back room is best described as a musician in residence and has been working together with Bobilina over the last year to create a delicate and poetic album full of soundscapes. My favourite track ‘Mighty Water’.

Bobalina though having a masters in Astro-physics from Kings College London turned down the opportunity to complete a doctorate in the subject and preferred to come home to Cornwall to pursue life as a highly educated humble bum. Which brings us swiftly to the subject of Brendan. Yes, Brendan Byrne, long term part-time lecture of University College Falmouth. He is our resident mad professor despite not having been awarded the title of professor, or even a full-time permanent contract. Which allows him to get back to basics over the summer months where he is able to join all us other meagre underlings in the dole queue and in our expectant wait for eligibility and award of housing benefit. Anybody who has been in Falmouth a while simply has to know Brendan, he is a source of all types of ponderous and exhaustive information on almost any kind of art theory or political doctrine. A real joy (that wasn’t sarcastic). He likes a pint and feel free to use it as a weapon for wielding information from our poor unsuspecting Brendan. He’ll tell you all the books you need to read, in order to get a good mark on a written paper, or at the very least an respectful bibliography. Don’t give him to much to drink or even attempt to out drink him, I suspect, in spite of his appearance he may have the potential to put away 16 good ones. In the case where he may have had to much to drink you will probably end up with an indecipherable pool of gobbledegook, listen very closely, it does make sense you just have to know what the big words mean. Appearance is also very important to him Vivian Westwood is common recurrent in his wardrobe and he not even gay. So that’s Brendan and like all mad professors or is it inventors he has a large lock up shed. Guess where? Down on the Wharves! Now guess what he made? Astro-physics is the clue? Did you get it yet? Oh well! He made a machine that filmed the rotation of the star constellations Ursur Major, Perseour, Casiopia & Andromada above the earth over a two year period and guess what Bobalina didn’t help him. In fact they don’t even know each other; maybe Falmouth isn’t that small after all. The star machine (as I call it) proves that the earth or even the sun is not the centre of the universe “as pointed out by Giordano Bruno in on of his 500 heresies before being burned at the stake on the orders of the pope”. I’m not sure exactly how Brendan worked out the mathematical accuracy of the star machine and I am in awe of the amount of precision thought that went into the creation of this instrument and resulting film. The production of this film entailed Brendan being on permanent night shift, sleeping on the wharves, while recording took place. The end film totals 3mins and 2min 20secs. I experience this film as one of the most outer looking and thought provoking pieces of time lapse film I’ve ever seen. The film forces use not only to examine fragility of planet earth. As tides barely register and seasons change round in seconds as the enduring light of space lures us in. One has to grapple with the fact; as Brendan would put it “That after all the sun is only a minor star”. Brendan also tells me that he came up for the idea at the age of five being a junior member of ‘Liverpool Astronomical Society “ the oldest astrological society in the known universe”. More recently Brendan has been developing further thought surrounding VJ (Visual Jamming) theory. He has mainly been collaborating with Anna Carvalho and developing other ideas such as ‘practitioner theory’ with Falmouth’s resident artist over the summer Mark Amerika. VJ theory is primarily concerned with the mixing of both live feed images as well as digitally stored images programmed to work in real time with and respond to it’s surroundings, such as images being generated intuitively in time with music be producer by old time DJ’s. As many of you may know Brendan was a key lecturer on ‘M.A. Interactive Arts’ which has now come to an end. He can still be found round and about at Tremough working on ‘B. A. Broadcasting’, or in Woodlane on Journalism and B.A. Illustration. If you would like to see some of Brendan’s work he will shortly be presenting a master class in Brussells about interaction in physical space and performing at the ‘Tate Britain’ real time interaction and ideology; followed by a presentation on VJ Theory at the ‘Mapping Festival’ in Geneva.

Paul Chaney and Rebecca Diss too have used time lapse film to document activity on and around the wharves. Chaney’s work creates a space for us to examine in depth the true relationship of the Falmouth area with water and the movement of the tides and the tidal flows that feed the harbour and indeed the globe.

