AnAn Independent Perspective Independent Perspective onon the theArts Arts Winter 2014 Issue 2 £4.95
Shani Rhys James: Dissecting memory
Sir Peter Blake: An enduring passion
Katerina Athanasopoulou: Animating migration
Helmut Lemke: The TA BA BAA Manifesto
Hinterland/Y Gwyll: Richard Harrington & Ed Thomas
Culture Crush: Maleonn, Sue Williams, Tim Davies & Miao Xiaochun in a China special
Frieze & Sluice: Two London art fairs, miles apart
The Elvies – it’s a King thing | Past conditional – the future’s behind us
Editor: Emma Geliot Deputy Editor: Ric Bower Art Director: Russell Britton Sales & Comms: Charlie Bram Web Development: Joel Hughes Web Management: Richard Bowers Chief Sub Editor: Leslie Herman Sub Editor: David Sinden Editorial Assistant: Aneira Davies Address: 15th Floor, 2 Fitzalan Road, Cardiff, CF24 0EB t:+44(0)2920 329084 www.ccqmagazine.com Distribution: CoMag Specialist, 01895 433600 Central Books, 0845 4589911 Welsh Books Council, Contacts: Editor: email@example.com Deputy Editor: firstname.lastname@example.org General Enquiries: email@example.com Advertising: firstname.lastname@example.org Subscriptions: email@example.com Printed by: Symposium Print Ltd. 27g-27h Vale Business Park, Llandow CF71 7FP www.symposiumprint.co.uk Join Us On-Line For more news, features, reviews, previews, comprehensive listings and lots, lots more join us at ccqmagazine.com
Shani RhysJames by Andrea Liggins Legals: As an arts magazine we take the intellectual property rights of our contributors very seriously. All copyright in this issue belongs to the authors or originators of the material and may not be reproduced without the written consent of the author. Unless otherwise stated, all material has been produced by or for CCQ Magazine. We take great care to ensure that information within the magazine is accurate and fair, but opinions stated within this issue are those of the author and not necessarily of CCQ Magazine or the publishers, Culture Colony Quarterly Magazine Ltd. If you find something that is inaccurate or misleading please let us know, and we will attempt to remedy any errors on our part at the earliest opportunity, either in print or on-line. Culture Colony Quarterly (CCQ) Magazine is published by Culture Colony Quarterly Magazine Ltd, a company limited by guarantee in England and Wales. Company no: 08634632
On The Cover: Katerina Athanasopoulou by Ric Bower Corrections: Issue 1, p11: In the news item The Woollen Line we omitted to credit Pip Woolf for her photograph and Mark Fisher of Black Mountain Gliding Club, for the aerial photograph apologies to both. Issue 1, p70: In the preview piece for Letâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s See What Happens... the credit for Image 01 should read: Chase (Xiamen), Tim Davies and Image 03 should read: Heavenly Creatures, Paul Emmanuel. Apologies to both artists and to Owen Griffiths who was erroneously credited on Image 01.
Thanks to all of the contributors, individuals and organisations who worked with CCQ for this issue and thank you to University of Wales Trinity St David for their support.
For more news join us at www.ccqmagazine.com â&#x20AC;&#x201D; 3
Editor’s Letter It’s winter and, even if you’re one of our readers from climes sunnier than here, where it’s chilly and damp outside CCQ headquarters, there’s something about the turn of the year that prompts thoughts of nostalgia and death. So in this issue we look at how the past connects to the future in Looking Backwards to Move Forwards, while Shani Rhys James tells us how she dissects memory in her powerful paintings. Death is never far away in the new crime drama Hinterland/Y Gwyll. We talked to its co-curator Ed Thomas and star Richard Harrington, who braved a decidedly murky night in Cardiff Bay for our photoshoot for A Rural Idol. We also present two very different takes on death from emerging photographers Andrew Morris and Grainne Connolly. He may be dead but The King lives on through the hundreds of tribute acts who flock to the seaside town of
Porthcawl each year for the annual International Elvis Festival. Rudi O’Neill and Dan Wood tell it like it is in A Little More Action. But that’s enough about death and nostalgia. This is not a gloomy issue by any means. We’ve got resident artist Laura Sorvala’s wonderful visualisations of a night spent exploring democracy through communal sandwich making; a virtual trip to China in our special feature; the brain-fizzing exhilaration of the Experimentica festival; Cardiff throbbing to the international sounds of Womex; the CCQ day trip to Frieze London and Sluice art fairs, along with lots of visits to theatres and galleries for our reviews section. We’re delighted to bring on some new voices for this issue: writers, photographers and, in a new experiment, illustrators from Cardiff School of Art & Design – to respond to Experimentica and The Curio Cabinet – and we’re mighty pleased to bring you artist James Green’s gorgeous collages and paintings and David Orpravo’s poems. I’d personally like to thank all of our contributors, partners, distributors, advertisers, stockists and all of our readers and subscribers who have said such nice things about Issue 1, but most of all, thanks to the wonderful CCQ team, who’ve
worked their socks off and missed valuable beauty sleep to get this issue together. Emma Geliot firstname.lastname@example.org Join us on line for news, previews, listings, reviews and new features and visit our partner site, Culture Colony, to see films of many of the exhibitions, performances and events featured in this issue. www.ccqmagazine.com www.culturecolony.com Image: Untitled from the series POKE ME!, mixed media on canvas, 18” x 18”, Sue Williams photography, Roy Campbell-Moore
Contributors Andrea Liggins Artist/photographer/educator Andrea often works with a plastic camera to create ethereally beautiful images, which playfully disrupt perceptions of our environment. We sent her to meet painter Shani Rhys James and a connection was made. Out of that meeting came the image featured on P25.
Helen Warburton Helen is a young photographer, who is currently exhibitions officer for Ffotogallery’s Turner House Gallery in Penarth. She was writing in secret until we came across a review she’d written on Gareth Phillips’ exhibition Y Tir Newydd/The New Land for the glorious, but now defunct Third Floor Gallery. We are very happy to bring her review out into the light on P84. www.helenwarburton.com
Steffan Jones-Hughes Artist Steffan Jones-Hughes is an artist and consummate blogger about the arts. He set up the Regional Print Centre in Wrexham in 2002 and is now director of Oriel Wrecsam Gallery and Arts Manager at Wrexham County Borough Council. Over the years he worked with many galleries including Tate, Mostyn, Oriel Davies, Walker Art Gallery and The Whitworth and he has work in international public and private collections. Steffan’s review of The Bluecoat Gallery’s touring exhibition, 3AM: Wonder, Paranoia and the Restless Night is on P90. www.steffanjoneshughes.wordpress.com
Dan Wood Dan is a self-taught documentary photographer from Bridgend, who uses film rather than digital photography to capture the
4 — Issue 02
subject matter that he finds on his extensive travels. “I’m always seeking to produce images that are expressive, sympathetic and thought-provoking”, he says. He came to photography through his interest in skateboarding and the culture that surrounds it. Dan has exhibited his work nationally and internationally, with three solo shows under his belt, and has featured in numerous publications. We feature Dan’s wonderfully evocative photographs of the Porthcawl Elvis Festival on P33-35. www.danwoodphoto.com
Rudi O’Neil Rudi started his career as a graphic designer, moved into advertising and then discovered that it was words he loved more than pictures. Too late he discovered that copywriting wasn’t as creative as he’d first thought and, he says sulked my way through various copywriting/content creation/content editor/hack jobs”, before going back to his design roots to become a web designer, but has continued to write fiction with the odd stab at journalism. Rudi’s words accompany Dan Wood’s photographs as they uncover the less-thanglamorous world of the Elvis tribute act on P32.
Phil Owen Phil is a musician and writer based in Bristol, where he works as Research Assistant for Arnolfini. With Megan Wakefield he co-founded the cross-disciplinary literary salon Tertulia. Phil also helps run the art discussion group Tooth and Clawr at Chapter. His review Clare Thornton’s exhibition, The Dandy & The Mute, at Oriel Myrddin is on P88. www.tertuliablog.wordpress.com
Iwan Bala Iwan is a much-respected artist has written widely about contemporary art in Wales and is an arch-collaborator with other artists, poets and academics. His work is frequently exhibited and he is currently a lecturer at The University of Wales Trinity St David in Carmarthen. Iwan writes about a research visit to Qatar in our feature on the relationship between our heritage and contemporary practice on P10. www.iwanbala.com
James Green Rhondda-bred artist James is currently teaching painting at Cardiff School of Art & Design, where he studied for his BA in fine Art before going on to The Royal College of Art. He is currently finishing a PhD and exhibiting around the world. You can see James’ work on P95 & 96. www.jg-gallery.co.uk
Chris Brown Artist, musician and co-director of the Cardiff artist-led gallery g39, Chris is also the former magazine co-ordinator for a-n The Artists’ Information Company. g39 supports emerging and underrepresented artists through their programmes of exhibitions, professional development and events, including the 2013 seminar on independent art schools. Chris interviewed Helmut Lemke, one of the prime instigators of the Independent Art School movement, on P54. www.g39.org
Contents Winter 2014 Features 8 – 11
Reviews 36 -55
How does the past feed the future? We look at the intersection between heritage in and contemporary practice in Looking Backwards to Move Forwards. Artist Iwan Bala finds out how Qatar is connecting with its past and composer John Rae reanimates historical buildings.
In our China special feature we interview Maelonn and Miao Xiaochun; Tim Davies and Sue Williams talk about their China experiences and we look back at the Wales/China collaboration for the Glynn Vivian’s ambitious multivenue exhibition, Let’s See What Happens...
12 – 15
Britain’s favourite pop artist Sir Peter Blake on a three decade obsession with Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood
Arts Education: Independent Art School pioneer, Helmut Lemke shares his TA BA BAA manifesto, and three recent graduates discuss protected time as artists in residence.
16 – 21 It’s been a long and complicated journey from conception to international distribution for new crime drama Hinterland/Y Gwyll. Its co-creator and star take us behind the scenes.
64 – 67
84 - 85 Y Tir Newydd/The New Land. Gareth Phillips’s unfamiliar take on the Welsh landscape at Third Floor Gallery.
86 Pridd Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru’s dark production.
87 Chelsea Hotel: Earthfall weaves together the stories of some 20th century icons
88 - 89
Two London art fairs with very different ambitions, Frieze London and Sluice are separated by more than just geography
The Dandy & The Mute. Clare Thornton’s exhibition at Oriel Myrddin P90- 91
68 – 69
Our cover girl, artist/film maker Katerina Athanasopoulou talks about migration and change and her Lumen Prize-winning film Apodemy.
Laura Sorvala illustrates a night of celebrating democracy through communal sandwich-making.
3AM: Paranoia and the Restless Night: Bluecoat Gallery’s touring exhibition.
28 – 31 Our profile of painter Shani Rhys James, an artist dissecting memory.
Photographers Grainne Connolly and Andrew Morris with two very different projects about death.
32 – 35
78 - 79
Rudi O’Neill and Dan Wood give us a flavour of all things King at the annual International Elvis Festival in Porthcawl.
Womex: Wales hosted the international music festival Womex for the first time....
70 - 77
92 - 93 Hide and The Curio Cabinet. Two dance pieces from choreographer Deborah Light.
80 - 83 Welaf Wers, Tawaf Wedi and Strawberry Necklace. Two highlights from Chapter’s Experimentica 2013 – Born Under a Bad Sign.
95- 98 And finally, poetry from David Orprava, art from James Green and more sandwich filling from Laura Sorvala. 5
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8 â&#x20AC;&#x201D; Issue 02
An Independent Perspective on the Arts
Looking Backwards to Move Forwards Artists of all disciplines have mined the past for source material. Some artists’ responses to heritage feature over the next few pages, but, what if the past is unknown or redacted? What if it can only be imagined or reinvented? Emma Geliot considers the past as a building block for the future.
As Baroness Kay Andrews spoke with great passion about the need for us to connect with our past to imagine our futures, at the Arts Council of Wales’ 2013 conference, my phone began to vibrate with some alarming tweets. Newport Council had just sent in the bulldozers to demolish the Chartist Mural by Kenneth Budd, three days before a planned demonstration to save it for posterity. Now, it’s quite possible that the mural posed a potential threat to health and safety, as argued by the council, and the demolition was part of a wider plan for regeneration and renewal in the city. It is also possible that, in the great scheme of things, the mural from the late 1970s was a little out of step with contemporary practice. However, what’s important here was the strong feeling of connection that Newport’s citizens felt with what that mural had come to symbolise about the subject matter – the Chartist uprising that began a movement for universal [male] suffrage – in a place that has always been proud of its political heritage.
