Friday, 8 October 2021

Materials from the Garden (2)

 


The previous post describes how Materials from the Garden came about so this post will show more of the installation and related events. Other images and info can be seen @pennyhallas

Myriorama: series of 13 drawings 218x152 cms and 218x126cms. 
Crayon, charcoal and black chalk on paper.

FORCE video: projection onto water tank & myriorama 
(extract)

FloodBox video: projection onto water tank & myriorama
dahlia addition (extract)


Usk flood pumping video projected onto myriorama with 
FORCE video projected onto water tank (extract)

Lyndon Davies Saxophone performance, amongst video 
projection & decayed buckets from Black Mountains
 waste tips (extract). 
For full performance see  https://youtu.be/UlDeFHXATiM

Me - experimenting with buckets and video projection

The following are stills of performance, with Lyn Davies and Allen Fisher. 







To see Allen Fisher's artworks and performance: - https://allenfisher.co.uk/events-2017/ 




Materials from the Garden (1)

 

During lockdown two locations became a strong focus for me: my studio and my allotment. Their functions became intermingled, art-work and work-on-the-land becoming part of the same creative process. I started to experiment with video and projection in both locations. 


The work gradually came to channel for me something of the emotional complexity of my feelings about the pandemic and the threat of environmental catastrophe. Alongside the emotional uplift of natural surroundings, the satisfaction of growing vegetables and feeling connected to a community despite isolation, I experienced a growing awareness of the tension between the powerful, sometimes destructive energies of nature - their violence exacerbated by human action over the centuries - and our growing awareness of the need to engage with those forces in cooperative and restorative ways before it's too late.


At the centre of it all is water. The allotments are close to the river Usk which now floods on a regular basis, but nevertheless, constant labour is needed to ensure the plot is watered enough to produce food. Drought and flood, part of the ancient rhythm, wrestled with through the ages by the water-carriers and the dyke builders, a rhythm now accelerating and intensifying everywhere around the globe. Such problems can only be tackled on a communal scale, and the allotment ideal is a deeply communal one. The water container is part of our local allotment's solar-powered water supply - an ecologically balanced system of containment and distribution which requires a cooperative approach to function effectively. Amongst the live sounds heard in the projected videos are chanted words in different languages for 'water', 'flood' and 'to water'. Thanks to poet Lyndon Davies for the addition of this spoken element. 

The full versions of these videos can be seen at 

An exciting opportunity to develop this work came with an invitation from tactileBOSCH to take over their Cardiff city centre gallery during September. Collaborative approaches are integral to my work, and Arts Council Wales and National Lottery's programme Create allowed me to develop a new myriorama series, drawing on natural and constructed elements on the allotments (seen here being developed and installed in tactileBOSCH). 


Funding also allowed me to invite multiple voices/participants to go with the multiple narratives offered by the myriorama. I was delighted that artist/poet/performer Allen Fisher agreed to join me in parallel explorations with installation and performance: poet Lyndon Davies contributed poetry and soundscapes: Beth Greenhalgh for tactileBOSCH brought curatorial perspectives and expertise: workshop participants shared experiences of how the natural world helped emotional well being during lockdown and created a powerful temporary addition to my own installation. 

this photo courtesy Beth Greenhalgh

The members of Llangattock Allotments (LACAS) provided the inspiration for my work and generous support throughout, most particularly the loan of one of our water tanks.


Together we look to the garden, the allotment and the wider landscape for ways of thinking about our own place and the place of others in a world leaning towards disaster. Discomfort and anxiety are a part of it, but so are glimpses of paradise. See the next post for more about Materials in the Garden.



Connectives


Whilst the four Aftermath drawings made it out of the country to be shown in Finland (see previous post), Covid 19 and lockdown prevented planned artist visits and exchanges taking place. Thanks to Arts Council Wales Stabilisation Funds, I was able to extend the opportunity by making companion pieces to the Aftermath series and connecting with Marja Bonada, (artist and co-curator of the exhibition). Creative digital collaboration, exploration of the exhibition themes and sharing of mutual responses informed our respective artworks and practices. See the a-n blog for an account of our exchanges. 