The top floor studios have to be considered the hub for artistic production on the wharves and also the focal point for ‘Level 2’an artist led initiative who have attained £25,000 grant from the ‘Local Heritage Fund’ and ‘NatWest’ to produce a publication documenting the wharves history, that dates back to around 1750. Within the project there is also intended to be a strong community element as well as a number of artist led events which have included ‘Wharf; a secret history’ held at, now the Poly in Dec 2005. ‘Wharf, Wharf!’ a secondary event held on the wharves site last August gathered together a number of Artists working on and off the wharves to create an penetrative but not comprehensive display of the work being produce on site. The exhibition was a great success as a large number of people from the wharves and elsewhere turned out in support of the event at the private view. For some it was sad that the organisers failed to engage or even acknowledge, within their curation of the event, the very real and imposing threat of development of the wharves which would result in the destruction of this unique site and its current community. ‘Level 2’ was originally set up by Paul Chaney, Jamie Boyd etc ***** who have toddled on to further develop there own arts practice. Rebecca Diss, Director & Kate Ogly now the only official members of ‘Level 2’.

Upstairs we also have Adam another graduate and one of the more regular workers is primarily involved in producing customised chairs and furniture as well as a lot of painting and decorating on the side, in order to bump up his income. His chairs are essentially unloved forgotten relics of bygone styles and designs. He then reloves, restores and reupholsters the chairs using his hand printed and often slightly kinky fabric designs. He takes time to hand draw and paint, what could be described as installation art for chairs, with themes and designs that respond to each chairs personal shape and form. These creative images are then varnished over in order to preserve them forever as a quirky little curiosity for the more observant.

This creates an apt point to mention both Nobby (Malcolm) of ‘Clarkes Upholstery’ and Sandy of ‘Antaries Sewing’ who both run busy and successful businesses. Nobby (which in case you didn’t know is nickname used for anybody with the second surname Clarke) is along with his business partner Jerry the only person that produces three piece suits in the South West. Nobby and Jerry are both great characters and lovely with it to. It’s always a fascination to see what exquisite antique furniture goes in and out of there workshop and the rolls and rolls of high quality fabrics they have available. Jerry is always good for a chat at the end wharf where he regularly spends his breaks fishing with a high success rate for catching both mackerel and bass, which if he’s feeling generous might become your dinner or lunch. Sandy who also does a little upholstering mainly makes a lot of curtains and soft furnishing for local hotels and boats.

Next door to Sandy you will find Seawide Service, Trefusus Water Management and The Cornish Firework Company, all run by the reputed Dougie Rowe who is a spritely 73 and looks like Santa. He has been based on the Wharves in excess of twenty years and moved to Cornwall form London long before I was born. In essence he is business man, hence why he has three businesses, I suppose. All water based. Seawide Services takes deliveries of supplies to larger ships who dock in the bay that need substantial amount of food and other necessities to maintain a happy crew. Secondly Seawide Services is a salvage operation, what that means that if you get into trouble out on the water. He’ll go out there and tow you back to safe water. For this service Dougie will take a healthy and legal remuneration usually a percentage of a cost of your vessel, which often leaves people a bit teasy. Trefusis Water Management is mainly concerned with the upkeep of all the mooring in both the Fal estuary down to the Helford passage. The Cornish Firework Company premier event of the year is the Fireworks that they put on at the conclusion of Falmouth Week at usually at the end of September? Be warned, his bark is worse than his bite and after the Falmouth Wharves Community clear-up day he had to concede that artists aren’t just lazy lay abouts but can also work very hard too. Needless to say he provides valuable services to the area and should be respected for it.