As the economy struggles and remedial steps are taken through regeneration programmes, reminders of the past can often be swept away, leaving future generations to wonder why they are where they are. It’s not hard to imagine a generation of children who don’t know where coal or steel comes from, nor understand why the tide appears to have gone out in once populous and thriving communities. Meanwhile, it now seems that Cynon Valley Museum & Art Gallery (CVM&AG) is also under threat, as Rhondda Cynon Taf Council seeks to make more savings, and a petition has gone live as we go to print. CVM&AG is an important venue because, apart from being a great supporter of contemporary artists in Wales, it creates a link between the past and the present through the work of the museum, helping local schools and residents to access their collective histories. And, if you don’t know where you’re coming from, it’s hard to plan a journey; to re-route your roots. As Iwan Bala discovered on his recent trip to the state of Qatar, a tiny nation needs a back story to go with a future vision. It’s also true that the ways that artists respond to the past, its artefacts and buildings – from big castles to tiny objects – can enable us to look backwards, with contemporary eyes and, in so doing so, make a shift forward. For Material Matters at Gwynedd Museum & Art Gallery in Bangor, artist/curator Helen Jones invited five other artists (Carwyn Evans, Sian Green, Iestyn Gruffudd, David Hastie and Wanda Zyborska) to join her in responding to the museum’s collection. From tiny domestic objects to the bridges that link Gwynedd to the Isle of Anglesey; letters and memories of ship
wrecks, to the family display of the Welsh dresser; these artefacts and archival objects created a new jumping off point for the artists in sculpture, photography and installation. Composer John Rea has similarly used a museum – St Fagan’s Museum of Welsh Life – to find a contemporary response to the sounds and voices of the past that echo through historic buildings and the Blinc Festival in Conwy uses the very walls of the castle to project new moving images, as laser beams sweep the sky. Meanwhile, Earthfall’s Chelsea Hotel responded to the more recent past with a production that tapped into memories of the iconic New York building, home to some of the great artistic figures of the 20th Century (see review on p87). One of the Chelsea Hotel’s most famous residents was Dylan Thomas, of course, who started his own un-gentle journey into the good night after collapsing there in 1953. In the centenary year of his birth, artists of all disciplines are responding to Thomas’s legacy, but Sir Peter Blake has been using Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood for over three decades to prompt the drawings and collages currently at National Museum Wales, Cardiff. So, while eradicating a painful past might offer a tabula rasa to local authorities wanting to imagine new futures, and cutting arts provision offers a short terms financial solution, these approaches can be like chiseling out the foundations of a future home before the roof has been capped. Let’s try and hang on to those cornerstones for future building projects.—CCQ Image opposite: Eicon – Iwan Bala 2005 Mixed media on Indian khadi Paper Collection National Museum and Gallery, Cardiff Image above: Simon Broughton
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This is a place that is going to be The State of Qatar has a big financial stake in the UK, but little in the way of indigenous art. Now there’s a new drive to take culture on board. Artist Iwan Bala visited a country in a state of becoming.
We landed in Doha late at night and were instantly bathed in the humid heat of this Gulf state, where the temperature at night is not much lower than it is at midday. I arrived into this heat last September, with a colleague and assorted business people, as part of a Welsh Government trade mission and research-funded by the University where I teach. On the way to the elegant and extravagant Hyatt Hotel, we drove past an amazing skyline of high-rise structures, lit up in a profusion of coloured lights. Imagine an architect’s playground, an exhibition of every-conceivabledesign-idea-made-concrete. Construction workers were hard at it around the clock, adding
Resurrecting The Past Composer John Rea’s soundscapes for the National History Museum at St Fagans are more than just an interpretation of the past. Richard Huw Morgan puts his finger on what makes Atgyfodi so exciting
Ever since I was a child, St Fagans Museum (under whatever name it’s been operating– currently St Fagans National History Museum) has fascinated me. A home for buildings lovingly restored, yet essentially ripped from their original places and people and frozen in time; buildings populated with wandering visitors and uniformed custodians, but essentially mute. Sometimes, I wonder if I get out too much, drinking in more than my fair share of the cultural nectar on offer in Cardiff (and beyond). Had I watched more TV, I’d probably be more familiar with the output of the composer John Rea. I know he composed the soundtracks for Karl Francis’s feature film One of the Hollywood Ten and the BBC’s Young Dracula, and, perhaps 10 — Issue 02
more and more to the infrastructure of this futuristic city which is stretched along the shore of a largely barren peninsula that protrudes into the Arabian Gulf. Nothing remains of old Doha, but there are newly-built areas in the city that are based on traditional architecture. Further out, between the Crescent’s sky-high buildings and the also newly-constructed Pearl Lagoon, is the Katara Culture Village. Here, there is a series of buildings emulating Arab village architecture, housing various Arts and Culture organisations, a vast open-air amphitheatre, several galleries, restaurants and a mosque. Motorised buggies take visitors around, which is welcomed because, even in September, the heat makes walking a trial. Qatar exports liquefied gas (LNG) to the UK, carried by tanker ships that dock in Milford Haven, from where the gas is piped inland through South Wales. A single tanker load can satisfy the energy needs of London for a week. In August 2013, Qatar-based artist Ben Barbour travelled on one of these tankers on its eighteen-day voyage from Qatar to Wales, recording the journey as he went. The link I made with Ben in West Wales led me to visit to see if we could further develop artistic and cultural links between Wales and Qatar.
Our trade mission sought to encourage greater exchange with this fascinating and incredibly wealthy nation, whose main resources are gas and oil. Qatar’s wealth has been invested in property and it now owns the Olympic Village; the Shard; Harrods; the world’s most expensive block of apartments – No 1 Hyde Park; as well as huge swathes of Canary Wharf; and, with its major shares in many British companies, the UK is becoming worryingly dependent on this small Gulf nation. The population of Qatar has grown to 1.3 million: 300,000 Qataris, with the rest being migrant workers, many of them British. Aware that the natural resources that have funded this development are finite – they may last forty years, maybe less – Qatar is seeking to re-invent itself as a cultural destination. The Football World Cup in 2020 is only one part of this strategy. Art plays a crucial role in defining cultural identity, and especially so, when the leap into the future is happening at such rapid pace, as it has across the Arab world. Defining Qatar through history, however, is not easy, as there are very few artefacts or buildings that signify the past. The work of archaeologist Andrew Peterson from Wales was instrumental in unearthing the only >>
significantly, The Coal House and its follow up, but I couldn’t hum any of them. I also know that a few years back he composed and performed the string orchestra and four turntables/sampler work Breakbeat for S4C. I couldn’t hum that one either, but on the basis of that idea, I invited him to be part of an experimental sound-art collective, Continuous Sound Labordy Swn Cont..... He couldn’t do it. I don’t know why. It doesn’t matter. That we have kept in touch does. Now, John, for all his successes – including two BAFTA awards – disarmingly dismisses the majority of his own work as ’commercial’, yet, in 2011, he had the nous to apply for an Arts Council Wales Creative Wales Award, and ACW had the good sense to understand the artistic potential in his proposal. If you’re not familiar with the Creative Wales scheme, it’s a serious research opportunity giving individual artists space and time to develop. It gives research and development for Walesbased artists the kind of weight afforded by industries seriously committed to developing game-changing outcomes, rather than the all-toofrequent couple of days or weeks available in the arts. It’s just a hunch that working on the music for The Coal House at least partly-inspired John’s
artistic proposal to explore the potential for activating the sound archive held by National Museums and Galleries of Wales at their St Fagans site. What John has attempted to do with Atgyfodi * is to breathe life back into five of the St Fagans restored buildings through the use of sensitivelyselected audio and visual archive materials. He set out with the idea of creating a live performance, and that may still happen, but what he has produced so far hints at the possibility of a more long-term artistic input into the museumgoing experience. As he says, he is not the first to attempt this kind of work, but he has succeeded in building a long-term relationship with the museum that has enabled the project to develop as it has. I hesitate to talk of a result, as the two presentations of Atgyfodi that I’ve seen were works in progress, but what I have seen is significant. John is not offering simple reanimations – the collage of sounds presented in the chapel speaks of the complexity of the religious history of Wales; the simple looped video of thatch work in the farm outbuilding speaks of repetitive labour, of archetypes rather than specifics, just as the buildings in their presentation to the public stand in for entire aspects of culture. Yet, the buildings do also hold specific histories >>
An Independent Perspective on the Arts
‘object’ found in Qatar that’s displayed in the museum and that’s a piece of Chinese porcelain. Sitting on a constructed promontory that juts out into the seas, with faceted exterior planes orchestrating brilliant sun and dark shadows, the key position of The Museum of Islamic Art by the Japanese architect I.M. Pei is significant. In an area called Education City, a school building converted by French architect JeanFrancois Bodin is now Mathaf: The Arab Museum of Modern Art. As well as being home to a large collection donated by Sheikh Hassan Al-Thani , curated exhibitions aim to uncover and display the way Arab artists from across the Middle East, along with those who worked in Europe or the US, have melded Islamic and Arab sensibilities with western Modernism to create a fusion, or syncretism of form. It seems that the women of the Royal Family lead on matters of culture and the arts. Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, the Emir’s wife, is chair of the Qatar Foundation, which funds cultural and educational initiatives. And in the words of the Emir’s daughter, Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa Bint Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, who chairs the Qatar Museums Authority: “With the opening of the Mathaf, we are making Qatar the
place to see, explore and discuss the creations of Arab artists of the modern era and of our own time”. Sheik Hassan gave sanctuary to artists from troubled states in the region. When he began buying Arab art twenty-five years ago, very little proper research had been carried out on the region’s artistic movements and there were almost no books. He is now building up a library that he wants to develop as a research centre for Arab art in the region. At a meeting with Khalid Al Sayed, editor-inchief of The Peninsula newspaper, I explained how Wales was uniquely placed to enter a dialogue with Qatar on issues of identity and the preservation of a threatened culture. I mentioned how the twin-headed Janus imagery in my work symbolised this need to look back at tradition and history, whilst also facing forward into the future. He agreed but, in an illuminating answer, suggested that Qataris were only looking back. Hard to believe after viewing the developments of skyscrapers, as yet, largely unoccupied; the four-lane highways; the planned metro system; and air-conditioned stadiums that are promised to be in place before the World Cup, he was talking about a state of mind which embraces
and these bleed through; the recorded voices of Kennixton farmhouse’s last residents remind us that these buildings were once more than symbols for a nation imagining itself and its history. It is a delicate balance, particularly in the age of the augmented reality experience world of museum curation, where technological solutions can become the big guns in the phony war with other entertainment attraction/distractions. What Atgyfodi demonstrates is that, in the hands of an artist with an understanding of the media industry, the tools and raw materials of that industry can be appropriately reconfigured to enhance the museum experience, rather than annex it as part of the entertainment industry. What John is doing looks simple and it’s easy to imagine that a less enlightened establishment than Amgueddfa Cymru might be tempted to capitalise on his research so far and simply add his work to the museum visitor’s experience. But, here is work in development and it is a rich seam to explore. John is well aware that there is no such thing as a finished article here; rather he foresees an ongoing artistic relationship with the archive that allows constant research and representation in subtly-changing combinations. Such a project may well need significant public and private funding but, at a time when the St
Fagans site is undergoing massive investment, building Atgyfodi into that process could be a real game-changer for the Welsh cultural economy and something that I think has genuine potential to add to dialogue between heritage and contemporary arts in Wales—CCQ * Atgyfodi can be loosely translated as resurrection, a rising again.
a reluctance to find anything of interest beyond traditional pastimes, horses and, maybe, falconry. Ironically, as I bought dates and honeyed nuts in the Souq Wadif, a bustling hub for locals and tourists in the centre of the old part of the city and the place where falcons are sold, the street vendor told me: “This is a place that is going to be.”—CCQ
www.johnreamusic.co.uk Image: Clogs, Huw Talfryn Walters
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Drawing the Dream: Llareggub Peter Blake, the UK’s greatest living pop artist, has spent nearly three decades lovingly creating his interpretation of Llareggub, the setting for Dylan Thomas’s play for voices, Under Milk Wood. The resulting 170 intimate works can now be seen at the National Museum, Cardiff. At the exhibition’s opening he talked to CCQ about drawing and the joy of appropriation. Words and portrait: Ric Bower. Ric Bower: Do you have a ritual that you observe whilst drawing? And if so, is it a process you engage with on a daily basis? Sir Peter Blake: I don’t engage in it every day, by any means, but over the years I’ve drawn constantly. We have a desk in our sitting room, so probably the television would be on and Chris would be watching, knitting or whatever, and we would be talking. I was once given a metal box for a full range of pencils, so I use that as my base station so to speak. There’s one row that goes from F through to 7H and there’s another that then goes from F to 8B, I work with the F to 7H range primarily, the 7H is like steel, it’s very, very hard. Ric Bower: Almost like engraving then…. PB: Yes, when you look at a drawing, it’s quite different from even the very best reproduction. There are dents and marks in the paper and it shines in places. It’s a physical object. RB: Utterly unreproducible? PB: It is, really. RB: If you had been drawing in a different environment, i.e. not with your feet up in front of the television, would it have changed the nature of this particular body of work? PB: Of course, a friend of mine phoned me once and said, “We’re going to book a life model each Monday,” and I thought, “I would like to do that.” 12 — Issue 02
So, for about a year, I met up [with them] and drew every Monday. The project ended up being called 1000 Life Drawings. We’d set up a few 30-second poses, then a few one-minute poses. Whatever I drew in that particular environment became part of that particular project. They were numbered from one to 1000 and on each of them was written precisely how long it took to complete. RB: I think it was David Hockney who said that it’s always the last drawing of the day that’s the keeper. PB: Hockney is the most brilliant line draughtsman. He’s the master of achieving a likeness with a pen. He does it better than anybody. Other artists, like Frank Auerbach for instance, draw inspirationally, but in a different way. There are, after all, so many different ways of drawing, but David is the master of that process, I think. RB: What did you think of the drawings he has done using the Camera Lucida? PB: He’s covered everything over the years. He now sends a drawing each morning to his friends on his iPad as a present. RB: Are you on his list? PB: I’m not on his list. I should get myself on it. RB: Appropriation – you were doing it long before the majority of artist’s were even considering it as a legitimate vehicle of expression. To what extent was it a conscious thing? How did you come to adopt it as a working process? PB: I once did a series called Appropriating Jack Pearson. He’s an American artist who uses letter forms. He discovered what I was doing and he told me that he, in turn, had been influenced by my work; so there’s this double appropriation thing going on, a kind of conversation between artists. My first series was called Appropriating Jack Pearson; the next was called Ripping off Jack Pearson; and then there was In Homage to Jack Pearson. When he heard I was doing this, he said “Oh boy, that really spooks me” and so, I called the next series Spooking Jack Pearson.
