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St Ives & Cornwall

First impressions from our trip to Cornwall.

Western Cornwall is beautiful. It is sparsely populated by humans and densely populated by sea-gulls; in August 2021, most areas were densely inhabited by tourists, 70% of whom were holding a beer.

Western Cornwall is a diffused city inside a prodigious natural park touched by two different seas; it also comprises the Westernmost point in England. The knowledge of being at the end of the land is inexplicably thrilling; an ever-changing sky with terrible sun rays jumping up and down the horizon definitely contributes to the feeling (also a constant unease due to the cold wind in August, which is always surprising to an Italian).

St Ives has probably the highest concentration of sea-gulls, tourists, cuteness and some degrees of magic. The latter is to be found without fault in the town's two patches of landscape. The Island is the peninsula separating the two sections of the city. Stepping up from the inevitable parking lot, you encounter silence; a few more steps, and you experience the breathtaking views, the wind, flocks of tiny birds jumping one around and giving the occasional spin around the landmarks.

The second is Barbara Hepworth's Garden. Tucked away in a quiet street is Barbara Hepworth's studio. The visitor climbs a flight of stairs to an exhibition room and then out to the garden at first-floor level. I will avoid commenting on the beauty and power of the works of art or the artist's greatness. I was drawn to two small workshops where Hepworth worked, preserved in a moment in time and that day lit by the most ethereal light (polycarbonate roof lights). I have tried to capture the garden and one of the studios in the short video below.

I like to reference Alain de Botton's suggestions in The Architecture of Happiness.

"A bright morning in the Tate Gallery St Ives, Cornwall. On a plinth sits a marble sculpture by Barbara Hepworth first exhibited in 1936. Although it is unclear what exactly these three stones might mean or represent - a mystery reflected in their reticent title, Two Segments and a Sphere - they nevertheless manage to arrest and reward our gaze. Their interest centres on the opposition between the ball and the semicircular wedge on which it rests. The ball looks unstable and energetic; we sense how keenly it wants to roll down the segment's leading edge and bowl across the room. By contrast with this impulsiveness, the accompanying wedge conveys maturity and stability: it seems content to nurse gently from side to side, taming the recklessness of its charge. In viewing the piece, we are witness to a tender and playful relationship, rendered majestic through the primordial medium of polished white marble. In an essay on Hepworth the psychoanalytic critic Adrian Stokes attempted to analyse the power of this apparently simple work. He arrived at a compelling conclusion. If the sculpture touches us, he ventured, it may be because we unconsciously understand it as a family portrait. The mobility and chubby fullness of the sphere suddenly suggests to us a wiggling fat-cheeked baby, while the rocking ample forms of the segment have echoes of a calm, indulgent, broad hipped mother. We dimly apprehend in the whole a central theme of our lives. We send a parable in stone about motherly love.

Stokes's argument directs us to two ideas. First, that it doesn't take much for us to interpret an object as a human or animal figure. A piece of stone can have no legs, eyes, ears, or almost any of the features associated with a living thing; it need have only the merest hint of a maternal thigh or a babyish cheek and we will start to read it as a character. Thanks to this projective proclivity, we can end up as moved by a Hepworth sculpture, as we are by a more literal picture of maternal tenderness, for to our inner eyes, there need to be no difference between the expressive capacity of a representational painting and that of an arrangement of stones.

Secondly, our reasons for liking abstract sculptures, and by extension tables and columns, are not in the end so far removed from our reasons for honouring representational scenes. We call works in both genres beautiful when they succeed in evoking what seem to us the most attractive, significant attributes of human beings and animals.

The Architecture of Happiness

Page 83

Further comments on St Ives:

  1. Cars should not be allowed so far into the city centre. There are cars everywhere, and parking is the most sought after real estate, but there must be a better way.

  2. I feel like a reactionary, but I would do away with the arcades.

  3. No beers on beaches before 10am unless it's mine.


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