Old Brickworks­­­

 

Crown Estate

Old Brickworks­­­
Starting with the Elephant…..

 

The weather was kind to us in the last week of October at our Coast intervention at the Old Brickworks, West Runton, though we were not, unlike in 2010,  focussing so much on the weather as our main shore-line theme. We were funded by The Crown Estate to begin a process of examining the long history and artistic heritage and potential of the coast. Our project, ‘Starting with the Elephant…..’ took as its theme the remarkable discovery in the local cliffs in 1990, of the Steppe mammoth bones, belonging to a huge creature which once lived on those shores over 700,000 years ago.  This story became the subject for both scientific and imaginative exploration of the terrain both in terms of its long history and its current flora and fauna. In the atmospheric context of the Old Brickworks, a landmark series of buildings being restored almost singlehandedly by fisherman-entrepreneur Richard Matthews, we set up a number of different elements, linking with our Art and Biodiversity project. So, the open barn became the setting for a lively drop-in workshop for families run by Doo Gurney and Ali Atkins. They invited people, who ranged from a 93 year-old woman celebrating her birthday, to troops of children on holiday, to impress soft clay slabs with a whole range of tools and patterns to create evocations of the plants and creatures from prehistoric eras. Using a prehistoric time-line supplied to us as part of the Teacher-Scientist network’s Bio-diversity outreach kit, the slabs gradually charted time periods over several millennia. There and then, as enough were finished, Doo and Ali assembled them to form cubes and then cast them in fast drying fine plaster. Gradually these became a sculptural timeline and will eventually form an installation as part of the growing collection of art and the sea projects. 

 

In the adjacent former Brick Kiln was the science area, where we showed the Teacher-Scientist network’s short film about the West Runton fossil bone discovery and displayed their fossil collection. A number of our collaborators from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences brought along microscopes and samples of earth from the Pleistocene period for people to view. It was indeed remarkable to those new to the area, that what looked to the naked eye like fine sand, turned out to be made up of tiny particles of shell, wood and rock.  Richard Matthews who has intimate knowledge of it took one look and declared, ‘Well it is just like the beach’. The one difference was probably the evidence of trees, but even so, that realisation made it all the more extraordinary for us to imagine how differently this landscape would have looked against the scale of these huge animals like the mammoth.

 

Visitors were encouraged to survey the area both as scientists, bringing further earth and sand samples to view down the microscope, and as artists, gathering observations, drawings and rubbings in little folding sketchbooks that we provided. Rob Spray, of Seasearch joined us on Thursday and Friday, bringing  other professional divers who had been exploring the chalk reefs along the coast from Cromer to Weybourne.  We were treated by them to glorious images of the rich variety underwater wild life, looking even more mysterious for being projected straight onto the brick wall of the kiln.

 

The third space at the Old Brickworks was given over to an exhibition of work made by children at local schools.  In the period just before the Festival, the Sainsbury Centre outreach team had worked on various themes relevant both to the shore-line, and to the identity of the locality and its people, with Cromer Junior school, Cromer Academy and Sidestrand junior school. We began with our handling collection and as ever, the range of work which stemmed from the experience was rich and varied. Working with artist Georgina Warne, Cromer junior and Sidestrand made clay tablets and canvas banners to show the creatures and images of the beach and sea. Pupils from Cromer Academy under the guidance of Jacqui Jones, made spirit boards inspired by objects from Papua New Guinea which they had handled. They developed visual imagery which reflected their identity and drew from their knowledge of the area and its heritage and folklore, as well as from their own interests and popular culture.