Appropriation, to answer your question, is always valid. All artists should appropriate. RB: If you were to go to art college now, how would you deal with it? Working figuratively in the fifties, I suppose you were working counterculturally to a certain extent. PB: I was so lucky. I didn’t know I was going to go to art school. I took an examination for a technical school and the art school was part of the technical school, and they just offered me a place. I was taught silver-smithing, metalwork, woodwork, architecture, anatomy, a whole range of things. I had an amazing education. Quite recently, I went to an art school in the North of England. Everyone was working on the computer, nobody was drawing. There was a group of old ladies doing an amateur class, they were the only ones painting. So times have changed, I guess. RB: In the case of Dylan Thomas the myth is very much intermingled with the man. Does this idea resonate with you? PB: There was one month where Dylan Thomas and I might have met. I started at the Royal College in October 1953 and he died, I think, in November. So we were probably in the same pubs for one month. I’m not sure we would have got on, but I wish he could have been here today, to see the work.—CCQ
“...so there’s this double appropriation thing going on, a kind of conversation between artists. ”
Sir Peter Blake’s Llareggub is at the National Museum, Cardiff to 14 March 2014 as part of the Dylan Thomas 100 Festival. Following spread, left hand image: titbits and topsyturvies bobs and buttontops, bags and bones, ash and rind and dandruff and nailparings, saliva and snowflakes and moulted feathers of dreams, the wrecks and sprats and shells and fishbones, whalejuice and moonshine …, Peter Blake Following spread, right hand image: She shakes her brass nightgown, Peter Blake
Features Llareggub—Peter Blake
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A Rural Idol As Hinterland/Y Gwyll hits the UK’s television screens, Emma Geliot talks to its star, Richard Harrington, and co-creator/executive producer, Ed Thomas, about the bilingual crime show’s journey. Portraits: Ric Bower
Turn on your TV and chances are there’ll be a number of detective stories or crime shows to choose from -- more choices than you can shake a blood-stained lead pipe at and plenty to keep those boys in the lab busy. There’s something about crime and punishment – a trail of clues, an uncovering of secrets that keeps us all switching on. The latest in the genre, Hinterland/YGwyll has a psychological complexity of storylines that surpasses the usual plot twists and switchback moments. As the story unfolds, and as ancient tragedies and misdeeds come to light, it becomes clear that the stones lifted by Detective Tom Mathias might have been better left unturned. And, as the protagonists’ stories serve to slowly illuminate Mathias’ character, the detective’s back story remains tantalising opaque. It’s easy to forget how long it takes to get a script commissioned and then to develop a TV series from its initial concept to its first broadcast. When Hinterland/Y Gwyll was first conceived, the UK had yet to get to grips with consuming programmes with subtitles. Wallender was just about the only one, and The Killing and Borgen were still in the pipeline. However, with a project as ambitious as this, it was clear that it was going to be beyond the commissioning pocket of S4C (the Welshlanguage broadcaster), so a deal was struck with the BBC to produce two versions, shot back to back in English and Welsh. Broadcasting in Wales has changed a lot since S4C began broadcasting in 1982, taking on the welsh language programming of BBC Wales, with some English language content from Channel 4.
“...Every grown-up channel needs its own detective series”
Grooming: Tom Clulee Photographic assistants: Heather Birnie and Jennifer Ashfield Over coat: bespoke by Hawkes Gentleman’s Atire Film: Kodak Portra 400
16 — Issue 02
Now it’s output is entirely through the medium of welsh and BBC Wales is virtually entirely English, which has created a kind of false vision of Wales. So while there are actually three versions of Hinterland/Y Gwyll – an all-Welsh version for S4C, a hybrid of both languages for BBC Wales; an English-only version for BBC4 and the international market – the BBC Wales version is probably the most authentic, with Tom Mathias speaking English and the supporting characters speaking Welsh to each other (subtitled), switching to English when Mathias is about. This fact of life in Wales -- with Welsh-speaking communities using their mother tongue amongst themselves and then defaulting to English to accommodate non-Welsh speakers – defines Mathias’ status as ‘other’, as the incomer or, as befits any crime drama worth its salt, the outsider. The premise was simple, as Ed Thomas, who co-created the project, co-wrote two episodes, directed the last episode, and is the programme’s executive producer, explains: “We knew that if we were going to sell anything internationally we needed a strong genre, and there’s nothing stronger than crime. We went to S4C about three and half years ago and said, “Every grown-up channel needs its own detective series. We’d like to make one; this is the idea, and they said, ‘That’s great’.” Thomas explains the pitch: “We set out to do something that would feel really authentic”. It was important to have a really Welsh sense of place, with stories emanating from a specific location but resonating internationally; local to global. Thomas and co-creator Ed Talfan had no idea how it would be received and weren’t big crime buffs: “We didn’t do years and years of research and hadn’t written lots of crime drama. But it’s a kind of formula which is full of clichés and full of >>
Features Hinterland/Y Gywll
tropes, like the troubled policeman. It’s been bent and used and moulded into so many forms over the years that really you’re playing with something which is a well-known shape. It’s what you do with those shapes and those clichés and tropes to bring a freshness to it.” And Thomas says they were keen to avoid the usual fetishisation of police procedure, so Hinterland/Y Gwyll is as much about human nature and characterisation as it is about crime solving. The available budget ruled out a metropolitan setting but there was a plan: “We took everyone up to Aberystwyth for six months. The idea was that the stories would emanate from that place and be authentic to that place. Then Mathias comes into the place and we see it through his eyes.” Thomas sees the mid-Wales landscape as key to the feel of the show, giving it a rootedness. Hubert Taczanowski, the director of photography for the first two shows, set the template, responding to the pointers and influences provided by Thomas, who admits he’s always been obsessed with America’s mid west. Films like Winter’s Bone and The Lives of Others set the tone for Hinterland’s exterior shots and the low-tech police station, respectively. So enter Tom Mathias , played by Richard Harrington and, as Mathias does a lot of running and Harrington has more marathons under his belt than a shoplifting school kid in a sweet shop (before Marathon turned to Snickers and ruined my analogy), it makes sense when Thomas says that the part was written with him in mind. Running in a crime drama is a metaphor for dealing with demons and, although we don’t know what they are yet, it’s clear that Mathias has landed up in Aberystwyth leaving a troubled past behind him. Can Harrington relate to this part of his character? What haunts him and how does he deal with his own demons? Harrington’s answer is refreshingly honest: “My demons? I try and stay clear of them as best I can because I don’t seem to have the time to be able to deal with them, and I’m not quite sure what they are. They’re things that are ingrained in you, things that you are born with. There are things that you’ve negated for most of your life; negating them seems to be the best form of action. When you do long distance running you tend to step 18 — Issue 02
outside of yourself, of your conscious mind, and you make friends with all of the organs in your body, and you try to lower your blood pressure, and you run for a long, long time, and suddenly going from self-deprecation, the world becomes clear and you see problems in your mind compartmentalised --you see them individually, and you have this moment of enlightenment, and [although] it may only last for a mile, it gives you enough gravitas to go on, but you never actually remember what it was you discovered five miles previous. My demons? I tend to deal with them in my dreams. “ There’s one recurring dream that I have where I’m in a room: it could be anywhere, it could be on a beach, on a bus, and I have a fear of something behind me and its horrific and it’s the worst thing I could possibly see and I have to confront it, and I do every time in my dream. I turn around, and I can’t envisage what it is that I see. At that point, as I turn around I become the point of view of the demon and I’m looking at myself, and I can see me going, “COME ON!!!!” and I’m screaming at myself, and I’m wanting to take it on, whatever it is, and then at the point of whatever it is that’s going to unfold, death or life or birth…I wake up, never actually seeing whatever it is that I’m supposed to see.” It’s becoming clear why Harrington was right for this role. Mathias isn’t a cop who shouts “You’re nicked!”, who jams on the cuffs and walks away, job done. Instead he radiates a kind of empathy for the protagonists of the crimes he is unpicking; murderers and victims. Often he says nothing at all while providing the fulcrum for the unfolding drama. As with the recurring musical motifs, little wisps that pull the viewer back to another moment or story, so there is a sub-score of regret, of questioning; having raked up the past to solve the crime, it might have been better to leave sleeping dogs lie. Just how much input did Harrington have in the making of the character that was written for him? “I like to be quite economical with things, so there weren’t so many things I needed to do
with him. I felt he was the eye in the sky: the drama unfolds around him, and you get to know who he was through his work, and through how he reacts, [and] from the story. What invariably happens with cop shows is that certain characters are slightly detached, and the show is secondary to the main character. With Hinterland it’s the tragedy of each story that reveals more about him. In that sense I never had to make anything up, I never had to bring anything to it, or use any tricks to make him work, because the stories are so strong, so effectual, so moving, that my job was to tame him and make him part of each story, part of the aesthetic.” That aesthetic permeates every scene; from the extraordinary cinematography to John Hardy’s striking but subtle score that is more soundscape than soundtrack, adding another layer to the moods and tensions of each episode, while the hills, the coast, the isolated rural landscape offers up the ideal backdrop for dark deeds and old grudges to play out. Around the dark star of Mathias, the supporting cast begin to develop their own orbits. While Brian Prosser, as the dour Chief Superintendent remains more of a cipher, a storyline waiting to happen, The other detectives, played by Mali Harries, Alex Harries and Hannah Daniel begin to come into focus with each two hour story. With each snippet of back story their characters coalesce through action, reaction and interaction with Mathias and suspects, victims and not-so-innocent bystanders, moving away from their stereotypes. These three are the Welshspeaking chorus to each tragic tale. However bilingually fluent the actors are, the language switch must have been challenging for the cast. I wondered if there were subtle nuances of Mathias’ character in the different versions. “It’s not as simple as wearing green trousers or purple trousers”, Harrington, whose primary language is English, tries to pinpoint the differences: “With Welsh it’s much more of a thoughtful process, because it doesn’t come naturally to me and I have to construct sentences in my head well in advance before engaging my vocal chords. It’s a >>
“...My demons? I tend to deal with them in my dreams”
Features Hinterland/Y Gywll
much more sophisticated language, Welsh… and it does change the character slightly . Welsh is a lot more poetic, so you find yourself gesticulating a bit more, like you would do if you were in Italy ordering pizza or something, and you’re picking up mannerisms and other cultures and you would naturally change the way you move. But what was interesting was that you have to yield to whatever the language demands really; you’re not suddenly going to become Max Boyce because you’re speaking in your mother tongue, or the mother tongue of your nation, because the mother tongue of the nation, what is that, anyway?” He feels strongly that the Mathias character is so embedded that “Mathias would work on a judo mat without any words at all.” We will have to wait and see how the different versions play to the three target audiences (Wales, UK and International), but the early indications are that almost a third of those watching the Welsh-only S4C version watched it outside of Wales and a second series is already being written. It may be just another crime drama to feed our prurient need for death on the small screen, but it’s also possibly the start of something that could bring the Welsh language to a mainstream audience—CCQ Image opposite: Hinterland, Tom Mathias (Richard Harrington), © Fiction Factory, S4C, All3Media, Tinopolis
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An Independent Perspective on the Arts
For more features join us at www.ccqmagazine.com
Apodemy On the night that she won the 2013 Lumen Prize, Katerina Athanasopoulou talked to CCQ about her prize winning work. Interview and portrait: Ric Bower Artist/film maker, Katerina Athanasopoulou settled in the UK after completing an MA at the RCA. She won the 2013 Lumen Prize with Apodemy, a bewitching animation which realises an urban imaginarium populated by skeletal buildings and gravity defying, half-finished road schemes. The work, which was commissioned by the Onassis Cultural Centre in Thessalonica, explores the pressing issues of emigration and economic struggle in contemporary Greece. Katerina Athanasopoulou: Onassis Cultural Centre asked me to pitch an idea on the theme of emigration and the economic crisis. I kept returning to the idea of migratory birds. Plato used a birdcage as a metaphor for the soul and, since the work was going to be sited in The Plato Academy Park where Plato supposedly actually taught, it felt appropriate to utilise it as a metaphor. Migratory birds still feel the urge to travel even when they are confined within a cage; they shuffle and turn, trying to prepare for a journey that will never happen. I turned the idea of the cage inside out; my birds are indeed captive, but they are captive from their own volition; they circle the cage from the outside. My cage is a trolley bus, the same kind of vehicle that I used to travel in when I was young, before Athens was in the trouble that it is now. Greece has become a place where lots and lots of buildings are left halffinished and abandoned… visually, they give the appearance of being giant concrete cages. I left Greece 13 years ago, when there were happier times. Emigration is something that is no longer happening in positive circumstances; more and more young people are leaving because there is just no work. Emigration was once a romantic idea, but is now an unfortunate byproduct of harsh economic realities. The word 22 — Issue 02
‘apodemy’ is taken from the Greek word for emigration, but it can also mean dying. In the 19th century, there was a whole genre of apodemic writing. Ric Bower: You’ve chosen to allow the very three dimensional motif of the cage to be ultimately manifest on a two dimensional screen. Why did you think that a film might be the best way of representing your ideas, rather than through, perhaps, a process of installation? KA: I modelled the city first, creating this dystopia of buildings and broken bridges, and it was only after that that I created the trolley bus and put the birds around it. Once I had made the city, I could then travel inside it, filming as if it was a real set. From day one, this was very much about the journey the bus would take, so creating this world . in 3D was the only way that I could take someone with me on that journey. RB: I think we are still uncertain how best to consume digitally-originated art. Do you have preferences as to how your work should be experienced? And, as it’s a short film, your work is particularly portable and can be viewed in circumstances which you have no control over. How do you feel about that? KA: I’m delighted about it. Apodomy is on Vimeo and it has become a Vimeo staff pick, so it has been seen by over 50,000 people so far. I’ve had people from all over the world giving me feedback and I have been able to converse with them. I could never have done that without digital technology. RB: Did that influence the process of making the work? KA: Not directly, no, but I love this way of working; I love the intensity of the experimentation that digital engenders. It’s a never-ending world of
trying and then failing, and then failing even better. RB: How do you see your practice developing from here? KA: I have a couple of projects that I’m writing at the moment and I would also really like to continue working within the genre of short film, but I would really also like to work in the realm of animation installation, so I see my work going in both directions: both in the direction of what might traditionally be known as fine art and also, in the direction of filmmaking. This is why animation really is the perfect art form for me. My work has been shown at a number of short film festivals. Only ten years ago, the majority of festivals would not even accept digital films. In many ways, working digitally allows me to have complete control over the images that I produce, which is far closer to the way that a traditional artist, rather than a filmmaker, would work. On the other hand, the way that I work is highly experimental, trying different things and seeing what happens. Working digitally means that I can work wherever and whenever, sometimes with very limited means, so I don’t need huge budgets to create films. That’s really what has kept me going in the end. RB: It must be very liberating. KA: It is.
