St Ives had/has a significant artists’ presence, if not colony any more. The names that have lived here is far surpassed by the names that have stopped here briefly and more longly. Tate St Ives is here, representing the St Ives artists to the world stage, and Tate St Ives overlooks Porthmeor Beach, which is the next of the swims. The weather, rainy, drizzly, turning dry-grey in turn. The swim more of a duty than a pleasure. One person commented on the beach as I made a steady way through the sand to the waters edge “refreshing no doubt” – ‘no doubt’ I replied. A cut-glass accent, St Ives as Chelsea by the Sea. No doubt it brings income, but no doubt it makes it difficult for locals to buy houses. So the young and ambitious leave, and the more moneyed come in, a cycle of people, education and money. We have conversations about this with Susie and Philip, regretful while also being part of it. How to keep people on the land / in the rural areas is an endless and perennial issue, and it is not all bad. Porthmeor Beach has its quota of surfers, ducking and squatting, plunging, and board-paddling back to the wave-crests. Wet-suited, long and short haired, some tatoo’d, these are the Winter hard core. I don’t dare to ask how many are local, but there must be some, the ones who stayed because they can’t leave the waves behind. How do you develop a post-industrial landscape with such beautiful coastline? There is no real answer to this. The swim is short, out beyond the waves, a paddle around, the tide going out, the surfers around me. I don’t want to get in their way, so swim a little beyond the waves. They are all chilled, going about their wave-business, and I am not there long. The return is faster, the water warm to my senses, being acclimatised to six degrees in Oxfordshire. I change on a seat and bench of the downstairs café below Tate St Ives, closed for winter, no-one minds or notices. A South African and his partner ask “what’s 65 at 65?”. I explain; she says he is a swimmer. I get onto Cape Town and the Robben Island swim – ‘it’s about the same temperature as here’ I say. He won’t be persuaded to go in today – “I’m from JoBurg” he says by way of explanation. Land-locked, no ocean, pool swimmer mostly. We part ways; I hope he parts some waves another day, him being a young adult with a strong physique.
Tate St Ives is the next place – it has a focus on internationalism, with a strong local collection highlighted by some of the internationally-great moderns – Picasso, Braque, Mondrian. And an exhibition by Otobong Nkanga, a powerful and thoughtful exploration of extractive economies and how they have shaped African countries. The ‘negative monument’ was the memorable work for me – a hole in the ground in Africa representing resources extracted to make statues of famous white men (nearly always men) in countries still carrying the power of the coloniser – bronze, gold. And ‘bling’, a work that makes very apparent the craziness of extracting minerals and other resources to make often-throwaway jewelry. ‘For what?’ I come away thinking. As I am probably expected to come away thinking. Two light works are pretty, the one in the courtyard enlivened by a punk-haired young women with face piercings. Singing random-ish notes, this becomes a sound and light sculpture, the changing blues and reds setting off the dimming beach light in the distance, as twilight moves from civil to nautical.