Original Article Here 19/10/2023

First Flamm festival in old mining town this weekend will include ‘art rave’ and installations using local natural materials

A woman smiling while holding brightly coloured artworks in the shape of rocks.

Sovay Berriman pictured with her work called Gwyrdh Glas, which features bright sculpted ‘stones’ alongside a film of the geological formations at nearby Carn Brae close to where she grew up. Photograph: Jonny Weeks/The Guardian

In the 18th and 19th centuries, copper mining turned Redruth into a wealthy, bustling hub.

But in more recent times the Cornish town has suffered the trials and tribulations of post-industrial decline.

A new visual arts festival taking place this weekend, called Flamm (Cornish for flame), will focus attention on how the town is being transformed with the help of a vibrant contemporary art scene that, in some respects, is challenging the pre-eminence of nearby St Ives for the title of Cornwall’s artistic capital.

Attractions in Redruth will include an “art rave” in a church and an installation that imagines a metro line in the town based on old mining routes.

There will be musical instruments created from Cornish minerals on show and the town’s Regal cinema will screen Turner prize nominee Heather Phillipson’s film Dream Land, in which archival BBC wildlife footage is recast as hallucination.

Tonia Lu, programme producer for Flamm, said: “There’s some incredible work and festival-goers are in for a real treat. It’s about building Cornwall up as a cultural destination, not just a seaside one.”

A woman shows her sculptures in front of a projected screen of hands holding objects.
Cluster is a collaborative installation with sound by SJ Blackmore, film by Naomi Frears and sculptures by Alice Mahoney (pictured). Photograph: Jonny Weeks/The Guardian

In the last few years artists have been taking over old industrial spaces and empty shops in the landlocked town, drawn by the large, attractive spaces and the rents, which are much lower than in coastal towns and villages such as St Ives, where second home owners have sent prices sky-rocketing.

While it may not have landmark attractions such as Tate St Ives, supporters of Redruth argue it can offer a more earthy, authentic version of Cornwall.

“I don’t want to talk St Ives down,” said Lu. “It’s beautiful and inspires artists but Redruth has a very different feel. I’m not saying it’s New York but it’s started to have a reputation as a really exciting place to be.”

She added: “Like a lot of post-industrial towns there are problems. It has a stigma attached to it sometimes but it has so many artist-led spaces popping up and the community is really receptive.”

Patrick Lowry, a Cornwall-based artist who created the metro piece, said: “This feels like a significant event for both Redruth and the wider art scene in the south-west. Redruth has an art ecology that has developed, with local artists working together as well as reaching out to national and international artists to help establish a vibrant contemporary art dynamic.”

Louis Gardner, Cornwall council cabinet portfolio holder for the economy, said he hoped the festival would shine a “national and international spotlight on the Cornish arts scene”.

A sculpture of a tin miner on a high street.
A view of the Tin Miner statue on Fore Street, the main high street in Redruth. Photograph: Jonny Weeks/The Guardian

There are six commissioned works from major artists and a range of pop-up exhibitions, workshops and musical performances.

Intriguing work being shown in addition to the headline pieces includes an installation at the CMR Project Space using clay, paper bags and wild gorse.

In the crypt of St Andrew’s Church, an artist will show work inspired by two years of daily strolls – and will walk for 10 hours in circles around the crypt over the weekend to remind visitors of her method.

The festival is a partnership between the Redruth-based arts organisation Creative Kernow and Art Night, which puts on festivals in public spaces. It has received funding from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, a pillar of the UK government’s levelling up agenda.

The aim is for the Flamm festival to move to other Cornish towns in subsequent years.