“...migratory birds still feel the urge to travel, even when they are confined within a cage; they shuffle and turn, trying to prepare for a journey that will never happen ”
You can see Apodemy and other films by Katerina Athanasopoulou on Vimeo www.vimeo.com/ katerinath Or visit www.lumenprize.com Images on following two spreads: Apodemy, film stills, Katerina Athanasopoulou
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Shani Rhys James— The Rivalry of Flowers How does an artist make personal experiences universal? Shani Rhys James tells Emma Geliot how she dissects her memories to create powerful imagery. The stories we tell ourselves about our past and about who we are allow us to configure the present and somehow make sense of it. We clutch at images as elusive as the dust-speckled threads of spider webs that only emerge in strong sunlight in a gloomy room. Artist Shani Rhys James has plenty of threads to clutch at: from leaving Australia with her actress mother as a small child; their traumatic arrival during the coldest winter on record in 1960s Britain; to their rackety theatrical existence in London. The figures in her paintings are no longer the artist herself; instead, they are embodiments of a memory or a feeling. And although she uses a small hand-held mirror, to capture the way that light falls on her cheekbone or the way it glints from an eyeball, they are not self-portraits. Perhaps, these are clues to the success of this prodigious artist. Her figures are distillations of feelings and memories that could belong to most of us at some point in our lives: disquiet, discomfort, isolation, alienation and, in later works, the struggle to reconcile motherhood and art. Rhys James’s output is prodigious and consistent, so that every new show offers something fresh, another layer to a story that is unfolding both in real time and the odd timeframe of a past remembered and re-remembered. This time around, it’s flowers and wallpaper but, as with all Rhys James’ output, these are neither comforting natural elements, nor interior decor writ large, but come freighted with a sense of oppressiveness and hidden meaning. Rhys James approaches her paintings like a vivisectionist – engaged emotionally, but disengaged as well, cutting into the layers of her own psyche. “In order to survive it, you can’t indulge yourself. You have to set yourself outside 28 — Issue 02
that emotional state; detach yourself so that you can see more clearly,” she explains. Delving into memory can be traumatic: “It’s a bit like a wound that doesn’t heal, looking for a kind of closure. When you talk to yourself, you talk like an automaton and answer in a programmed way,” she continues, comparing the connection to memory to the characters in Samuel Beckett’s play, Happy End, who cannot move or progress. “We never move on from what happened to us. So for me, it’s always source material.” And although she may be emotionally detached as she paints, out of the studio, Rhys James seethes with a passionate engagement with the world, fuming at the posh boys who run the country who have been through what she describes as ‘borstal with manners’ or the public school system. There are many things that press her buttons or provide grist for her intellectual mill, and she can segue from Ibsen and Beckett to thyroid disorder and its effect on a mental state within seconds, before moving on to a story about a cast iron bath for the house in France that she and her husband, artist Stephen West, are painstakingly renovating, then back to memories and poetry, all in the blink of an eye. And all of this is spinning through her mind as she works, adding increments of meaning to her canvases. At a crucial moment in her life, when she had already been accepted into drama school, Rhys James made the decision to become a painter instead, and then met Stephen at Central Saint Martins. They moved from the distractions of London to a little village in Mid-Wales where they can wade through the mud from the back door to their respective studios. Rhys James doesn’t drive and says she has effectively put herself under house arrest to concentrate on her painting. This rural tranquillity is a far cry from her early years. She was uprooted from her native Australia at a tender age to accompany her actress mother, who was on a mission to take on the London stage. She spent her early childhood listening to her mother learning lines with the help of Grundig tape machine and becoming Nora in Ibsen’s The Doll’s House, surrounded by the grim decor of 1960s bedsits; and both struggling to get to grips with their new existence. There are paintings of mother and
child, together but separate in their isolation. The wallpaper that has recently appeared in her paintings is a retrieved memory of the first night they arrived in the bitter cold of a London winter to discover that their accommodation had been double booked. Young Rhys James took in the domestic scene of the family who couldn’t take them in, registering the interior decor while her mother attempted to tackle this unexpected turn of events. In the paintings, the wallpaper changes: it is a memory of wallpaper, rather than a depiction of a scene – overblown, oppressive, and occasionally the flower pattern is distilled as simple black dots. For The Rivalry of Flowers, curated by Eve Ropek at Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Rhys James had originally thought of showing her automata, created during a Creative Wales project (an Arts Council of Wales-funded period of research to allow artists to experiment). She had become frustrated by the limitations of paint and canvas to embody some of her key themes and produced a series of rather sinister automata and some video work to try and pin down these moths of memory. In the end, she opted for a return to the paintings that are the heart of what she does, feeling a little as if she had betrayed her material by this dalliance with other media. The paintings are ranged around the walls of the high gallery space: predominantly large canvases, most with figures and with the new element of wallpaper, and also some smaller works. In the centre, like a spider at the centre of a web, is an installation: yellow wallpaper, a black chandelier and a small inserted video mouth, vocalising the poetic responses that accompany the exhibition. There are no figures in this space, which allows the spectator to occupy the painting space. This installation is a key to Rhys James’ attitude towards her work: she understands that viewers will bring their own responses to her work, responses over which she can have no control—CCQ
“...It’s a bit like a wound that doesn’t heal”
Shani Rhys James - The Rivalry of Flowers was at Aberystwyth Arts Centre until 11 January 2014 Portrait: Shani Rhys James. Andrea Liggins Following page, left panel: Bath, oil on canvas, Shani Rhys James Following Page, Right Panel: Pink Spots, oil on canvas, Shani Rhys James
Features Shani Rhys James
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A Little More Action Guaranteed Over a long weekend in September, the seaside town of Porthcawl is filled with Elvis look-a-likes and a festival that has endured beyond expectation. Rudi O’Neil looks at the seamier side. Images: Dan Wood September usually signals the end of the summer season for most seaside towns. But not Porthcawl. For the past ten years, this summertime haven for the South Wales Valleys has received an autumnal boost as Elvis shakes rattles and rolls into town for the annual Porthcawl Elvis Festival. ‘Europe’s largest Elvis festival’ takes place each year during the last weekend of September, and by midday Friday, a stroll along Porthcawl’s main boulevard, reveals an influx of all that is Elvis. The owner of one trinket shop has transformed his cosy establishment into a stockist of exclusively Elvis-related wares, all for under a tenner. The most popular items are headwear, with rubberised Jerry curls and pink cowboy hats, both a mere £3.99. The charity shops have squirrelled away their Elvis donations throughout the year in order to deck their windows appropriately, whilst the high street regulars have opted to place concessionary stands over the other side of town by the HiTide, where all the Fringe Festival (i.e. cheap or free) action’s at, supplying the exact same array of disposable trash with at least a quid mark-up on everything. It is strange but true that nothing purchasable is authentic and it’s as though here the entire Elvis brand has been devoted to counterfeit. 32 — Issue 02
Many have dressed for the occasion: a mixture of polka-dot dresses and military regalia among the ladies, and predominantly white-with-redpiping onesies among the men. With the only variation in accent relating to which Welsh valley each attendee is from, it’s probably best to avoid scrutinising just how European this event is. And buying a drink in either of the Hi-Tide’s dancehalls bears this out, with a level of jostling and illtemper that resonates throughout all South Wales pubs and clubs. Within a quarter of an hour, a nonElvis has been grabbed by the throat for spilling an Elvis’ drink, sparking action from the bouncers. Kerfuffle over, an ETA (Elvis Tribute Act) takes to the stage who’s a dead ringer for how Elvis might have looked from the perspective of whoever found him dead. The black of his onesie is stretched to a diaphanous charcoal; the wiping of his brow is in vain. Between each of the songs, which he underperforms in an accent so devoid of Elvis’ nuances and so thick with Welsh that it sounds as if he’s singing in Gaelic, he sits on a speaker promoting the amateur ETA contest later on. Next door is no less packed. A girl whose lemonade bottle of vodka has been confiscated tells the security man to ‘sleep with’ himself. As the next act appears, a lady stands to cheer and falls backwards, collapsing the collapsible table at which she and her entourage are sat. She is removed by security and the bar staff’s clean-up operation gets serenaded with Sweet Caroline. A balding Elvis, clad head-to-toe in ill-fitting leather, performs as though keen to get off stage. Between songs he looks anxiously at the sound guy, his back facing an audience that neither clap nor boo him off stage. The least inept Elvis performs in an external marquee. He offers up jokes between songs: “I went to see the doctor the other day – I had to, he wasn’t well.” His songs are the comic relief
between his jokes. Handing out neon cravats, he kisses the queuing women, the siting of each kiss dictated by the attractiveness of the recipient, forcing some to recoil from his tongue’s eagerness. A lady wearing a t-shirt signed by many Elvises gets kissed on the scalp, the ETA himself recoiling from her earlier attempt to pull him off stage and molest him. His performance reaches its Suspicious Minds climax to a staggering ovation. Tassels whip his posterior, drawing attention to the black outline of his pants underneath his white onesie. Anyone attending Europe’s largest Elvis Festival might be surprised to find that not only are there few visitors from outside Britain, but not many from outside South Wales. Perhaps this is because of the undying culture of the hardworking valleys communities who have descended upon this ageless seaside town since long before Elvis became The King. Any excuse to extend the summertime sojourn will be grabbed with two firm hands, irrespective of theme. It is only when Elvis and the 32,000 visitors have finally left the building: after 300 shows, with 100 performers in 24 venues and 36 arrests, that summer is finally over.—CCQ www.elvies.co.uk www.danwoodphoto.com
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Features Dan Wood
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An Open Mind Artist and lecturer Sue Williams explores sexual politics and the taboos around gender difference in her work, so a return trip to China could only provide more grist for her mill. Despite a shaky start to her relationship with China, when her work was seized by customs officials some years ago, Sue Williams went back again in 2013. Fellow artist and curator, Mary Husted had invited her to be part of a touring exhibition called Open Books, which had used the extraordinarily beautiful Chinese folding books as its starting point. The Sanshang Museum of Contemporary Art in Hangzhou used the exhibition as an integral part of an annual programme, Decanter Ink, which examines the tradition of folding and expanding artist books to promote contemporary ideas about Chinese ink painting and culture. The invitation to join Open Books had been extended to Xu Bing, winner of the first Artes Mundi Prize (2004). Through this link Williams, who was shortlisted for the same prize in 2006, was invited to give a presentation about her work at the Chinese Academy of Art in Hangzhou and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. It gave her the opportunity to observe some Chinese gender politics at first hand and to see if anything had changed since her first visit. “When visiting Beijing in 2009 I witnessed a number of subtle differences in the way people related to each other and particularly of the dynamics and communication between men and women, compared to western culture and to return to China and research this difference in a more productive way has been of great value. There are certain influences in the current political and economic systems in China that impinge upon gender equality and relationships. There are also heavy restrictions on freedom of speech (internet, press) and the restriction of number of births per couple causing increased social instability e.g. 36 — Issue 02
ratio of male to female. This period of time offered me a greater insight into the effects that another culture has upon relationship dynamics between gender and the sexualisation of the female.” She used networks (social and actual) to meet British men who had chosen to live in remote Chinese towns, collecting stories to feed her practice. “In some cases it was overwhelmingly problematic for them to be living in China due to the legalities of parenting children over there. I certainly returned to the UK with a better understanding of the sexual politics and the different approaches to gender equality in China and the cultural shift that is taking place amongst the younger generation.” Williams also spoke to Chinese people too, of course, “I found the Chinese open and willing to discuss subject matter that many would consider taboo. I found their perspective towards sexuality and sexual taboo both interesting and also conflicting with their cultural history.” And she met artists and was surprised at the levels of support that some of them had: “Their studios are vast and artists with a reputation would be not only working within a large building, but they would also have their own gallery attached to their studio, and in some cases bedroom, living room and kitchen”, although she wondered if this support came at another cost, “I guess there is a price to pay for censorship.” And those artists were intrigued by Williams’ work, wanting to see more, as did the curators she met in Shanghai, who wanted to see how her work had moved on since they seen it last in 2009. This opens up very exciting possibilities for exhibiting in China and Hong Kong and this time I will understand the processes of transporting works to China! There was, Williams says, a clear desire to extend relationships and to bring Chinese artists’ work to Wales through the Open Books project, which continues its tour to Australia and onwards. But Williams, who is fine art lecturer at University of Wales Trinity St David, in Swansea also had a chance to talk about art education with students
and lecturers in Hangzhou. “I took time to show the students the drawing programme that I have developed over a number of years and one that I currently use in Swansea.” The course is designed to deliver a dynamic approach to drawing, encouraging experimentation and risk. The students and professors were surprised by the diversity of her methods as the drawing and painting approaches taught in the universities of China and Hong Kong are based upon very traditional methods and processes. As one professor told Williams, “We need to arrive in the 21st century with our teaching methods”. The Open Books exhibition helped to bridge a gulf between differing cultural expectations and proved a successful pointer to future projects where different cultures meet, while Williams own approaches to art education and confronting gender-related taboos in her art seems to have struck a chord with those she met. So Williams has returned to Wales with some connections and interest in developing further conversations and exhibition opportunities, but most importantly, she says, “I have returned with important research material and experience to feed into my practice and have already produced a series of very large folding books relating to the discussions I had with both students and the people I had met who have chosen to leave a western culture and live in China. I didn’t know what to expect from this trip and went with an open mind, however the results are more than I could have imagined” —CCQ Image opposite: Untitled from the series Open Books, mixed media on canvas, Sue Williams photography, Ian Verge
Images on following two spreads: Untitled from the series POKE ME!, mixed media on canvas, 18” x 18”, Sue Williams photography, Roy Campbell-Moore
Features Sue Williams
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Tim Davies Artist Tim Davies is a professor at University of Wales Trinity St David. He overcame reservations about working in China after his first research trip and went on to create two very differently paced filmed responses for Let’s See What Happens...
