26 & 7 Bones live event, West Bay

A Dorset button maker, a blacksmith and a herbalist as well as a sculptor and a coastguard have been collaborating with two artists as part of an unusual project – 26 & 7 Bones – that’s been gathering pace in West Dorset over the past six months as part of the Jurassic Coast Earth Festival. The results will be revealed through a unique exhibition of sound and images, with live presentations during the weekend of 26-27 May at The Salt House, West Bay.

This intriguing event will explore how people along the Dorset coast live and work with the Jurassic landscape through their hands (27 bones) and feet (26 bones). Artists Sue Palmer and Sally Watkins have been investigating this concept and the West Bay event is the culmination of their work. Other local people involved in the project include a free-diver, an archaeologist, a foot surgeon, a charcoal-maker, a farmer, an embroiderer and a chiropractor amongst others.

Sue explains, “Our hands and feet are the primary points of contact with the world and, over the last six months, we have been talking with people living and working along the West Dorset coast from Lulworth and Portland around to Puncknowle and Charmouth. We invited them to respond to a series of unusual questions about the use of their hands and/or feet in relation to the landscape or places they engage or work with, how their hands and feet are marked by their work or activity, how hands and feet are used to make or shape, which particular tasks are performed and which tools are used. We also asked them to tell us stories about how the landscape affects their lives.

“We have also looked back in history to set our contributors’ lives into the story of this part of the world, for example the sailing of the Dorset Pilgrims to America, and the ancient Dorset Button industry, kept alive today by the skills of such people as Betty Tett.”

Sue and Sally have also looked at ways in which the vast geological time span of the Jurassic coast incorporates the comparably tiny time spans associated with each person’s job or activity; the 15 minute response time of the coastguards, for example, or 1.5 minutes holding of breath of the freediver.

Sally says, “ It’s not just the activities that have interested us so much as the individual approach that each person brings to them. Conversations have often been poignant and full of facsinating details and, bringing them all together, they form a very interesting document of contemporary life along the Jurassic seaboard.”

26 & 7 Bones takes place at The Salt House in West Bay over the weekend of 26-27 May, with 15 minute long creative presentations on the hour, every hour by the artists and the project participants. Opening times are Saturday – 12 noon to 8pm and Sunday – 12 noon to 7pm. Entry is free and visitors can come and go as they wish.

The event forms part of the Jurassic Coast Earth Festival 2012 (which started earlier this month and which continues along the coast until September) and Maritime Mix, the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad by the Sea.

26 & 7 Bones is funded by Arts Council England with research funding from Activate Performing Arts and support from PVA Labculture (Bridport).