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Simon Pope's 'A Song, A Dance and a New Stannary Parliament'

Date uploaded: November 20, 2013

As the world’s economic patterns change, mining for metals on the picturesque landscape of Dartmoor, Devon has once again become viable. 80 years after the last metal ore extraction ceased on Dartmoor the rising cost of tungsten has meant that there are proposals to reopen a former tin mine at Hemerdon near Plymouth to extract both tin and tungsten. This is the subject of a new commission by artist Simon Pope who is working with people living in the Dartmoor area on a new commission: A Song, A Dance and a New Stannary Parliament. Dartmoor’s formerly industrial landscape has come to be seen mostly as a wilderness for walkers, seemingly indistinguishable from the results of geological processes. Yet the gullies and stacks of rock debris are testament to this metal ore’s immense influence on the life of Dartmoor and its people.

Using the medium of folk music, Pope hopes to uncover contemporary attitudes to land and environment amongst those who live and work on the land. The artist’s dialogic artworks rely on conversation and collaboration. He has been out talking to archaeologists, historians, planners, miners, local dialect speakers, artists and musicians from the area about the past, present and future of industrial extraction from the landscape.

The work asks how folk culture may reflect new conditions and understandings, and how we may choreograph a new relationship to the environment and to Dartmoor in particular.

This autumn, a series of meetings with people in Dartmoor will take place to discuss mineral extraction: its history, current practices and the concerns for its future; environmental, economic and cultural.

These meetings or ‘parliaments’ will be a chance to form new relationships and connections between both people and objects. The parliaments will be taking place in pubs in Ashburton, Chagford, and Tavistock  – the Stannary towns which once controlled Dartmoor’s tin mining industry. These meetings and conversations will inform the latter stage of the project: the writing of a folk song through which to engage the tin itself – currently dormant under the moor – in the conversation, a member of this new community. It is anticipated that live renditions of the song will be performed at the pubs, at Spacex, on Crockern Tor and ultimately at Sidmouth and Dartmoor Folk Festivals.

Simon Pope’s recent work has focused on walking as a model for processes of dialogue and negotiation. Often this has involved walking and talking with others, such as in the film Memory Marathon (2010) originally commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella, recently screened at the Whitechapel Gallery, London and A Common Third (2010) exhibited at Danielle Arnaud, London. This work has also explored how objects appear within dialogue, such as in Carved From Memory (2009) at Spacex. These ideas form the basis of Pope’s doctoral study at the Ruskin School of Fine Art, University of Oxford, which focuses on exploring assemblages of human and nonhuman things through dialogic art practice. Pope represented Wales at their inaugural exhibition at the Venice Biennale in 2003 and has exhibited at numerous venues nationally and internationally.

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Simon Pope with archaeologist Tom Greeves at Vitifer Mine.

Simon Pope with archaeologist Tom Greeves at Vitifer Mine.