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It took four years, from the first tentative visit to Xiamen in 2009, to the final showing of the work in response to meeting Chinese artists and getting an understanding of a very different culture and context for art-making. During that time Davies and the other Welsh artists, working with curator Karen MacKinnon had time to negotiate the framework for engagement with their Chinese collaborators. He missed out on a second trip with the Welsh contingent in 2011 as he was preparing to represent Wales at the 54Th Venice Biennale, but went back to Xiamen alone in 2012 to build on his initial research and start to make the work. Davies explains his interest in working in Xiamen was, he explains, “Because of its location on the edge of the sea facing Taiwan, allowing the visitor to confront an aspect of Chinese politics ‘straight on’. This, together with its position as a vital part of colonial trade routes, inspired me to explore the architectural developments which are seemingly ever-changing.” And in Xiamen Davies felt a connection with artist Zeng Huanguang, who has lived through an enormous change in the Chinese economic situation. “China’s recent economic development is well-documented, as are some of the sacrifices that have been made to further this. The country is in a state of transition, which interests me greatly”, Davies observes. “Huanguang and I have overlapping interests in our practice. We’re both concerned with themes of cultural displacement, architectural histories and the material culture that remains or develops from the removal and erection of buildings.” Davies often works with the absence of structures, like bridges, excising them from postcards, or runs around, up or through them in his performative film works, like an extreme beating of the bounds ritual. In Chase, a multi screen installation, Davies runs through Xiamen, which we see through his eyes,
in slices of imagery – rapidly transitioning stills, moving across four screens – giving an essence, or a series of rapid impressions, muted colours, blurred impressions, too quick to take in. This work harks back to Davies’ other running films, here cutting across the screens to add to the sense of frenzied speed – moving too fast to take in this new landscape. “The project gave me an opportunity to develop recent performative processes using video and stills photography as well as themes around architectural structures and how they are negotiated and experienced by people under different circumstances”, Davies explains. And in Market8 it’s a different story, a clear shift in a new direction. Put together as a single tracking shot through a market place, everything seems sharper, clearer, with heightened colours. It isn’t Davies’ movements that we see, or experience, but rather the almost balletic movements of the shoppers and stallholders. This isn’t a dance movie though, what seems like choreography is a trick of the eye as the film runs backwards, and what feels like a single take is in fact carefully edited and manipulated – a lot of material hit the digital equivalent of the cutting room floor including, it seems, the disturbing image of a dog defecating in reverse. The Let’s See What Happens... project provided more than an opportunity for travel and making new work. The long build-up allowed for a real exchange and a level of understanding to grow. Davies sums up: “The clash of cultures seemed to diminish amongst the warmth of welcome from our Chinese hosts and our ongoing dialogues. We no longer seemed worlds apart”—CCQ Image opposite: Chase (Xiamen) for Lets See What Happens, Tim Davies
Studio Mobile Over the course of ten months, Shanghai-based artist Maleonn (aka Ma Liang) travelled 30,000 miles throughout China to photograph Chinese people in his mobile studio. He brought some of the results to Swansea for Let’s See What Happens... Ric Bower talked to him about this ambitious project. The Studio Mobile battered black truck drove through 35 Chinese provinces, inviting over 1,600 to take part in a project that would put them at the centre of their own universe. Taking in 35 cities and 30,000 miles, the mobile studio was equipped with a staggering array of improbable props and scenery, to create fantasy landscapes that offer a surreal take on tradition Victorian family portraiture. While some of the portraits are humorous, they seem tinged with a certain pathos, perhaps because their subjects are being offered a brief glimpse of an unattainable dream. Maleonn came to Swansea as part of Let’s See What Happens, a Glyn Vivian off-site exhibition, curated by Karen MacKinnon and involving three Chinese artists and four artists from Wales. The richly variegated work in the show evolved from the conversations that occurred between the seven artists as they spent time together and visited each others working environments. An understanding of the difference in the conditions in which artists from China and Wales operate came out of the project and a recognition that the creative drivers are often similar. Ric Bower: Why take your practice away from the security of a studio?. Maleonn: I did have a very nice studio which was part of 696 Weihai Lu arts community, a huge old loft in a prime location in the centre of the city. I worked there every day for five years. Then three and a half years ago, the government evicted the artists working there. RB: Around the time Ai Wei Wei’s studio was flattened? M: Yes, not far off that time. In China construction rate is very fast, everything is constantly changing. The location of the studio was in the very centre of Shanghai and therefore, very valuable. I think businessmen were keen to develop the site. I moved two hours’ drive into the country; 44 — Issue 02
I asked myself how I could make this situation work for me. I came to the conclusion that I wanted to move away from self-expression as an artistic approach and do something that was perhaps more socially useful. I wanted to make work of everybody, for everybody and for free. Everybody has a camera nowadays; my girlfriend is constantly taking her own picture on her phone. In contrast, I collect antique studio photos which are very different in character to the instant photography we are used to seeing now; they are not pictures of famous people, just of ordinary folk who have visited a portrait studio. I love this approach and I wondered if it would be relevant now in some way. RB: Do you have the work of other artists in mind? Joel Peter Witkin for use of artifice, perhaps, or August Sander for his encyclopaedic vision... but they are both western, of course. I know you show in the West, but I am guessing we will understand your work somewhat differently. M: Yes, I am familiar with Joel Peter Witkin. As regards an approach specifically for China, I don’t know; human beings are essentially the same I think. It was suggested to me a long time ago that I should make work about and for Chinese people, work about Chairman Mao for instance. I decided then that I wanted to try and make work that looked for what we have in common as human beings, rather than what sets us apart. With this project, I started by asking people what they wanted, many of them started by telling me their story. RB: When you meet your subjects for the first time, how do you initiate the process? Do you just introduce yourself, then point to the pile of props and outfits and tell them to ‘get on with it’? M: Yes, pretty much. My Father was a famous opera director in Beijing and my mother was a Shakespearean actress. Every night, after school, I would do my homework backstage at the theatre my mother was working in. The theatrical approach is in my blood. My parents wanted me to be an actor but I was more drawn to the directorial side of things. The subjects though, are all really happy to be involved; it is like a game to them. RB: I guess in many ways, each situation is as new to you as it is to them. M: Yes, but social networking helped with this; I have a big following on the Chinese equivalent to Twitter and Facebook. People who were familiar with my early work were constantly commenting
that they would love to be a part of it. Once the Studio Mobile project was under way, I would post that I was going to be at the next city 10 days in advance. People would contact me then with their stories. I would arrange to meet and photograph the ones I felt were interesting. I had never been to many of the cities before and I needed a 100 square metre space to work with when I turned up. I have a huge quantity of lights, props and backgrounds, a truck, a van and seven people working with me. It was a bit like a small circus. It was really useful therefore to have made contact with people who could potentially help out in advance. When we arrived back in Shanghai, many people were waiting for us; we shot over 300 people then alone. Two of the team were shooting a documentary film of the project. RB: How do you go about the editing process? I guess you can’t show all of the 1600 people you photographed, so what in your mind makes some of them work better than others? M: In the end, I chose 260 images. My first concern was primarily with the aesthetics; they had to work visually. It was an intuitive process, there were no specific criteria. RB: You have made some new work for Let’s See What Happens. Did you have to change your working process to make it work in Swansea? M: I rented 40 props from the Dylan Thomas Theatre and put them in a huge bag then I went to the subject’s homes. This automatically made the work Welsh. People were more relaxed because they were in their own homes and that was a new thing for me. RB: How do you go about funding a project like Studio Mobile in China? M: It’s harder there than here I think. There is no public funding. There is no Arts Council. Ten years ago, I was making advertising and music videos. I managed to save some money then, which allowed me to get started as an artist. For the first three years, of being a full-time artist, there was no income so, I lived off my savings. It was quite difficult. Artists in the end are powerless. They can only express ideas. They can change nothing—CCQ For further information on Maleonn visit www. maleonn.com Portrait: Maleonn outside the Dylan Thomas Theatre, Ric Bower Images on following three spreads: Studio Mobile, Maleonn
Features Studio Mobile—Maleonn
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Features Studio Mobile—Maleonn
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Features Studio Mobile—Maleonn
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Let’s See What Happens ... The success of a collaborative international project relies on the space and time set aside to develop relationships. For Let’s See What Happens… the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery brought together the work of seven artists; four from Wales and three from China across multiple sites in Swansea. Emma Geliot saw what happened. The Glynn Vivian Gallery in Swansea is closed for a major redevelopment but the curatorial team isn’t resting on its laurels. Far from it. In October 2013 the work of Tim Davies, Yingmei Duan, Paul Emmanuel, Owen Griffiths, Maleonn, Fern Thomas and Zeng Huanguang was presented in five venues across the city, with a whole raft of associated events and talks. It was when Karen MacKinnon introduced the project as part of the curator’s tour that it became clear that this was by no means a ‘trade mission’ type project, but one that had been carefully thought through, researched, negotiated and stage-managed to give artists from China and Wales a chance to really connect each other. The power of the exhibition was in the interesting insights that it gave into how contemporary artists in China operate. This exhibition was genuinely international, in the sense of being a cultural exchange, rather than just an exercise in moving of art across international borders. 41 High Street – Paul Emmanuel, Tim Davies and Zeng Huangong. Paul Emmanuel’s Heavenly Creatures is a development of his relationship with pigment and paint and the pigments used to mark sheep in his local rural farming community. Black Narcissus is in fact an Asiatic lily, drenched in pigment, which changes as the flower continues to open and then decays during the run of the exhibition. Lure are a series of fishing flies made from detritus collected in China and then tied by a local fisherman, 52 — Issue 02
displayed like jewels in a vitrine. Tim Davies showed two works – a three screen video of a run through the streets of Xiamen called Chase. The work develops in intensity and reveals glimpses from the view point of the runner. This is an echo of a work produced by Davies for the Venice Biennale in 2011 (Friari) and earlier works that were more specifically about running around war memorials. The second work, Market 8, is a seemingly simple track of a journey through the market, but the film is played in reverse, giving it new qualities of almost choreographed movement and highlighting the ways that people move through and use spaces, with lots of high colour detail of the market produce. Zeng Huanguang – recreated the Occupy London protest with tents, graffiti and posters (all replicas or reproductions of the originals) in a work that examined the relationship between art and activism. Mission Gallery – Maelonn Studio Mobile was a selection of some of the many thousands of images that he had made as a result of his tour around China with his mobile studio. He had been keen to replicate the experience in Swansea, but the cost of bringing over the mobile studio (a truck full of props and scenery) and the full crew would have been prohibitive. Instead he had borrowed costumes from the Dylan Thomas Theatre and gone to the homes of the artists and curators (Karen and Katy) to make portraits of them using the borrowed costumes and props provided by the hosts. (see p44 for our feature on Maelonn.) Swansea Market – Owen Griffiths. Griffiths had worked with the local elderly Chinese community, who had made small vessels and traditional pickles. Throughout the run of the exhibition people were invited to try Chinese teas and to taste the pickles, learning about these aspects of Chinese culture through talking to Griffiths or the invigilators. There were also borrowed objects provided by the Glynn Vivian and one of the Chinese artists to show the traditions behind the culture, and a video and documentation of Griffiths’ time in Xiamen. Griffiths wanted to make a connection between the bustling social spaces of the markets in Swansea and Xiamen and point up their social aspects as well as the commerce
that is so different from the standardised retail experience of the UK High St. Elysium – Jing Mei At Elysium’s newest space in a renovated nightclub, Jing Mei was came in two guises, for her work Happy Jing Mei – real and digital. In one space she is seen on film, glimpsed through the branches of a tree, sweeping up leaves, ruminating on life and singing. In the next room, in a miniature forest, the artist performed daily, inviting two or three people at a time into the space that was almost filled with a dead tree
Black Narcissus, Paul Emmanuel
and leaves. Singing in a haunting voice she moved slowly to stand in front of each member of her audience, telling them about a particular character from Chinese history and giving each a folded piece of paper on which she had written, inviting them to engage in close dialogue with her on a particular subject. Her delivery might have seemed cynically ironic in a different setting, but instead came across as sweetly naive and strangely sincere. .
