Fly over the Mendip Hills in Somerset, UK, and the most striking feature is the number of vast quarries dominating the area - among the largest in Europe. Less obvious are several disused quarries, rapidly being re-colonised by nature. You can easily walk within a stone's throw of many of these quarries without noticing they are there, but stumble across one and you can't fail to be amazed by their grandeur and beauty.
Artist Fiona Campbell discovered old quarries while walking her dog and exploring the area a few years ago. Inspired and fascinated by their drama, Fiona embarked on an investigation into these hidden gems, while also finding a new source of discarded scrap metal for her sculptural work.
“The first disused quarry I came across was on a woodland walk. From a narrow dark pathway, an opening leads you to a rocky escarpment, down a scree slope into a huge canyon-like landscape, filled with lush lakes, massive stratified cliff faces and birds of prey hovering above – it was truly awesome and remains my favourite. So many quarries in the Mendips are now disused, enigmatic environments, taken over by wildlife, some designated as ‘Sites of Special Scientific Interest’. Others are desolate underworlds of canyons, lakes, huge ruins, and rusting machinery - fossils of both ancient and modern eras. Scoop out a hundred tons of rock a day – carboniferous limestone for example – for 120 years and you have a gargantuan cavity of time, reflecting life dating back over 350 million years. All this provides an extraordinary backdrop and inspiration for artwork”, Fiona explains.
3 years on, Fiona has successfully formulated an ambitious plan to stage an art-in-quarries trail, bringing together groups of like-minded passionate artists, scientists and educators for a major art project entitled step in stone. Having just received their full funding target for the project, thanks to Arts Council England/National Lottery, Mendip Hills AONB/Mendip Hills Fund, Ganes Trust, Somerset Art Works, Somerset Wildlife Trust, a local trust fund and numerous individual supporters via IdeasTap crowdfunding, also a donator, step in stone is now on full steam ahead for its opening this summer.
An Artist Research Trip on a cold, wet day in January gave those involved an opportunity to get together on site, explore various starting points and develop ideas and artwork for the project.
“It was very inspiring despite the weather and I got home buzzing!” says artist Suzie Gutteridge.
The 3 quarries have very different characteristics – Westdown/Asham is disused, massive and dramatic, with a long pathway and stream, neighbouring Asham Woods SSSI. It was used as a backdrop for filming Dr Who. Halecombe is a working quarry with a peripheral circular public pathway overlooking the site, while Fairy Cave Quarry is mysterious with stunning limestone rock formations and renowned caves.
“I found the quarry landscapes really fascinating, alien, exciting ...” artist Ralph Hoyte.
“ I am very excited to have on board such high calibre artists, including Tessa Farmer, who’s work I came across at London’s Saatchi Gallery. Her miniscule plant-fibre skeletal ‘fairies’ and other alien creations involving taxidermy will be perfect in the magical Fairy Cave quarry - a wonderful contrast to some of the larger pieces we’ll produce. Ralph Hoyte, a Bristol-based artist who makes ‘sound poetry’ may create work that can be listened to via GPS while walking round the sites. I plan to make large-scale pieces using found and recycled materials inspired by the sea life that was, particularly crinoids and corals. It will certainly be a challenging project!” Fiona says.
step in stone will be a collaborative multi-stranded art trail around 3 disused and working quarries in the East Mendips, illuminating these spectacular, hidden landscapes while exploring Somerset’s heritage and beauty. Fourteen artists, all with connections to South West England but from as far afield as Norway and Australia, will develop and create a series of research-led site-specific temporary artworks for a curated trail in response to the nature of quarries, their nature and place in the cultural and industrial heritage of the region. Contemporary sculpture, land art, photography, textiles, painting, drawing, sound, spatial poetry and printmaking will be installed within these environments, aiming to surprise, delight, challenge, fascinate and inform.
The project will offer local communities and visitors from afar a memorable experience linking culture and environment, encompassing meaningful art and science (natural history, ecology, geology), increasing public awareness of these beautiful spaces and issues surrounding them. Central to the project will be broad public engagement. Guided walks will be run in collaboration with microscopists from Somerset Wildlife Trust (SWT) and artists, exploring the quarries; artist-led talks and art workshops will also engage the wider community, aiming to reach a broad spectrum of people. Workshops specifically to give school children an opportunity to experience a creative, educational resource will be supported by SAW’s InspirED offers for subscribing schools. Linked exhibitions will be held in the Black Swan Arts Centre (BSA), Frome, Somerset Earth Science Centre (SESC), near Shepton Mallet, and Frome Museum.
Young budding artists will have an opportunity to get involved and exhibit their own work alongside international artists. A sculpture design competition will be held in May ’15 in collaboration with BSA, for under 20 year olds. Up to 20 of the best entries will be on show during Somerset Art Weeks Festival ’15 at the Black Swan Gallery. The winning designer will work with a step in stone artist to create their work in 3-d, which will be exhibited as part of the Trail.
step in stone will be installed in stages from July-October ’15:
July-October – Workshops/talks/exhibition - SESC, Stoke St. Michael
August-October - Art installations/tours - Halecombe (working quarry, peripheral public pathway); Westdown (massive disused quarry), Chantry
3-18 October, finale fortnight tying in with Somerset Art Weeks Festival '15 and Momentum programme - Exhibition - Black Swan Arts Centre and Museum, Frome
plus Art installations - Fairy Cave (secure disused quarry), Stoke St. Michael
A film documenting the event will be shown at the finale.
For further information please visit:
Laundry Cottage, 13 Cooks Lane, West Cranmore, Shepton Mallet, Somerset BA4 4RH
Tel: (+44) (01749) 880394 mobile: (+44) (0)7515537224