Monday, 7 May 2012

Tout Quarry

Tout Quarry is an abandoned stone quarry in Portland, Dorset. It is situated on the cliff edge overlooking the sea, with Chesil Beach as its backdrop.  Portland has been described as the womb of London because so many of London's buildings are made from the stone quarried there. Wren was a particular fan of the stone and used it in the rebuilding of St Paul's Cathedral and the numerous churches that were rebuilt after the Great Fire.

Tout Quarry is now a sculpture park, formed in 1983 with the creation of the Portland Sculpture and Quarry Trust. A large group of site specific sculptures have been created in the quarry, but as the park is easily accessible to the public at all times of day these sculptures have been vulnerable to vandalism, as well as the weather.

We took a trip here when recently in Dorset. We dumped the car on double yellow lines in a cul de sac leading nowhere, surrounded by faintly menacing portacabins and industrial sheds of no specific purpose. The first set of sculptures appear on your left as you head down the hill into the park. There are no explanatory boards or interpretation materials that you might expect from such a project. In fact, the site appears almost as a waste land. However, trawling online suggests that new work is being commissioned for the Olympics.

To us it seemed a place devoid of human agency. Fragments of sculpture emerge from the pale stone. Some sculptures have clearly been damaged but others seem half formed. As you move down into the basin of the quarry you are fully surrounded by the white stone and more pieces appear. We found ourselves intrigued by the site, its seeming dereliction, and its unrealness, somewhere between a film set and an alien landscape. It felt like a place where furtive secret activity occurs, and we found little stashes of cans, drug paraphernalia and endless piles of dog shit. The site is clearly used by someone but we didn't see a soul when we were there.

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