The Ragged School – Fern Thomas. Thomas and MacKinnon had negotiated time spent with Buddhist nuns in a temple near Xiamen. For The Sound of a Temple from Six Thousand Miles Away the walls of the space were hung with video screens showing little actions and gestures, while two giant fabric cones from the ceiling hung, mimicking the mountains of the area near the temple. An audio track filled the first floor of The Ragged School with sounds from the temples, echoing the rhythms of a spiritual life and Thomas’ approach to ritual—CCQ ccqmagazine.com
Out of Nothing Miao Xiaochun’s meticulously reconstructed renaissance masterpieces approach the subject of transfiguration, the theme of the Chinese Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale. He tells Ric Bower why he chose a Western tradition to explore this theme. Transfiguration, in Xiaochun’s mind, is not clearly contained within a set of defined spiritual hierarchies. Through the process of translation between very different media he brings his own narratives and interpretations to a number of familiar compositions. Below he describes an intense and laborious process; the contemporary equivalent of painting the Sistine Chapel: “I learnt about Chinese art history at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, but I then I studied European art history on the postgraduate programme at Kassel Academy of Fine Arts in Germany. When I began this series of works, it was quite natural for me therefore to use a western tradition as my starting point. Michelangelo’s Last Judgement being a case in point. I had been wanting to make this work for a while, I realised that the fresco, being a two dimensional work, is always seen from the front, but never from the back or from any other viewpoint. I discussed this fact with a friend way back in 2005; we simply wondered what it it would be like to see the scene represented in this particular fresco, from another position. “I started by just making one 3D computer figure, using my own face, and then I tried to put it in the exact position of one of the figures in the original fresco. This process alone took me more than a year. You can imagine then how long it took to put every figure in the exact position they 54 — Issue 02
were in in the original fresco. Michelangelo, of course, painted some of his figures much bigger than others, especially the figure of Christ at the pinnacle of the composition; this compounded our difficulty when trying to place the figures exactly in three dimensional space. It took us a further eleven months, to work it all out. During that time, I was only using a home computer; it was a painfully slow process! But I have now transformed a complex fresco into a virtual world, (and in the case of Out of Nothing, the representation of the Martyrdom of St Peter, into virtual reality and then back into oils).This environment only exists on the computer, but it is a world in which I can travel and in which I can take pictures with a virtual camera. “I remember saying to my assistant, “God created everything in only seven days and our world is still not perfect after 11 months!” I only used one subject throughout the recreation, and that was me. Michelangelo’s piece has at least 400 different characters; the good, the bad and the ugly. What’s become interesting to me is that I have assumed the role of a ‘character of our time’, a clone. We originally used a clone as it was technically easier, but this in turn has had an unexpected impact on the meaning of the work. “In the original work the morally deficient people
are dispatched to Hell. But in my work every person is the same. The question then is how we can judge ourselves to be good or bad and where we should go as a result of that decision. In the past, religion has told us what is right, what is wrong and what we should be doing at any moment. In our time we have to think about what is wrong and what is right ourselves, it is our own individual responsibility, especially for me as a Chinese person. We have had so many changes in the last century. China still had an empire 100 years ago, then there was political revolution followed by a cultural revolution and now we are wide open to the world. When there have been so many changes it is not the time to think ‘what is wrong, what is right’. It is a difficult subject we all have to engage with though and it is no doubt occupying the thoughts of many contemporary philosophers. Once I had completed this project, I showed it all over the world, but never in Italy. I felt very strongly I should show it in Italy, the birthplace of the original work.”
“...I have assumed the role of a ‘character of our time’, a clone.”
Above: The Last Judgement in Cyberspace, The Below View, C-Print, 289 x 360 cm 2006, Miao Xiaochun Opposite: Out of Nothing, Oil on canvas, 400x400cm, 2012, MiaoXiaochun
Becoming an Artist Helmut Lemke outlined a radically different approach to ‘becoming an artist’ in his TA BA BAA Manifesto which then went on to form the conceptual underpinning for the BAA independent art school which was officially launched in December 2013. Here he talks to Chris Brown of artistled gallery g39. Portrait: Ric Bower
German sound artist Helmut Lemke moved to the UK in 1996. His international and enthusiastically ecumenical practice has lead him to work everywhere, from the frozen seas round Greenland to a palace in Venice for the 55th Biennale. Along the way he has collaborated with dancers, scientists, architects, poets and archaeologists. He came to realise that teaching art can only occur in an environment where ‘equal partners meet’; this realisation led him to become involved in an Independent Art School initiative started by some his ex-students. In 2007, he championed the development of the Islington Art Academy and supported it through his active involvement in the piloting of the Islington Mill Summer Art School. Lemke spent many years working within the system before he considered stepping outside it. He taught at art academies and universities in Germany, France, England, Finland and Thailand and has been a research fellow at Manchester Metropolitan University. Chris Brown begun by asking him if he believes artists are in danger of becoming ghettoised. Helmut Lemke: I assume you are talking about the separation between contemporary art practice and the wider public. With that particular ghetto, the way forward, as I see it, is for the artist to work in a way that the community can engage with. The language that is taught in art schools does not aid our cause, either. Students are taught that art needs explanation and contextualisation; it doesn’t, and the words they learn to explain their work with are a long way outside any regular person’s vocabulary. Chris Brown: So, the way the university system teaches artists is through a process of validating their practice within a historical hierarchy; it’s not necessarily to do with the intrinsic value of the work itself? 56 — Issue 02
HL: In Germany, art education is quite elitist; it is a country of 80 million people and we have only around 24 independent art academies. As a result, Germany has a livelier tradition of selftaught artists than in the UK, where everybody can, in theory, go to art college. I was initially very excited about the theoretical democratisation of the art school system when I moved here. Of course, I was being naïve. In the UK, art has to be validated alongside courses like sociology and mathematics, which makes no sense at all. CB: Is there a crisis in the current academic system in the way in which art is taught, and is that where the impetus to set up BAA came from? HL: If we talk in terms of crisis, it would mean that there is an appropriate way to teach art within the existing academic system. There is no right way to teach art in academia, as it stands. Therefore, logically speaking, there is no crisis. CB: The crisis, as I see it, is that the humanities are being squeezed out in favour of sociology and mathematics, which are thought to produce more employable graduates. HL: I have a lot of respect for university research, but not for the culture that has been created around it. I am absolutely convinced that art cannot be taught within existing university structures and I feel that there can not be such a thing as ‘artistic research’ within academia; it simply does not fit. BAA is not necessarily a response to any particular crisis. It is a response to what I see as a fundamentally flawed approach. CB: Something that concerns me is how a structure for creative learning can be sustained. Obviously, there’s the financial aspect, but, putting that aside, there’s also the question of who is providing the knowledge and the experience. What fundamentally needs to be present in an environment for an artist to learn and to grow creatively? HL: If, in the process of becoming an artist, you have not created a framework which others can join, then it is, by definition, unsustainable. That’s why the BAA manifesto states the need for alternative ways of becoming an artist. It’s a political question and, if you understand this in the context of society as a whole, then the question of how to continue the model is itself an intrinsic part
of the process of becoming an artist. I personally, am not necessary to the BAA model in the long run; it is the role of the group to be their own mentors. My aim is that we build a collective of people who care passionately for the continuation of the model. The financial aspect is tricky, because without accreditation people will not be able to get loans, so they will have to generate income by other means. Those of us who are practising artists can fundraise for paid work for BAA students and, perhaps, incorporate that into our own live projects. There are many possibilities out there. CB: What do BAA contributors personally get from it? Is it possible to identify a point where someone is no longer contributing to the environment and when they should step out? HL: If BAA is understood as being not just a teaching and learning experience, but a political statement in direct response to the society which it is in, then there will be no clearly definable end to a BAA contributor’s input. I personally see no theoretical point where I should get out, but, also, no point that I shouldn’t, if you see what I mean. I have been a practising artist for 40 years, with 20 years teaching experience, which means the questions I ask are very different from someone who is just starting out. CB: Do you regard BAA as being part of your own practice? HL: Absolutely. When I took my first teaching job, I considered it as being very much part of my own art practice. I cannot pass on my knowledge without being creative. A good teacher must always be creative—CCQ
“...if in the process of becoming an artist, you have not created a framework which others can join, then, it is, by definition, unsustainable.”
For more information on Helmut Lemke and the BAA (Becoming an Artist) initiative, www.baa-art.tumblr.com and www.sound-art.de/ BAA is based at ArtWork Atelier http://www.artworkgreengate. co.uk/ and at Bury Sculpture Centre. On the following two pages, Helmut has edited for CCQ, a taster of the TA BA BAA MANIFESTO Portrait: Helmut Lemke at Palazzo Bembo, 55th Venice Biennale 2013, Ric Bower
the TA BA BAA manifesto
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Staying On To bridge the gap between university and going it alone, three graduates were given a nine-month residency by the University of Wales Trinity St David’s Swansea campus. Continuing our focus on arts education, they tell CCQ how it all worked out. Words: Ric Bower and Aneira Davies.
A residency can form a useful buffer to alleviate the shock of having to establish an independent creative practice. Fine artist Nicola Dowdle, freelance video editor, Tom Perou, and textile artist, Eifion Lloyd James reflect on how prepared they were as undergraduates for life as professional practitioners. Nicola: I don’t think the tutors flannel you with bullshit because they are all practitioners themselves. They give you a sense of the real situation. When you finish a degree, you think something is going to just fall at your feet, but that’s not the reality. I personally wanted to maintain a connection with the university; the residency was the perfect opportunity for me in that respect. It was a foot in the door to the department I wanted to work in. I don’t necessarily want to teach, but I enjoy the atmosphere so I want to stay connected to it. The residency allowed me to continue to do what I love. Lloyd: In my third year, I had started to worry about how I was going to sustain myself after graduating. My concern was how I was going to just get by, rather than how I was going to get rich! I decided to apply for the residency as well as the MA and hopefully fund the MA that way, if I could. I think it was Vivienne Westwood who said ‘if you follow your passions, a job will come’. CCQ: What would have happened if you hadn’t got the artist-in-residence position? Lloyd: I think I would still be doing the MA, but working in a shop to fund it. I’m really glad I got on the scheme; the university is very good at giving back I found. If you put in the effort, they’ll help you out. It’s a really positive environment to work in. CCQ: What has been your practical experience of the residency, on the ground so to speak? Lloyd: I was paid to work 20 hours a week and I also had my MA fees covered. I got to use all 60 — Issue 02
the facilities in the department and was free to teach, do placements and work on projects for other companies if I needed to. Although the money wasn’t great in itself, there were other opportunities that stemmed out of it which definitely made the whole thing worthwhile. I was also given some costs to help with my practice, which was a huge help. I was based in the Surface Pattern Design department; I would help the students coat silk screens, dye fabric and digitally print onto fabric. As long as I fulfilled my 20 hours contact time with the undergraduates, I could pretty much please myself. Nicola: I was on 10 hours a week contact time, but I would often work over 30! That was my choice, I wasn’t made to do it. CCQ: Do you think any improvements could have been made to the residency? Nicola: I am undertaking an MA in Fine Art and I still haven’t got a studio space. I think we should be given help with renting studios. There are so many empty buildings and I think we should be able to utilse them somehow. CCQ: Would you like more involvement with the Arts Council in residency programs? Lloyd: The Arts Council could come in and give a preparatory lecture at the university. They should be encouraging the emerging artists more directly, I feel. CCQ: Do you think it helped you being a mature student, Tom? Tom: I started when I was 22. I look back and think if I’d have started when I was 18, I would have treated it very differently. I wouldn’t have taken it as seriously, I think. I had had four years of working in retail at that point. By the time I got on the course, I was determined that I would never go back to doing that! CCQ: Do you have any thoughts about where to go from here? Lloyd: I am doing the MA, which is less directed than the BA, so I very much get on with my own thing. Creatively, it is starting to fall into place for me too at the moment. I was taught a lot on the degree over the three years, but it seemed that it was over in just a moment. I did not feel that I had had the chance to fully specialise until I started on the residency.
