Sunday, 5 January 2020

Canalchemy


Another opportunity to explore preoccupations with water, industry and ecology came about thanks to involvement in Steve Hitchins' Canalchemy project - a series of collaborative performances along the route of the deleted Glamorganshire canal.

Canalchemy ran concurrently with Binocular, Hydro and Canalworks, so ideas and visual explorations from all these fed into my responses to successive stages of Steve's project. 

As most of my own projects were based in the Black Mountains, it was particularly interesting to compare the respective value placed on natural and industrial heritage inside and outside of the Brecon Beacons National Park.

Extensive engineering works were underway to preserve the Mons and Brecon canal and keep it navigable. Video of pipes and water turned into canons and fire for projection at the Merthyr Blast Furnaces performances.
Water from the highly prized 'live' canal was projected along the route of the largely forgotten 'dead' one.


Video of traces left of the Glamorganshire canal was projected lower down the route as it approached Cardiff and the docks. 
Later all this work was shown during a performance at the Canalworks show.
Images were used for publication of related texts. Photos and films can be seen at Canalchemy

HYDRO and re:Source


In 2016 I was shocked to see disturbance in an area I had long experienced as a place of peace and restorative contemplation. It had felt timeless and untouched to me, and I had never expected it to change.

When I realised it was a privately owned micro-hydro installation the grief I felt was modified by the recognition that we need to rethink our relationship with our environment and that the idea of untouched nature is an illusion, even in a national park. Gradually as the installation bedded in, I came to appreciate the site in a different way, and to see new interest and beauty there.
 I'd been aware for a long time of Llangattock Green Valleys' award winning initiatives to make our community carbon neutral and was keen to be part of this. My own experience of micro-hydro made me want to reflect more on the relation between new sustainable energy initiatives in an area typically seen as unspoilt, but with a long industrial heritage. 

For me, this was another opportunity to respond artistically to social, environmental, agricultural and industrial activities and processes in the Black Mountains with a particular focus on water and energy (see Brunel House). It was on this residency that Leona Jones and I found we had shared interests and approaches to working in response to place and in collaboration.

Between February 2017 and April 2018, we were joint artists in residence with Llangattock Green Valleys, recording and responding to their micro-hydro installations. 
We wrote regular accounts of all our activities which can be seen on LGV's website. We followed and recorded a new micro-hydro installation at Blaen Dyar, and created a 30 minute audio visual response, which was shared with the public as part of LGV's10th anniversary celebrations. 
We also made a short documentary-style film, led walks and other public engagement activities to promote awareness of and understanding of micro-hydro.

Click here to see other information, acknowledgements, links to films and responses to the work we produced.

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Binocular


Between May 2016 and March 2018 Caroline Wright and I engaged in a collaborative project exploring the position and experience of ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’, taking the Skirrid Mountain, Monmouthshire as the site of investigation. A full account can be seen on a-n The Artists Information Company, detailing all those who supported and were involved in the project. This blog gives some of my own process and artworks.

One body of work developed out of a series of photographs taken on a walk Caroline and I took on the Skirrid. I had recently been experimenting with drawing on slide transparencies, and started to try this in relation to the Skirrid walk.
 
These were further developed for exhibition at Oriel Davies and ArcadeCardiff.
 
Click here to see the full slideshow.
 
Click here to see the full slideshow
Caroline and I had planned to incorporate found objects in our project, but we discovered none on the Skirrid. It has been protected by the National Trust since 1939, and has not experienced social, agricultural and industrial influences in the way surrounding areas have.

I found myself re-walking familiar areas to me (Llangattock Escarpment and Craig y Cilau) but changing my routes to make sure I could keep the Skirrid to the East in view. Looking at all I saw from an east/west perspective, and thinking all the time about what being an insider or an outside might mean, I experienced this familiar terrain in new ways. 
 
On these walks I found plenty of objects: a strange corrugated iron hutch, a birthday balloon, fossils, a trap, bits of industrial and agricultural metal, cats eyes flipped to the side of the road.

