iit’s a bright summer Saturday in the old Cornish mining town of Redruth. White clouds float picturesquely over Carn Brea, the hilltop monument that towers over the city, but Liam Jolie has no time to enjoy the view.
“It’s manic!” says the artist, diving into the darkness Auction house, his tiny, shabby gallery just off the high street. The inside is buzzing with activity. Amplifiers and mixer consoles are stacked along the walls. Gallerists in headphones nod their heads. Projections dance across the walls, displaying distorted fractals, psychedelic Cornish landscapes and street signs that have taken on a life of their own. Ambient honks and drones fly through the streets, making shoppers stop. Confused, they look inside to determine the source of the noise.
“It’s not something you usually see in Redruth on a Saturday,” Joly laughs. “Most people are just shopping. But it’s such an exciting thing for the city, especially for young artists who are showing their work for the first time. And it’s all thanks to Mark. It would never have been possible without him.”
Mark is there Mark LeckieTurner Prize-winning artist best known for his video work, beginning with 1999’s Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore and ending with O’ Magical Power of Gloom, at Tate Britain 20 years later. During June, Leckie worked with 10 young people attending his Music & Video Lab, a month-long program developed in partnership with the Auction House and West Cornwall Arts Organisation. In roleswhich is funded by £15,000 from Arts Council England.
This is the realization of Leka’s long-held ambition: to create his own art school, offering opportunities to young people denied access to conventional educational institutions due to the prohibitive cost of living and sky-high tuition fees. “If you’re not from the middle class,” he says, “art school is still seen as something you can’t afford. I came out of art school thinking I wasn’t intellectually equipped to be an artist. I felt that I lacked knowledge, intellectual reasoning – just not enough. I’m not quite sure I’m done with it now. I’ve always thought there must be other ways to learn to be an artist besides art school. That’s what the Lab is.’
Following an open call, the students were drawn from various locations around Cornwall, with a focus on “young people who wouldn’t normally even consider the idea of art school”. Throughout June, they worked three days a week alongside Leckie, Jolie and producer Stuart Blackmore, experimenting with video software and editing tools to create the work, with guest lectures by artists including Gazelle Twin, Lee Gamble and Paten.
“We deliberately didn’t mention art,” says Lecky. “We talked about the fact that this is a music-video course. The biggest obstacle to creativity is the feeling that it is not for you. We tried to bypass criticism and encourage them to be as free as possible in their creation.’
The fact that the project took place in Redruth is of particular importance. Once one of the wealthiest towns in Cornwall thanks to the mining boom of the 18th and 19th centuries, the area of Redruth is now one of the poorest in the county, a world away from the sanitized vision Cornwall perpetuated by flashy TV shows and glossy real estate brochures.
“Visually and symbolically, it felt like the right place,” says Teresa Glidau, Cast Chair and the driving force behind the project. “Young people in Cornwall are quite isolated, but Redruth is a good gathering place. Part of it was just bringing them together in one space and letting artists like Mark and Liam take the lead. For me, the strength of the project is that Mark does not appear to be a teacher: he is just a person who talks about why he does the work, what it is for, how it makes you feel. It’s very inspiring.”
The success of the lab has inspired the team to consider plans for the future, possibly further workshops in London, Manchester or Liverpool. Lecky will also showcase music from the Lab on his weekly radio show on NTS. “I was hoping for something incredible and new,” says Leckie. “It was a dream. And it is completely fulfilled. I would love to do it again.”
It was a life-changing process for the students. They include Kitty Smith, a 21-year-old singer-songwriter from Helston. After giving up her music education in Brighton due to rising costs and the need to care for three young children, she was able to reconnect with songwriting and rediscover her confidence in performing.
“Working with Mark and Liam,” says Smith, “has given me the freedom to be who I am without the fear of someone telling me I’m not good enough, which is something I kept hearing at music school. Everyone supported each other: we were all just Cornish kids who wanted to do something creative. This is what the education system lacks. Creativity cannot be evaluated, it is all subjective. No one can create what you create.”