Nicola: The support network that we provide for each other is also hugely important. You’ve got to get out there and make those new contacts too, mind; it’s from the relationships you broker that new opportunities arise, after all. For me, the residency provided a platform from where I could continue my practice and further my studies at the same time. Tom: For me, the residency was an opportunity to stay within a creative environment and to develop my freelance work. It gave me the stability of earning some money, working 20 hours a week with undergraduates, and being able to do my own work into the bargain. Lloyd: I found that whilst we were part of the university, it was actually more like an art school environment—CCQ
“...when you finish a degree, you think something is going to just fall at your feet but that’s not the reality .” Eifion Lloyd James, MIW2 Project Officer and Marketing Ambassador. BA (Hons) Surface Pattern Design. Currently studying MA Textiles www.eifionlloydjames.com Opposite page image: Dyn ei Filltir Sgwâr, Eifion Lloyd James
Nicola Dowdle, Clerical Assistant (Fine and Applied Arts) and Marketing Ambassador. BA (Hons) Fine Art (Combined Media). Currently studying MA Fine Art www.wix.com/nicoladowdle/art Next page, left panel image: Untitled , 2012, Nicola Dowdle Tom Perou, Clerical Assistant (Film and Photography) and Marketing Ambassador. Also a freelance video editor and animator. BA (Hons) Digital Film and Television Production www.tomperou.com Next page right panel image: The Perfect Beverage, film still, Tom Perou
To find out more about artist in residence opportunities at University of Wales, Trinity St. David visit www.smu.ac.uk
Features Staying On
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Frieze/Frame Setting up a new gallery in a recession can be a daunting prospect. Ric Bower spoke to Johan Berggren at Frieze London about some of the realities a 21st-century gallerist must face and about his commissioning of Ryan Siegan-Smith’s presentation for Frame.
Frame is a sub-section of Frieze London dedicated to young galleries and is selected on the basis of a proposed solo presentation. It offers an opportunity to discover artists who may not previously have benefitted from an international platform to show their work. Ryan Siegan-Smith, (at Johan Berggren Gallery, Malmö, for Frieze Frame), used mnemonic techniques to recall a sequence of random numbers. In this process numbers are encoded into a series of images and then back again for the purpose of recall. The artist’s working process generates a glut of visual evidence which, in turn, forms the material for the physical gallery presentation. CCQ began by asking Berggren what prompted him to go it alone with his own gallery. Johan Berggren: I was working in another gallery in 2009 when the financial crisis hit and I was immediately out the door. One of the artists I had been working with said to me, ‘we just have to go on, don’t we?’ I wound up selling my apartment to renovate the new gallery. There was no public support, no grants, no backers and no trust fund. From day one, we have had to be a commercial concern; it had to be a self-sustaining venture. Working in a commercial environment forces us to work in a particular way -some artists are cut out for it and some, simply are not.
“…all good art sells because it enhances our understanding of what it means to be alive”
64 — Issue 01
Ric Bower: So, a commercial and a noncommercial approach are quite different careers in your mind then? JB: In a way. A gallerist who was a mentor to me said “…All good art sells because it enhances our understanding of what it means to be alive”. That is what we believe, and, in the end, it is why I work with certain artists and not others. RB: How did you get involved in Frame? JB: I had a platform for a number of years at the Basel Art Fair and it worked for us; so when the opportunity arose for us to have a platform here at Frieze too, I simply jumped at it. RB: To what extent were you directly involved in the commissioning and curating of this particular project with Ryan? JB: With Frame you apply with a specific project proposal. We therefore have a very close working relationship. RB: It is so refreshing to see a piece of work, like Ryan’s at Frieze, which will so clearly not fit on a living room wall... JB: Commissioning something that is not obviously commercial is sometimes what is expected of you as a gallery. This is a cynical world we live and function in -sometimes you just have to work in a certain way to get on and to gain acceptance in the art world. RB: How does a project like Ryan’s which is not obviously saleable, fit in with the work that you do sell? JB: You can sell a project like Ryan has done for Frame, but there are maybe not that many buyers
for it. It does, however, broaden the spectrum of your gallery programme and it brings you a degree of respect. A lot of people come to see what we are up to. RB: What I really like about Ryan’s work is that the visual detritus, the evidence that the performance happened, that which remains in the gallery space now, is so integrally tied in to the performance itself when it happened. JB: That tie in is very much at the heart of the work; Ryan creates a conceptual framework and then uses it as the foundation for his particular area of research. It is not just about the artist performing, as such. RB: Ryan has an interest in the mechanism of memory that extends beyond this individual project, then? JB: Totally. If you go to these memory competitions, there are established techniques as to how to remember long sequences, and they are by no means new; they have been around for thousands of years. That’s possibly one of the
things Ryan is interested in, that slippage between structural language and a material art practice. RB: I am incredibly impressed by the sheer scale of the feat. Does Ryan have a personal record he seeks to break? JB: He was lousy when he started. What you see on the blackboard is the longest sequence of numbers he can currently remember, and on the video screen are the numbers transformed into another medium after he has recalled them. Broadly speaking, he has started, in a very open ended fashion, to construct a language. It is a conversation that begins in the public arena, travels to a private place, and, then, back into the public arena again.—CCQ
565227388075685491263778552287648245978904736778596410793444 881052311330439046280236201488374263028396245403697302493888 32413111085338640216793748562656368853592811677735237650163 62645967893039043216522086773835699238319841227210663713809 583839905958158905515018860987961087718044027913405932875262 82264188573663750938680947561228632461 816212651204959289514 205818029768567127108068542347850323943526578222588931452649 511382250174699181581947017944269090739719192655462400151515 26259050731383, Ryan Siegan-Smith at Johan Berggren. Frieze Frame, London (2013): installation photographs, Ric Bower
Johan Berggren Gallery will open in a new permanent space at Monbijougatan in Malmö in January 2014 www.johanberggren.com Frieze Art Fair 2014 www.friezelondon.com Images: 330497285263591687059979470324995262765497806550201116672244
Browsing and Sluicing Across Old London Town from the frenzy of Frieze Art Fair in Regents Park, Sluice provides a counterpoint to the art market bear pit with a raft of artist-led and independent galleries and projects all under one roof in Bermondsey. Emma Geliot took in the atmosphere and some very stimulating refreshments.
66 — Issue 02
I’m too early. I’m never early: “The Late Emma Geliot”, a ready obituary and a tombstone engraving coined by an exasperated friend. But Sluice isn’t ready to accept visitors just yet as final tweaks and flourishes are administered inside the old warehouse that will be home to the coalface of arts production for a long weekend. So off I got into the decaffeinated desert of Bermondsey. But I’ve been spotted by British Racing Green, who have been putting the final touches to their stall and saw me trying to get in and my early arrival is heralded on twitter. I’ll get my revenge later. A large coffee consumed and my wait’s justified. I’m welcomed in with a large gin and pink lemonade and can immediately see why a trek to this spot by the Thames was worth it. The place is buzzing. Everyone is in friendly and welcoming mood (perhaps they’ve had a head start on the gin, but I’m assured that exhibitors have been asked to hold back on the refreshments so it really is just pure enthusiasm). I dive upstairs to say hello to the Welsh contingent – British Racing Green (BRG), in the shape of Sam Aldridge and Jason Pinder,who immediately engage in a kind of arm wrestling struggle to draw me a collaborative poodle, and The Welsh Pavilion, which consists Untitled, Andrea Liggins of Outcasting,
Goat Major Projects and Mermaid & Monster. Wales doesn’t have a commercial gallery infrastructure as such so it’s great to see these artist-led initiatives taking the plunge and with such zest. Goat Major Projects are hosting a good cop bad cop performance that is literally (and I never use literally in a sentence) phoned in: voices emerge from the kind of mobile phone that you buy your nana in the hope that she’ll learn to ring you when she’s broken her hip again, set into a resinous mini-menhir. Outcasting has a screening programme which includes John Rowley’s Dark Sounds for a City and Bobby Abate’s The Evil Eyes and Mermaid & Monster had a rotating programme of easel paintings over the run of the fair. In fact zest and derring-do are definitely the leit motifs of this fair. There’s a programme of performance events that spills out on to the street outside (xvi Collective’s performance flowed around me while I was, um getting some fresh air), serious engagement – a conversation about negotiated space (there are no laid out spaces in Sluice so elbows need sharpening), a catch-up with Islington Mill, whose alternative to art education I’ve been tracking – and some knitting. As I moved around the building I could pose for a photo opportunity with Simon Cowell
An Independent Perspective on the Arts
and Hitler (I declined) , buy myself a golden brain stress ball (thanks Royal Standard, just what I needed) and eavesdrop on some extremely lively conversations. Artists and curators from Athens (3 137) to Worcester (Division of Labour, with a fully functioning wet fish stall), showing and telling Inevitably I ended up buying things but at no time felt that was why I was there. This fair is about that critical point where the creative impulse meets its public, unmediated by the drive to commodify and sell objects. Of course artists need to sell work and/or services to avert the risk of serious malnutrition, but the sheer fizz of ideas that crackled around the three storey building, the buzz of conversation and the exchange of ideas and the interest of the visitors can be sustenance in itself and is certainly very nourishing for visitors to Sluice (but the gin and cucumber sandwiches certainly didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t hurt either)â&#x20AC;&#x201D;CCQ
Previous page Insert credit here
Detail from The Royal Standard, photograph: Ric Bower
performance xvi Collective, Image courtesy of Sluice Art Fair
British Racing Green performance, photograph: Emma Geliot
Performance xvi Collective, photograph: Emma Geliot
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68 â&#x20AC;&#x201D; Issue 02
After the death of her father, photographer Grainne Connolly set out to find him in the West Walean landscapes they had walked through together.
My dad died on a beautiful day at the end of a hot Spring. I felt I didn’t feel I really him know at all. I remember being dragged across muddy fields, along windswept cliffs and over freezing mountainous outcrops of rock. It seemed only natural that these isolated, lonely places would be the best place for me to learn more about what drove him. I settled upon the use of muslin: it seemed apt, with its connection to old funerary practices. www.gk-connolly.co.uk
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Whatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Left Behind The British Council launched The Welsh International Young Artist Award in 2013 and graduate photographer Andrew Morris picked up the prize money at a ceremony in November. His project looked for the residue of life in the homes of the dead. The winning work will be shown in British Council offices around the world over the next year.
www.britishcouncil.org/wales www.amorrisphotography.co.uk 74 â&#x20AC;&#x201D; Issue 02
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Womex Womex, the world’s premier peripatetic world music expo. arrived in Cardiff at the end of October 2013. Ric Bower sampled some of its multicultural delights.
The trade fair, held at the Motorpoint Arena Cardiff, as one might expect, turned musical exoticism into national sport with much Kakaki filing and hemi-tonic Balafon tuning. Fascinating, I am sure, if you are a budding Adungu player, but it was in the evenings at the Millennium Centre where theory was transformed into fantastic reality, with an impressive line-up of musicians from a vast array of traditions, some collaborating for the occasion and some going it alone. Fanfara Tirana Meets Trans-Global Underground played in an enormous yurt/spaceship that had landed outside the Millennium Centre for the occasion. Fanfara Tirana, formed from a troupe of Albanian ex-military, had persuaded one of Albania’s most celebrated folk singers, Hysni Zela, to come out of retirement and sing for them; he provides the hauntingly other, melodic vocals to encompass the driving rhythms of the dub based, experimentally-oriented Trans-Global Underground. Harp-wielding Catrin Finch was teamed up with Seckou Keita, a charismatic kora player and drummer from Senegal. The result was an intimate dialogue between two master practitioners that was as rewarding to watch as it was to listen to.
01 02 03 04
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Xosé Manuel Budiño Seckou Keita Catrin Finch Hysni Zela of Fanfara Tirana meets Trans-Global Underground all images, Ric Bower
Features Experimentica 2013
Through a combination of melodic song, abject storytelling and poetic horror, Cian Donnelly’s Strawberry Necklace creates a fictional space where nightmare-lyricism and melancholic humour co-exist for Experimentica 2013. CCQ invited illustrator Rosie Benn-Squire to respond to the performance.
