25/09/2017 by Carl Reynolds
When I lived in London I could have gone to a host of arty films, plays, happenings and places at the drop of a hat. The city seethes with innovation, even if it is mostly unaware or uncritical of its conformity, in its aspiration to be unconformist; and/or its place in the production of consumer (as opposed to necessary) goods. And, myself, as the product of a non-conformist upbringing (self driven and Methodist) am mostly interested in that which is not in a mould, or hemmed in by an expectation. The Tale, when announced, suggested it was beyond this Pale of normalcy. Inspired by the mind of the author, Philip Hoare, would emerge immersive and interpretative art that confounded expectation and gave space for the participant to co-create, indulge and consider themselves afresh, as they wandered from Torquay to Brixham over a day or two. You could be a Wanderer (do it in two days) or a Meteor (do it in one). As we could only do one of the six days on offer, we flew like a slowly orbiting meteor around the arc of the bay and the tales told. But crashed just before the end into the embrace of home, warm drinks, cake and custard.
What happened? Instructed to arrive at Torquay Museum for 9.30 on a Sunday morning, we fetched up and were greeted with varying degrees of enthusiasm by some of the host of volunteers dressed as though they were about to run with the bulls, dressed as they were in red berets and neckerchiefs. Because of this strong association, I never quite managed to lose the idea of a dangerous large thing behind me; not Mrs Ape I hasten to add.
Initiated into The Society of Lost Souls, a large foam star checked our progress around a library of mementoes. I felt that if I had crossed the line, I may have been sliced Vader like in two for my careless transgression. And, indeed, the man in the lab coat (Mr Hoare himself, it later transpired) nudged people back into an awareness of their gauchely placed feet before indicating with a too-shortly-turned-on-torch photos and memories of his time, and others’ times, in Torbay. Bear in mind that for some considerable time in the past, Torbay was a must visit place for those in society, it is not surprising that Oscar Wilde was here, or Elizabeth Someone or Other. As though the King’s Touch had slipped a social rung and was now to be conveyed by artists, writers and others. But I digress.
Philip Hoare visited Torbay as a lad and these were the things that stuck in his mind – a whale’s tooth, a narwhal tusk, its brief association with literary geniuses, the sea. And these memories and the pockets of funders various ensured that Mrs Ape and I could be plunged into an unexpected and rare experience. High Art in Torbay. Would it delight like local legends, Kinky and Quirky; would it entertain like the Grinagog; could it create an adrenal rush like a December dunk in Fishcombe? Probably not. And that is the point. It was different. Like a day out in the Tate Modern, but outside, and with more sound.
And then. Headphones were placed upon our heads and media players in our hands. Suitably instructed and ensconced, we wandered up a hill and into a car park. Firstly to gaze and then, down a layer, to be washed in a sea of the usual teenage lamentations – nowt to do, fags, drugs, politics, stuckness. Given these themes have been around since the invention of the teenager in the 1950s, why has youth engagement so far failed in taking the imagination of teenagers beyond these usual moans and groans? But. I was enchanted by the rendering of Time is on my Side; which I couldn’t help but join in with; and I did like the subversion of the stereotype of the ‘beggar’ – a young woman sat on the street with nothing but a book. And we ended in Beacon Cove echoing a memory of both Philip Hoare and a memory of better times in Torquay. Beacon Cove now being a glass strewn hang out for junkies and other ne’er-do-wells.
Back to the harbour for some chips; the missing of the Alphington Ponies; and a ferry over to Paignton. In Paignton we assembled outside the Paignton Picture House, now in the hands of a charitable trust and were asked to sit in different rows, but all in the second seat in. With headphones on, the house was blacked out and we heard children coming in and settling around us. We heard their chatter, laughs and fidgets; and then their thoughts on the future of cinema. A journey down into the deep on a whale stuck with me; and then it became lighter, as my rods took over from my cones, the screen turned blue, we watched waves, the camera got jittery and then spooled out. This last bit being a right cliche. Mrs Ape thought that it might be conveying that kids with cameras might well do this; but I thought it spoilt it. Something quite immersive and reflective ending with triteness.
Back to the ferry. And hugging the coast all the way to Brixham – which was in itself a rare thing, as the ferries often ply the most direct route. So it was a joy to see all the nooks and crannies we’d only seen from the water or a kayak.
Brixham is where we live. So to Port Espresso, the best coffee in Brixham, for a dram, before a change of clothes and a trip to Berry Head Quarry to see a painting and listen to some sounds. I like the walk up Berry Head and like the chiselled southern side of it. An ancient remnant of land past cut in half by us humans over a few hundred years, and now fringed by sea anglers, some conscious of the majesty they farm and a small minority of others, with cousins in the fishing fleet, happy to leave their detritus on the ground as they walk away or in the water to ensnare another innocent. But out of destruction beauty eh?
A immense wall of sound surrounds us as we descend to the far end of the quarry – deep bass notes, squeals, reverberations numerous. I am washed in the sound of the big fellas in the sea – the humpbacks, the orcas. A smattering of people sit and lay down, and fall into the sound. I join them whilst gazing at the misting sea, bathed in mizzle and the koans of the deep. And there is a picture. A wavering, wobbling thing that reminds me of the sea and its many lights and rhythms. I was told later that many visitors were non-plussed by it, but for me it was one of the highlights.
To Breakwater Beach to see the finishing touches of a choreographed sculpture. The skeleton of a boat in crutches to my eyes. A thing that wants to be something else, but can’t. But the yearning is not repressed. I’ve no idea what it was to the artist.
By now we are tired. We miss the diorama of Shoalstone; the reportedly slow moving diorama. But we are content and replete. We have had our fill; our minds are sated. Thank you to the host who provided this for us. Thank you for coming to Torbay. But especially, thank you for making me think.
Note: I have left out the names of most of the artists because you can find them on The Tale’s website…and this is less a review and more of a reflection of a little of what I experienced and thought. The pictures tell their own story. Click on them to enlarge.