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24 June 2014

Cornwall Research Trip

Words: Xandra van der Eijk
Photography: Xandra van der Eijk

After we successfully applied for a grant at the Creative Industries fund, we assisted Kirstie van Noort on her second trip to Cornwall. Within a week we collected over 300 kilograms of clay, ready to be processed and researched back in her studio in Eindhoven.

We prepared the trip very well, so we could be efficient and add more sites to the itinerary than the one Kirstie had visited the first time. We got ourselves a place in Fowey, a small town on the Cornish coast. Since none of us really knew how to drive on the left side, and the Cornish village roads were let’s say… windy, it was quite the adventure getting there. Once arrived, we were taken in by the beauty of this picturesque fisherman’s village.

The charming fisherman's town Fowey, our home for this journey.

The first day we set off to a new site straight away, which turned out be of great value. It is strange to see  poisonous ponds with warning signs next to a pedestrian footpath and mountains of waste grown over by greenery. Some ruins of the former process factories remain, as well as a few closed off mine shafts.

With buckets filled with color, we return to the car. The richness of the shades are impressive, but they will not stay this way. ‘There is no guarantee any of these colors will remain’ says Kirstie, but she gives me a relieved and happy smile after all. This was a good place, and a good first hunt. We get cocky and ignore the signs warning us not to get to close to the ponds. There is a specific grey and a specific yellow. With a nervous giggle we put on some gloves and fill some buckets with the material. As we do not know what it contains, we mark it extra clear.

First site of the trip, collecting yellow and grey.

' It is strange to see poisonous ponds with warning signs next to a pedestrian footpath and mountains of waste grown over by greenery.'

As the days pass we hike through different parts of Cornwall in search of different sites. Some are private property, some are hard to reach and some of them have been overgrown and turned into natural heritage parcs. With every site the remains in the landscape start to become more evident, the colors more clear. With Kirstie as our guide we are learning to read the landscape. We soon find common ground in hoarding Mother Nature’s precious gems, with intern Anne as the absolute winner of the game.

Some pits are a farmers backyard. Walls of green surround lakes and craters caused by the mining industry.

One sunny afternoon we find acces to a pit that is still in use. We are in awe about the size of it all. We feel puny, yet grateful to be there but also a bit horrified by the violence man has to use to get to the much needed resources in the ground. It is clear Mother Nature is not offering her treasures easily. There is a lot of beauty in this devastation. With so much good quality clay, we almost feel greedy. Especially with all the beautiful, shimmering gemstones carelessly shattered along the site.

Across this area is a former pit filled with water. A strange, artificial tropical island with the clearest green water surrounding it. Contradictions everywhere, a sight for sore eyes, yet it feels unnatural and abandoned. Warning signs all around, yet a lovely duck family has taken this bizarre landscape as their home. The question rises: is it a bad thing, that man is distracting so much from the soil? The change in the landscape is evident, but these pits are, after they’re exhausted, more or less returned to nature. How bad is it really, that we are taking these resources from the earth?

A clay pit still in use.

Time to investigate some more. We have an appointment with the exploiter of the area. We are looking into a possibility to cooperate one of Kirstie’s projects. The aim is to find a way to put the waste that is produced to use. It would be a major achievement if Kirstie’s way of working would be able to change something in this industry. With a tour around the plants it becomes clear it is not only the subtraction of the raw material from the earth that is heavy on the area. It is the effort to create a constant product available for the clients of this exploiter. Every inch of the earth has different components, in different proportions. The different compounds are separated in these plants and mixed after trusted recipes that can be used as a base for ceramics. This way a fairly consistent product is offered to the market.

'Every inch of the earth has different components, in different proportions.'

To Kirstie, this seemed like a bizarre proces. With her project ‘6:1’ she has tried to use the raw materials as is. She wants to find out if the raw material in itself can be used in a recipe. It would mean no factories for separating the raw material and no waste. “It is a bit of an utopia, but it is a very interesting approach”, says the representative of the company. After a visit to the area, we agree to take home some of the raw material for Kirstie to experiment with as a first effort into a possible collaboration.

Artificial mountains on one of the mining sites.

After our visit to the plants we concentrate on finding old sites and information on the history of the area. We visit a local museum and drive up to Lands End. Kirstie visited this site the first time around as well and we are looking to collect some of the same materials as she did last time. Since years have passed and the landscape changes fast, we are quite curious to see what has become of it. The colors of this place amaze me and intern Anne (since it is our first time here), rusty rocks – bright blue and green stains of oxidized iron and purple-red terraces of clay. We find what we are looking for and enjoy the rest of the day walking about, taking pictures and climbing rocks.

Kirstie and Anne looking for treasures

On our last day, in an effort to visit a new site, we head out on a hunch and some coordinates. It turns out to be a site that is closed off because of heavy metal pollution. Silver was dug up here, as wel as arsenic, copper and tin. There is a big difference between all the sites, one being promoted as a recreational area – the other full of warning signs, hidden from the public eye. With care we decide to enter the site. Yellow, grey and purple – unnatural colors dictate the hills of mining waste. Although in Kirstie’s project the difference may seem small because she uses the same technique for both porcelain waste as mining waste, the influence on the landscape and general health of the surroundings are enormous. The kaolin sites seemed to be from another planet but the green and blue waters are actually caused by minerals. They are not polluted. We fill up our buckets and return satisfied with our endeavour, because we have found this site and its poisonous colors. It concludes our trip and adds to our already contradictory feelings about the influence of man on this beautiful, rich area called Cornwall.

Cornish colors straight from the landscape.
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