Peter Teirney a former Mayor of Falmouth runs the scallop processing factory which is probably the wharves biggest employer with 35 employees most of which are from Eastern Europe. You can also buy scallops here, wholesale. Fisherman still land Scallop catches here regularly. This may be the only place you might find working fisherman in Falmouth and there relatively young, with faces and hands worn by the harsh reality of hard living. One night in the half light of evening I wondered out onto the end wharf to encounter a young women locked into a fleeting and restrained embraced with her beloved fishermen, who then boarded the boat as the engine started up. Beautiful, heart warming and heartbreaking to watch or maybe that’s my slant on it. Some things just don’t lie and if you’d been there at that moment you’d have no doubt of the risk they run trying to earn a living and bringing back the fruits of the sea for us to eat. Interestingly the Scallop factory building was used during the WWII to store the bodies of man killed during the D-day landings. Kate Ogly and Jaquie Orly (also graduates) in connection with the Level 2 created an interesting and poignant piece of installation art that responded to this short doleful episode in the wharves history. The installation pieces was/is constituted of numerable white crosses made from the dust of crushed scallop shells, marked evenly across the floor creating the outline of a large rectangle. The big open upper floor space in which the piece is housed is mostly empty and cold offering up a long pause for reflection for the human cost and gruesome truth of war.

The old Falmouth Wharves office is the final part of the fine physical patchwork of structures I’ve stitched together. It’ presence is almost regal in comparison to the non distinct anonymous building surrounding. Anybody who knew anything about architecture would know by one simple look that this building was constructed sometime during twenties or thirties. It looks more homely than official. I’m sure in it’d hay day on entering this office you would have been offered lovely cup of tea. The space inside is light and airy. It’s easy to imagine shipping clarks stamping and processing large piles of paper. Emanating the wealth generated here. Evident by the huge safe room hidden in the back left hand corner of the ground floor. Downstairs now, is Falmouth Laundry Services who to provide a marine service by doing laundry for large ships that dock in the bay. The Laundry is run again by a local family. Upstairs is Mark an entertaining droll journalistic writer and novelist refugeed from London along with his son, Felix is a plain and polite boy. Mark tells me his work is mainly satire or working for high paying brain rotting womens magazines. You can tell any creative writing he produces would be thick with some very dark sardonic and twisted human. That makes me like him and besides he leant Troubador both Viennese and then baby grand piano.

Mark sublets to Andy Webster senior lecturer of ‘M.A. Fine Art’ formerly ‘M.A. Contemporary Visual Art’. Andy’s own arts practice is concerned with “art works of self organising systems” and intends to use ‘Fluid finding form’ as a sub-title for his P.H.D. Thesis. Current projects include karaoke nights at Falmouth Sports Centre. These karaoke events are pre-emptive of the reconstruction of works by Jenet Carduff ’40 part Motet’ where she hired 40 singers to create a choral performance which in turn was inspired by the work of Thomas Tallis. Apparently google will tell you everything you need to know. On completion Andy’s final piece will be constituted of 40 individual voices singing through 40 individual speakers. Songs to be included are that of ‘Fly me to the Moon’, ‘Let it be’ and angels. His studio is filled with speakers. Recently Andy has bought 20 mountain bikes to give away to UCF students and staff and now only has thirty on the waiting list. This concept was primarily provoked by the idea of free bicycles as a way of tacking parking and transportation issues between college campuses. Andy does not believe in the idea of the ‘unique creative’ or ‘artist as individual’. Other images in his studio focus on the public beach that used to be where the Watersports Centre is today. At one point the beach was gifted to the people of Falmouth as a public outdoor space. In Andy’s research he quandaries the point at which it became essentially private property again. He is interested in social events that create a common sense of culture. He likes the wharves and his studio there for these very reasons. It is a space/landscape that could not have been designed or created it’s current community. The buildings and the studio spaces that are on offer here are far from ideal. They are draughty, cold and noisy, who could conceive that artists, welders, boaties and fishermen could all work in correlation with and around each other unprompted.

Falmouth Wharves has been a sprouting point for many. Even Andy Marston who conceived and now runs Jubilee Wharf as creative and environmentally aware hotspot once had space here.

First written Summer 2007

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