J a n e t M c E w a n

So Near.....So Far......

A Critical Response by writer Joanna L Thomas

I know Godrevy. I have leant into the wind on the cliff tops, staring out to sea with my arms outstretched. I have flown a kite on the open expanse of beach at low tide. I have crawled across the rocks peering into pools and crevices. I have crouched at the edge of a sheer drop waiting for a glimpse of a seal in the waves. And I have stood on the headland wondering if it is possible to swim to the lighthouse.

But this weekend I have begun to question whether you can ever truly know a place like this.

When I arrive it is much as it ever is, the car park filled with surfers peeling their layers on or off, a brisk wind blowing in over the dunes and a general preoccupation with what the clouds might be doing. Emerging onto the cliff top, sky and sea fill the frame as always. But today the picture is punctuated by white posts, way markers dotting the familiar land edge all the way from the lifeguard’s hut to the headland. The urge to follow these seeming signs, despite the gathering cloud, is irresistible.

I am not the first. Groups of explorers up ahead move from post to post, stopping briefly to consider what they find, then striding on to the next, like bees collecting pieces for a giant honey jigsaw.

Each post holds a photograph, showing a view from that spot. Some are colour, some black and white. Some are occupied by people, some are uninhabited. Some look left across the bay towards St. Ives and some look right towards the biggest signpost of them all. At intervals, sunlight darts through the clouds illuminating the lighthouse and glinting off these pins that have been stuck in the map, leading the way towards it.

Following the pictures, I am discovering the story of Godrevy. Or should I say stories? Because each stop is a new way of seeing, like I’ve been given one hundred fresh pairs of eyes for the day. Though I am standing alone at this point or the other, as I try to work out how old the photograph is, who took it, why they came here and what they were thinking, I am joined by everyone who must have stood on this very spot over the years, contemplating their own version of this view. With each picture I am considering what is different and what is the same. I see Godrevy in all of these ways and none of them. My own view is at once unique and just one among many.

At the top of the headland, where a bench invites me to rest at the point closest to the island, there is a surprise. Where I was expecting the ultimate shot of the lighthouse, perhaps a long lens peek inside the windows, there is only grass and rocks. An empty island? How did they make the lighthouse disappear? Then I realise I’m looking at myself. It’s the view of where I’m sitting, taken from the lighthouse. The tables have turned. Soon I am round the headland and there are no more white posts, no more way markers, no signs or pictures. Just the rugged, rain-spattered landscape, resonant with the reminder that there is so much more here than I alone can see.

Back along the cliffs, the tide has retreated leaving a beige slab abutting the grey. The colours are subdued but not dull, there is a persuasive brightness in the sky. When a siren blasts and a line of red-suited shapes moves from cliff to beach, it must pick its way between windbreaks and tents. The waiting canvas is clear but not entirely free from footprints. More siren sounds initiate mark-making in the sand. The red-suits spill out from a central point. Uniform, stark colour and movement, where usually all is random. Staking out a territory or standing sentry? Like synchronised caretakers doing their rounds. Or industrious park keepers sweeping away the day.

At first, onlookers pick their way around the etched creation, but soon it is too big to avoid. Groups in their own black-suit uniform weave and bob across the emerging pattern, some stop to ask. As the red-suits file away up the beach, their work here done, a young girl is already adding her own creation to the canvas. To newcomers perhaps it appears she did it all herself. Beachcombers will later follow the trails. The red-suits consigned to anecdotes yet to be told. Another layer, another view. The tide will soon be turning.

Janet McEwan’s So Near… So Far… does not perform to everyone at the same time. It does not selfishly demand attention. It reveals itself to people in different ways and from different starting points. The artist’s work with the local community recorded on the project pages of the This Weekend? website has enabled her to look harder at the place and its people, in order that we can see it anew on this one day. The 100 photographs sent by local people in response to a request from the artist, stake their claim on Godrevy. They assert ownership and share viewpoints in the same action, encouraging a joint responsibility. Janet McEwan’s work at Godrevy brings the place to life and describes its mortality with the same breath.

www.joannalthomas.co.uk