I started by developing a new series of 12 drawings, keeping the 7'x2'6" format of Aftermath and the free flowing exchange between concrete and imagined forms. As a child, I was given an 1824 Clark's Myriorama: 16 interchangeable paintings of picturesque landscape that can be rearranged to create a near-endless variety of cohesive scenes. 


Myrioramas became a popular entertainment and means of learning, just as tourism was developing and as ideas of picturesque and sublime were being challenged by profound changes due to industrial and agricultural revolution. The Myriorama still felt relevant to me as a way of re-interpreting landscape and its social context, bringing sites and objects into new relationship and offering new perspectives. The interchangeability of panels disrupts linear expectations and allows varying narratives of sense of place, extending conversations about beauty, value, risk, damage and loss, unexpected impacts of human activity, resilience and reparation. 


Working in partnership brings a difference in energy, creating cross-currents and disturbance: digital exchanges with Marja opened up new ideas and explorations. I found myself experimenting with decayed buckets and a boiler found on spoil tips in the Black Mountains, which seemed to fit well with the Finland exhibition themes of of moderation, co-operation and equality, especially given that water - access and quality - is another looming global crisis. It also links in to some of my previous work about flood - and the hope that sustainable water management, like community based micro-hydro schemes, could be one of the answers to the challenge of what happens after capitalism. 



During a gap in their exhibitions programme Oriel Davies Gallery, Newtown, Wales, let us use their gallery spaces for 3 days in October 2020, to experiment and develop work together. It was an amazing opportunity to be playful as well as ambitious, and to find out how we - and our works - would relate in a shared space. The principles of co-operation, moderation and equality were tested in practice, and were embodied in the generous welcome and support given by Oriel Davies. Only two panels of the Myriorama could be seen at any one time in my studio, so at last I was able to hang my 12 Connectives and to rework them in relation to each other, then experiment with the sculptural elements of the found objects in relation to the drawings. Lastly I played with adding projection of roiling water from the locality of the historic Clydach ironworks contrasted with sequences of produce grown on our local allotments.




Marja and I found we'd both been strongly influenced through our lives by mythology and that it seeps through our work like a refrain - constant but constantly changing. We saw resonances and differences between our works: earth/air, light/dark, cacophony/harmony, memory/forgetting, risk/playfulness: maybe even beauty and terror. Although not explicitly about Covid 19, our project could not help being heavily influenced and affected by it. Along with most other people, we were never sure whether our plans could go ahead, and needed to be extra flexible and responsive to changing situations. We have felt more vulnerable in so many ways and find the principles of co-operation, moderation and equality more important and relevant than ever for us, the art world, society and the environment. 


For Marja’s work see @marjabonada and our blog.


Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Aftermath


In December 2019 I was invited to be part of an annual exhibition and festival of art in Hämeenlinna, Finland. Of course I was delighted at the opportunity to connect with international artists. The location in a former shopping centre felt a really good fit with my recent activities here in Wales, for example in PantechniconBrunel House and Nonarchy.
The theme relating to what a post-capitalist world might be like was a perfect opportunity to further develop ideas about value, as outlined in the Pantechnicon post. The Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales, where I live and work, is typically seen as a site of natural beauty. Yet it is riddled with the scars of industrial activity from the earliest days of the industrial revolution to current engineering projects seen as essential to the local economy. One aspect of my practice consists in walking the landscape and watching out for the cast-offs and remnants of such activity, many of which, having passed through the transformations of time and chemistry, have acquired, for me, a certain aura, almost akin to ritual objects. Once purely utile, they have acquired a poetic force and different kind of value. 
It’s now clear that the manipulation of desire, through the endless proliferation and marketing of consumer goods has global effects whose damage is out of all proportion to the apparent innocence of the products and their commercial theatres of display. The re-contextualised objects in these drawings, have the virtue of owning up not only to their own damaged nature and the damaging nature of the economic forces which originally brought them into being, but also of pointing forward into the looming catastrophe. They are the aftermath which points to the coming aftermath.
The Covid outbreak brought new layers of understanding as to the depth of our reliance on capitalism and commercialism, highlighting the conflict we experience between necessity, desire and the fear of the ecological and human costs of such reliance.
Sadly going to Finland to meet and share with other artists in Finland was impossible due to lock down but it will be possible to link in digitally via Kohtuus - Yhteys - Tasa-arvo and GalleriaKONE





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