Sarah Cooling - Cornwall College Project

11 September 2017

Find out more about the inspiration behind Cornwall College student and artist, Sarah Cooling's, works, which capture pilgrimages, time passing, layers of culture and beliefs changing throughout the history of the Mount to the present day.

As soon as I heard about the St Michaels Mount art project I knew I wanted to be involved. Such a beautiful and ancient tidal Island steeped in history dating back as far as the 8th century and a destination for pilgrims throughout time immemorial. As special a place as it always was for the living and thriving community that it is today and the quiet space that it holds for people away from the mainland.

My practice is in ceramics and mixed media. Typically, I like to create artworks that narrate transparency within the human condition by building up layers of ephemera, papers, maps text and fabrics or by using materials that express transparency, such as porcelain. I have been making mixed media artwork in an emotional response to sacred sites and my ideas and research of medieval landscape for some time and so I felt immediately that my style of working would suit the project very well and I couldn’t wait to make a start.

It was a beautiful day as we set off for the Island and were met by the most incredibly warm welcome from the St Aubyn family and their team. We began the visit to St Michael’s Mount by being presented a guideline of ideas for the project and possible outcomes, as well as guided tours around the Mount - so much beauty, history and information to respond to.

I was able to take many photos and make sketches of the walled garden, interior of the castle and monastic buildings as we walked around. I was aware of a sense of timelessness on the Mount as I simultaneously observed the layers of history, events, lifestyles and culture changing, captured in the antiques and artworks showcased within the castle and its architecture, right up to current times and this was something I somehow wanted to capture and express in my own work.

I discovered an article written for The Guardian by Robert Macfarlane, where he suggests that now more than ever people are setting out on pilgrimages, for religious, cultural or personal reasons and, unsurprisingly, he discusses in an age where “busy capitalist life styles with its credit and debit, service and obligation leaves little time for reconnection with the landscape and nature, which culminates in leaving the nature within ourselves feeling empty and un-nurtured”. This resonated very much with my own ideas and as such became the initial starting point of my response.

Beginning with painting layers of gesso onto a large piece of board I then gather my newspaper articles, maps, tissue paper, and photos from my visit and tore them loosely so that they could be applied to my prepared surface.

I wanted the final pieces of work to have elements of abstraction about them and for this reason, I continued with this process until I felt that I had built a surface that is incoherent but has almost entirely covered my board. The work is then left to dry which allows me time to prepare for the next stage of applying carefully selected pieces of fabric, text, oil painting and glazes.

I found the stained glass windows in the castle particularly interesting as they have a luminous, transparent quality and also reflect images and colours from the moment of taking the photo, causing interesting reflections. The torn edges of papers created pathways throughout the imagery, which added to the narrative of pilgrimage or walks in nature and I felt this element worked particularly well.

My aim was to incorporate time passing, layers of culture and beliefs changing throughout the history of the Mount to the present day where it is still important – a living community in which people experience their own very special sense of place. It was also important to me to communicate the idea of a revival of pilgrimage and of seeking more meaningful and respectful connections with ourselves in the environment and the landscape that we love and call home.

“The volume and depth and intensity of the world is something that only those on foot will ever experience.” Hilaire Belloc

I very much enjoyed creating this body of mixed media for the St Michael’s Mount team and thrilled that they have kindly chosen to represent my work. Since graduating from BA(Hons) in Contemporary Creative Practice I was pleased to receive the Krowji Graduate Studio Award and look forward to continuing my practice in this new studio from September 2017.

Sarah Cooling, Artist

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