Reflecting on the lack of objects on the Skirrid led to ideas of re-populating it with these objects – investing it with something of the social, industrial, natural exchanges that it has been protected from. I thought of the old stories of people taking soil from the holy mountain of the Skirrid in order to sprinkle it in significant places – a garden, a grave. I felt the Skirrid was somehow sacred to our project, as the chosen place, and that the areas I was walking were profane in this context as well as being seen so in the old story. Caroline and I had taken tiny soil samples at key points on our Skirrid walk: perhaps I would sprinkle my soil samples in the places these objects were found: in ArcadeCardiff I combined found objects, soil and images of the mountain.
 
Meanwhile, I revisited the Skirrid, wondering about the difference of experiencing it together with and apart from Caroline. I found myself circumnavigating the mountain, taking photos and sketching. Back in the studio, I thought about how once more I’d taken the long view - looking in at the mountain rather than out from it - a different perspective to the experience Caroline had shared. I tried to convey something of this different relationship to and perception of the Skirrid in oil paint on gleaned cats eyes. Viewed through a range of magnifying devices mounted in found metal objects from areas outside the Skirrid boundary.
  
Click here to see more of the paintings with the viewing devices 


The theme of resilience underpinned the project. The need to be resiliant can feel like a new tyranny, but in this project helped us think how place, systems, objects, a community and an artist are affected by and respond to change and challenge. My thinking and artworks was influenced by contacts with and conversations with all those involved with the collaboration, but also by systemic psychotherapeutic concepts of positioning and Merlau Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception.



























Monday, 3 October 2016

Brunel House



At the end of the last post I hoped I might be able to experiment with cats eyes on a larger scale, and suddenly, in August, there was a chance to do that over the course of a two month residency at the Cardiff city centre office block, Brunel House - thanks to Floating Island Gallery.



I felt lucky to be based on the semi-derelict floor 5, an enormous space with parts of ceilings down, sections of floors taken up, and access points to infrastructure exposed.


I placed cats eyes, from rural Powys roads, in service areas that would not be apparent when the commercial units are functioning - and also used blocks of them in the vast office. 

 I started to project film onto them - 

and onto electrical units, wires, pipes and piles of construction materials.

The images projected were stills and film of things seen and found in and around Craig y Cilau National Nature Reserve, near my studio in the Black Mountains: 

Fire 

Bone


An elastrated lamb scrotum



But they were mainly film of rivers, brooks, streams and gullies in spate during time of flood.

Images of natural energy - dangerous, carrying everything away - transferred to a location reliant on orderly, managed systems to keep functioning.




Monday, 23 May 2016

Cats Eyes


In taking my work once again from the Black Mountains to the vast art spaces of UnDegUn in Wrexham, I started with the idea of doing something with cats eyes. 

Over the years I've been gleaning the lenses that get flipped out of their casing to the sides of the mountain road over Llangattock escarpment, 


and experimenting with filming onto them


or putting them in strange contexts as a way of thinking about themes such as value, displacement, lost connections and colliding human and natural systems.

















Thanks to the Powys County Council Road Maintenance team I was able to supplement my gleanings of the individual glass eyes, with complete obsolete rubber-cased units of cats eyes to build a structure on which to project films.

















One film was of the massive dualing of the Heads of the Valleys road - over on the other side of the escarpment. 




The other was of the multiple spaces at Undegun



The cats eyes represent for me something of the process of navigating two very different localities, rural and urban - and the terrain between them. They call to mind the mapping of routes, finding one's way, the establishment of orderly routines for progressing through space, but they also seem evocative of the endless night-spaces which surround the narrow corridors they illuminate.


















They are also suggestive, to me, of the fragility of established demarcations, the constant process of disintegration and renewal, dislocation and reorientation, involved in our sense of the shape of a space and the directions available to us within and through it.

I had elements of the work in mind before setting it up in UnDegUn, but didn't know what I would do with them before setting it up in the dark space called the VOID. 

























As the lights play over them, these grubby, displaced objects seem transformed into a glittering night-time city scape. I was surprised by the way the cats eyes seemed to stare back at the viewer in an almost yearning manner. 








They made me think about reflection too, in the way they seemed to both accept the light from the projection passively and to hurl it back in new forms, both receiving the image and transforming it. 

These films were for Nonarchy, a group show of 9 artists. More information about the show can be seen at Arts Alive Wales.
 I learnt a great deal about what works best in the projections, and hope to build a larger structure in another space soon.