Thursday, 5 March 2020

From the Dark




Leading up to November 2019 I was preparing work for UndertheCounterCulture (UTCC) with tactileBOSCH. Their call out asked artists to submit work that 'explores and celebrates all aspects of night culture and the counter cultural and non-normative activities that it inspires', to 'shine a light on the value of grass roots night spaces of our urban landscape and their ability to create... platforms for inclusion, connection and presence in a world of increasing hostility and disconnect'.

As a rurally based artist I wondered what my equivalent to this would be...

A repeating theme in my work is exploration of rural/urban connections and disconnections and how economic and psychological processes both flow and create tensions between the two. Mynydd Llangattock caves have been a workplace for me for a decade, in part as a locus of exploration of mythic forces (Orpheus Project) and disruption to contact and communication (GPS Signal Lost). Going under the rural landscape for UTCC I wanted, in company with artists, poets and performers, to try to tap into the kind of primal human energies that still drive people to seek out the Dionysian counter-cultural landscapes of the city, and bring a different perspective to them. 
I began with developing video and projection to create a temporary night-club atmosphere underground - a space for something to happen - using clips I had taken aboveground and underground. Dazzling lights of night time driving along road systems that link the Black Mountains with urban centres: the flash of a headtorch picking out elements of the tight confined passages of the locked cave of Agen Allwedd. In the studio I projected the video onto banks of cats’ eyes, and re-video'd this to add layers to what I would use down the cave.
Brake lights, warning signs corresponded with disco lights but also referenced sun, moon, stars, which seemed to fit well with the time of year - moving to winter solstice and dying of the light - and also to a time of environmental and political threat. To amplify themes of connection / disconnection I added images of death I'd observed in the land around the caves.
Invitations went out to others to be part of the project. This included regular Ghost Jam participants, but the core group was formed with artist Tessa Waite and poet Lyndon Davies. Lyndon created a soundpiece, including reading of his translation of Dans le Nuit by Robert Desnos, which became a central text for us. 
Dans la nuit il y a naturellement les sept merveilles                                                                   du monde et la grandeur et le tragique et le charme

Tessa created costume, sculptural elements and performance. I projected onto Tessa as she moved in and responded to the cave: she was bathed in images but wasn't able to see what they were. Her body, the objects and lights she used broke into the sequences, making a new work.
The environment of the cave and tunnels too, brought about accidental effects to create something neither of us could have conceived.
For the final film I cropped 3 hours of material to make a 30 minute sequence, selecting and slowing the speed to emphasise the parts I found most exciting and create an dream-like quality. Apart from this only one minute or so at beginning and end was layered in the editing.
  
Lyndon, Tessa and I created an environment at tactileBOSCH, in which live performance took place. These brought another level of disruption, destroying one visual experience but also creating something unexpected. 

1 November: tactileBOSCH with me, Tessa, Lyndon, Scott Thurston, Anthony Mellors, John Goodby,Wanda O’Connor, Steven Hitchins, Tilla Brading, Rhys Trimble, Nia Davies.
For a video of the event click here. Sound compilation Steven Hitchins.
6 November: tactileBOSCH with me, Lyndon and Allen Fisher.
21 February 2020: The MUSE, Brecon, with me, Tessa, Lyndon, John Goodby and Graham Hartill. A new environment, programme and audience brought out different elements in the work.
Thanks to Christopher Twig for contributing the following Gary Snyder reference:
Performance is currency in the deep world’s gift economy.  The ‘deep world’ is of course the thousand-million-year old world of rock, soil, water, air, and all living beings, all acting through their roles.  ‘Currency’ is what you pay your debt with. We all receive, every day, the gifts of the Deep World, from the air we breathe to the food we eat.  How do we repay that gift?  Performance. A song for your supper…  
The human contribution to the planetary ecology might be our entertaining eccentricity, our skills as musicians and performers, our awe-inspiring dignity as ritualists and solemn ceremonialists — because that is what seems to delight the watching wild world…  
Performance is art in motion; in the moment; both enactment and embodiment. This is exactly what nature herself is…’   

Thanks to Ursula Frank for her contributions in the cave.

Monday, 2 March 2020

Canalworks



Over the years I've been recording episodes of major repair and renovation on the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, including relining of the Llangattock stretch during the winter of 2016/17. 
The work involved dredging, pumping, relining in clay and concrete and sinking in massive polypropylene pipes, activities which can sometimes totally transform the appearance and - perhaps temporarily - the entire ecology of a particular stretch of waterway.
The process of stripping the canal back brings old structures to light, as well as throwing up all manner of artefacts from an earlier era, such as rusty tools and bits of machinery, clay pipes and pottery sherds, as well as more contemporary objects: a mobile phone: a Sabatier knife. These objects often have strong sculptural characteristics and even a ritualistic quality. They seem to breathe history and are powerfully redolent of the people who have lived and worked along the waterways for centuries.
A canal, of course, is mainly about water, and these cycles of rest and upheaval reveal the element in a wealth of different aspects, qualities and behaviours, in differing contexts and subject to differing forms of action and use. There are phases when the canal seems almost natural, an object of timeless bucolic beauty, but in fact it requires almost constant upkeep. 
Canalworks drew on all aspects of my art practice: video, drawing, painting, sculptural elements from found objects. It resulted in several bodies of work which explore both natural processes and human activity over time:
Drawing:- Canalworks Drawings and Theatre 
Video:-     Pumping, Lining, Cement Pouring
Projection and performance:- Canalworks Ghost Jam Canalchemy

Thanks to Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal and Colin Griffiths CPCCivils, Civil Engineering Contractors who gave access permissions and support. 

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 videos 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.