Back Lane West
I don’t live in the most glamorous part of Cornwall. It’s not far from the cliffs and the beaches - in fact they are more or less on the doorstep, but it’s a bit post-industrial. It was the centre of the world during the mineral extraction boom of the nineteenth century, but it’s struggled a bit in the last fifty years. Because housing is relatively cheap – and I stress relatively – it’s beginning to attract young entrepreneurs and artists of various sorts, and amid the dilapidated engine houses and the disused factories a thriving arts scene bubbles away. Things happen. There’s folk music in the pubs, as there always has been, but there’s lots more: a theatre group based a few hundred yards from my front door; a fantastic creative writing hub in the local college; and an Arts Centre in the next town that provides space and administrative support for a wide range of creative enterprises. Then there’s Back Lane West.
Back Lane West has been around for a while, but I was oblivious to its existence until something popped up on Facebook the way it does. A visiting artist was opening her studio to talk about her work, and as it was only ten minutes’ drive away, I decided to check it out. Back Lane West is up an alley off Redruth’s main drag. I’m making it sound easy, but it took me a while to find it, partly because it’s largely anonymous, being the ground floor of one of a row of nondescript terraced houses, and unadvertised by any signage. I must have walked past it three times before knocking hesitantly on the blank front door. It opened readily enough, and I was given admittance to what appeared to be a domestic renovation project that had reached the point where you could live in it if you had to, but you wouldn’t choose to in the winter.
The only other occupants of the two bare, whitewashed rooms were the artist, and the director of the space. They greeted me pleasantly, and I looked around, as one does, for The Art, and it wasn’t immediately obvious. The first room appeared to be largely functional, with a basic kitchen set up and some shelves of books. I presumed that that wasn’t it, but you can’t always tell, can you? The adjoining space (they were more or less knocked through) had a pile of what looked like building detritus on one bit of the concrete floor, and an upturned Amazon box on the other. A piece of orange nylon twine hung down from the ceiling. There was a projector, throwing an image of what looked like the same pile of junk onto one wall, only it wasn’t quite the same, which was interesting, somehow. Looking again at the upturned Amazon box I saw that it was surrounded by cut-out simulacra of the Amazon arrow logo, as if these had peeled off and self-replicated overnight. That was arresting.
The artist, Liz Blum, was gentle and generous in explaining her work. She uses found artefacts and images, often architectural or construction based, and replicates them digitally, using collage and projection to make two- and three-dimensional works. To use her own words, she’s interested in building a wider narrative of responsibility and ownership towards pollution and climate change. She showed me another piece, a looping projection of revellers at a foam party. It was oddly hypnotic and has stayed with me.
Cat, the director, explained that the space is available for artists to rent for a month at a time, either to make work in or to use as a base. They aren’t required to show their work, and some don’t - Liz was nearing the end of her time in Cornwall and this was the first time she had opened her studio. I was only there for thirty minutes. I don’t know whether anybody else turned out on that chilly February evening, but I’m glad that I did; I look at building sites with fresh eyes, and my awareness of my local Arts scene is a little bit richer, for the experience.