Magazine article Tate Etc.

A Tapestry of Invisible Strings

Magazine article Tate Etc.

A Tapestry of Invisible Strings

Article excerpt

Earlier this year I visited Barbara Hepworth's Pelagos 1946 at Tate Britain. Carved from elm and resting on a square base of oak, the sculpture is similar in size to a basketball. In contrast to its exterior, which is polished to a nut-brown sheen, the inner plane is painted a pale matt blue redolent of calm seas and cloudless skies. Lengths of string connect its inner and outer edges. Woven through holes in the work's swooping wave-like arms, they create a focal point of fraught connection in an otherwise continuous and indivisible form. From her home at Carbis Bay, where she moved with her husband, the painter Ben Nicholson, in 1939, Hepworth would have gazed across the bay of StiteiC'v on a daily basis. That view was the inspiration for Pelagos. The title L j is Greek for 'sea'.

For Hepworth, the strings in the sculpture expressed 'the tension I felt between myself and the sea, the wind or the hills'. Having recently returned from a trip to west Cornwall, I read them differently. They did not speak of the interplay of ego and landscape so much as the banal, problematic, but ultimately indispensible and generative business of getting from A to B. Strings are a symbol of infrastructure. Standing in front of Pelagos, which in Tate is airlessly housed in a Perspex box, I did not muse upon Hepworth's masterful appreciation of geological form. I thought about trains and motorways. How else did she get to St Ives?

It is impossible to overstate the importance of connections in Cornwall. The most meaningful ones do not exist between individuals and their environment, or artists and their geographical muses, so much as between communities. The county's contemporary arts scene has many centres, but it is not centralised. As such, it lives and dies on the strength of its connections. Those narrow, winding, tractor-clogged roads, which sprawl across west Cornwall in an intricate cat's cradle of transport, can feel excruciatingly slow and convoluted. Yet they are essential to Cornish culture. Art in Cornwall is a circulatory system: a network of connections - 'lifelines', as one curator referred to them - that enable people to move between points in a constellation, from galleries to studios to living rooms.

To observe that its art scene is geographically dispersed is, in one sense, perfectly self-evident. West Cornwall is a peninsula, not a city. It is predominantly rural. …

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