The utilitarian, concrete shell of the curling rink is our first view of the show. It is one of the two buildings in which the gemboree is taking place; the other location is 100 yards beyond at the North Hastings Community Centre. Several canvas shelters are pitched outside. The heat, the dust and tented pavilions have a strangely exotic air. It reminds me of something out of Kipling, a wind-blown wasteland in the remote deserts of Rajistan, maybe the Pushkar Fair or the famous meeting of Berbers in the Atlas Mountains – to wed their daughters. Other far-flung gatherings are greeted with no less promise than this.
The high-pitched whine of power tools suggests the focus of activity, the heart to which the travelling hounds are drawn. From beneath a blue plastic awning in the baking heat a cloud of dust billows. This is Paul Shier, the premier artist attending the show. He has been commissioned to produce a work for the town of Bancroft, a great mineral spike protruding from a block of stone. The work proceeds with the aid of an industrial size grinder. He is I am told, “freeing the gem within.” I watch him labour, the lower half of his body exposed in a scorching wedge of afternoon sun. “How’s it going?” I shout during a lull in the noise. He peers at me trying to decipher my words. I expect he is half stupefied by the heat and noise; his face powdered by the product of his labour. “Exhausted” was the obvious reply.