For its 13th birthday Experimentica embraced the bad luck associated with the number 13 for Chapter Arts Centre’s annual celebration of experiments in performance, sound and moving image. Artists working at the forefront of experimental art came together for an exciting week of showing, telling and discussing. 80 — Issue 02
Features Experimentica 2013
Wylaf Wers, Tawaf Wedy Legendary performers good cop bad cop conjured chaos for their contribution to Experimentica 2013. Words and images Ric Bower It began right after the beleaguered gallery facilitator announced “…there are a limited number of ear defenders available for the forthcoming performance … only those of you who have prebooked will be granted entry.” From somewhere near the back of the crowd someone shouted, “… but I have come all the way from London just to see this!” This outburst was followed by further murmurings, general unrest and that mysterious heaviness that condenses before a riot. So when the doors finally opened, we scrambled into the crepuscular chamber to witness good cop bad cop’s performance, Wylaf Wers, Tawaf Wedy. A performance in the round is hard to quantify. There is no single definitive viewpoint from which to report back from; subject/object Cartesian certainty is dissolved into the all-immersive experience, the referential background, of which the viewer is just another part. But from one end of the blackened void a startling spectacle was about to unfold. At first it seemed fairly straightforward. John Rowley, suited and booted, offered us a de82 — Issue 02
contextualised memento to Bill Grundy’s disastrous attempt to interview the Sex Pistols on the Today program. Rowley recited the belligerent, expletive-strewn interaction verbatim. The Pistols themselves were transformed into a row of ultraviolet fluorescent tubes, each splayed before us on a couch. The Pistols and their entourage (The Bromley Contingent) in turn, were all namechecked on the t-shirts of gcbc’s row of obedient collaborators. Suddenly, with the interview over and the protagonists filing off, the rear of the stage was brilliantly illuminated and there was the other half of good cop bad cop, Richard Huw Morgan, wielding a chain saw with which he set about a virgin Welsh dresser, diligently reducing it to so much firewood. By now there was no doubt in our minds where we were supposed to be looking, and what we were meant to hear, and we complied without question... ...So completely was our attention fixed that we were unaware of the thick smoke licking at our ankles. Nor did we immediately take note of the escalating miasma of guitar feedback rising steadily beneath the noise of the chainsaw. Soon we were no longer all facing in the prescribed
direction. As the visibility dropped away, so the discordant, metal-core layerings escalated to their glorious, ear-splitting climax. Discombobulation levels were high by now; when the doors were flung open those who possessed delicate sensibilities urgently sought the exit. Perhaps they had not spent their teenage years with their heads in a bass bin or with a Nietzschean chemistry experiment flowing through their circulatory systems. To those of us that had, the confusion was comforting; it annihilated the wagging finger of reason. We stayed on to watch, again our attention diverted from more action behind us as Morgan revived text from a longlost performance, while over his head the loop of projected images of gcbc’s back catalogue that had been set to pulse just below the speed that brings on epilepsy, slowed and stopped as Morgan sank slowly to the floor. The sensory cacophony promised and delivered nothing. Perhaps, we are being shown that spectacle, can and should, rarely be trusted—CCQ
“...nor did we immediately take note of the escalating miasma of guitar feedback rising steadily beneath the noise of the chainsaw.”
Images: Wylaf wers, Tawaf Wedy, performance still, good cop bad cop for Experimentica 2013, photography, Ric Bower
Y Tir Newydd The New Land Tucked away high in the eaves of a once fancy Victorian office in Cardiff Bay, Third Floor Gallery, now sadly defunct, represented what could be achieved by a dedicated group of individuals with little more than blind enthusiasm and excellent taste. Helen Warburton immersed herself in Gareth Philips’ photographic journey around a wild and ancient landscape.
Third Floor Gallery is transformed into what, at first glance, appears to be a dark melting pot of monochromatic psychedelia. Prints are pinned up on inky black walls. Windows, skirting boards and radiators are all blacked out. The resourceful alterations may be humble, yet they achieve a considered end – a controlled space in which Phillips’ monolithic prints can hang undisturbed. The selection of 25 images, including five gigantic, digitally mirrored composites, alongside cascading collections of smaller accompanying prints, charts Phillips’ journeys – mostly on foot – to the most inaccessible reaches of the landscape; the farthest east, the farthest west, the deepest and the highest. This is not a representational geographic study, however – Phillips gives no image captions, place names or information – this rural, uninhabited land is presented through high contrast, foreboding images, most of which seem so full of movement they could burst or shatter from their instability at any moment. Walking around this one room gallery, your vision is peppered with what we know are murky skies, dense woodland and studies of earth and foliage. Yet, as if seeing mirages in the desert, Phillips conjures apparitions of the familiar and offers us tokens of folklore, dream and nightmare. The mirroring of branches, cracks in rocks and organic forms resemble aged faces, mythical gods and alien totems.
“...Phillips transports us away from civilisation, back to our ancestors and to a primordial place.”
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Phillips ensures the picturesque Wales we might recognise from adverts and holiday brochures is nowhere to be seen. We’ve strayed far from the beaten track, it’s getting dark and a narrative of physical and mental exertion plays out. Phillips transports us away from civilisation, back to our ancestors and to a primordial place. Here, the branches of trees blowing in the wind and the scars in rocks could easily be ancient runes, Neolithic cave paintings or even the veins and arteries of human tissue. These images are shrouded in delirium and euphoria, seeping with an intensity of experience that one can only relate back to the photographer’s physical endeavors. Y Tir Newydd / The New Land serves not only to explore the wild frontiers of Wales, but to meditate on the act of documenting; to connect the viewer with one man’s experience of the rawest, most remote natural environment. The lasting impression, is therefore not one of the land itself, but of the human body, human histories and the vulnerability and potential of the imagination when at the mercy of the elements. Third Floor Gallery www.thirdfloorgallery.com Image: Untitled, from Y Tir Newydd | The New Land, 2013, Gareth Phillips
Pridd Children’s entertainers are jolly, avuncular types aren’t they? Not in this dark one-man production they aren’t, as Emma Geliot discovers at the opening night of Pridd,Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru’s production at Y Llwyfan, Carmarthen. First things first – a confession: My command of the Welsh language is flawed; learned late in life in the hills to the West of Carmarthen, where Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, the Welsh language national theatre company is previewing Pridd. In my enthusiasm to see the very first show I’d forgotten to check if there would be the usual sur-titling or other translation facilities. There aren’t. Never mind, I can generally muddle through, particularly when I’m hearing the West Wales inflections that I had tuned in to in my Welsh classes. But no, not tonight. Tonight there will be one voice, that of Owen Arwyn, whose astonishing delivery comes via the dense and very rapid inflections of Ynys Môn, or the Isle of Anglesey, far from here in the North of Wales. So I struggle to keep up with the dialogue (and I’m not alone). However this is strangely liberating, although I’m sorry to miss some of the nuances of Aled Jones Williams’ text. But I’m free to observe everything else in close detail and there are plenty of visual gags and, as our (anti-) hero, Handy Al is a children’s entertainer – a dishevelled clown with what appear to be extendable arms – there is plenty of gesture and body language to help me along. I am also free to watch the audience and their slow decline over an hour, from hearty guffaws, through appalled squirming to a stunned realisation as the play comes to a pathetic end; pathetic in its proper meaning here – full of pathos. Handy Al is not a very nice man. He drinks, he seduces the mothers of his young audiences while the kiddies are left slack-jawed and disturbed by jokes that would have even the most hardened Bernard Manning fan wincing, and he is vile to his long-suffering wife Gwenda. 86 — Issue 02
Owen Arwyn’s Handy Al is the very embodiment of hubris and its aftermath as he struts and gangles around a set that is strewn with earth (the pridd of the title), furniture half sinking into the dark soil. A sofa, some chairs, a drinks cabinet, a telephone table beneath an answering machine, which provides the only other human voices. It’s this latter device that punctuates the flow of Handy Al’s monologue and begins exposing a story, unravelling to its bitter end as the unbearably cocky façade falls away like dirty plaster, like fat gobs of greasepaint. Gradually the proud boasts (he’s CRB checked you know – we know, he reminds us, with his home-made certificate, brandishing it along to his answer phone message) and expansive gestures ebb away – so much hot air out of a leaking balloon, like the one he uses to so graphically demonstrate an enthusiastic lover’s attentions. This play is not for the prim or the timid and the audience participation is truly humiliating for all concerned – every theatregoer’s nightmare – but then this is a nightmare of sorts. I’m skirting around the plot here because to give too much away would be unkind and I hope that this production will have many revivals. But, like
red litmus paper in caustic soda, the emotional mood changes from red to blue. So one minute we’re laughing at a highly suggestive balloon gag and then, before our laugh lines have had a chance to de-crinkle, we are witnessing a man broken by the paradox of his existence (his psychiatrist diagnoses aporia), then there’s another laugh spike, then we slide back a bit further into darkness. Can so much be felt in a short hour? The lighting designer should take a bow of her own for managing the mood to the moment of release, but everything gelled – text, direction, sight, sound and, of course a performance with no let-up (repeated another 14 times over the course of a month). CCQ doesn’t do ratings, but if we did Pridd would get five rude pink balloons, slowly seeping nitrous oxide—CCQ
“...There is not one second, not a flickering heart beat, when I am not gripped by what’s unfolding in front of me.”
Actor - Owen Arwyn; Playwright - Aled Jones Williams; Director - Sara Lloyd; Designer - Ruth Hall; Sound Designer - Dyfan Jones; Lighting Designer - Elanor Higgins Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru: www.theatr.com
An Independent Perspective on the Arts
Chelsea Hotel It’s not often you get so see a fridge as a dance partner, but the winners of Theatre Critics Wales Award 2014 for Best Small Scale Dance are full of surprises. They take the legendary, (and now threatened), Chelsea Hotel in New York as their source material. Earthfall’s four dancers and three musicians create an amalgam of the stories and often chaotic lives of some of the hotel’s residents. Emma Geliot takes a look. Some icons of the twentieth century lived at The Chelsea, amongst them: Dylan Thomas, Tennessee Williams, Leonard Cohen, Charles Bukowski, Arthur C Clarke, Bob Dylan, Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen. Tragedies played out there, as did some significant bursts of creativity. These stories are pulled apart into themes, hybridised and put back together so that every now and then there’s a moment of half-recognition for the audience, yet the characters are fluid, with small vignettes from the dancers and a backing track from the musicians on stage (Frank Naughton, Sion Orgon, Felix Otaola) that creates a kind of Ry Cooder in Paris Texas vibe – cool and spare, going straight to the internal organs. The set, by Mike Brookes, is similarly spare – the aforementioned fridge, a table, some chairs and a bed. Furniture is there to be danced across, climbed up or over or interacted with; chair table and fridge are springboards for leaps; the bed a framing device for storytelling couples. Brooke’s imagery on screen fills in the details – a partiallydrawn curtain speaks eloquently of a home that is not home. And there is more interplay across different media – from time to time the characters peel away from the action to sit and talk to camera, to tell stories, or fragments of
stories, their faces rendered in night vision on the big screen, where we also see the cast running through hotel corridors, or packed into a lift. For the most part the pacing is just right, with lots of the physical interplay that Earthfall have made their trademark --sometimes dance, sometimes physical theatre. But there are moments when it drags a little, and the sections on the bed are less visually gripping. When the cast work together it flows, driven along by the live soundtrack (we were warned that it would be loud). Rosalind Haf Brooks steals the show in a spotty dress and beehive, but the other dancers are strong too (Jessica Haener, Sebastian Langueneur, Alex Marshall Parsons). The impressionist approach to storytelling, conceived and directed by Jessica Cohen and Jim Ennis, works well here, allowing personas to merge and overlap as the narrative
segues sinuously without a break. As I leave I’m handed a chocolate, although The Chelsea Hotel wasn’t the kind of hostelry to leave an offering on the pillow of a turned down bed. A nice touch, though, I thought, stashing it in my handbag for a future sugar rush. Some days later I was prompted to open the chocolate and discovered a code to unlock a special video clip, which brought the whole experience back again. A nice touch indeed—CCQ Earthfall – Weston Centre, Wales Millennium Centre www.earthfall.org.uk image: Phil Crow
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Clare Thornton, The Dandy & The Mute Before Clare Thornton’s solo exhibition opened in Carmarthen’s Oriel Myrddin, Phil Owen had a personal preview of her work in her studio.
Across many different cultures and periods, definitions of beauty have relied upon practices of concealment – veiling, binding, painting, dyeing and cutting amongst them. Indeed, the word ‘glamour’ referred originally to an illusion, cast by magic, intended to make the perceiver believe they could see something that was not actually there. Also relevant here is ‘camp’ – the deployment of a sort of outré elegance as defiance, yet also distraction, or defence mechanism. However, the energy required to keep up these sorts of façades, to primp and to preen, always risks running out, and thus the beauty that they underpin risks collapse. It is this, the dialectic relationship between display and the need to be hidden, that is key to Clare Thornton’s work. That several of her sculptural pieces should explore this through a sort of anthropomorphic minimalism is significant: two music stands stand in for their performers, wreathed in net (sheer, but stiff and structural); the hoop hanging from the ceiling, wound with coloured tape and draped with diaphanous fabric, looks like it may have 88 — Issue 02
found use as a starlet’s swing, or in a form of decorous calisthenics. In both instances, figuration is sensuously alluded to (the objects are dressed up), but the viewer is required to recognise what is not actually there. As with cosmetic beautification, it is a method to show what is not seen. The coloured tiles that line the walls were cast from an original piece of cornice bearing an acanthus leaf motif, once affixed to the wall of a theatre, (architectural decoration is a recurrent theme here – the colours of the tiles imitate a stained glass window at Oriel Myrddin). They look like they might be confectionary, or soap. In fact, they are made from paraffin wax, which whilst enabling greater sharpness of detail, could potentially melt under the heat of the lights. Each tile was hand cast by the artist, and individually coloured the mould. Prior to the exhibition, I was able to observe her going through the process of pouring the wax in to peeling it out, and carefully cutting away any extraneous detail or smudging. She then carried it over to those already made, and held it up to see whether the colour matched. Feeling it didn’t (I could barely tell the difference), she turned, snapped the tile in half, and went back to the stove to melt it down and start again. This was a laborious process in which visual perfection was both aimed for and made deliberately impossible (a walk along the row will reveal the discrepancies between the individual casts). If the pieces discussed thus far focus on an active display, the mirror stand instead invites the
viewer to participate more directly in the play of self-conscious showing-off. It was constructed in imitation of a piece of furniture found in a cathedral that enabled visitors to inspect the ceiling without straining their necks. Here, it does not necessarily enable us to see far away things more clearly, but rather it makes the act of our looking more conspicuous. Using it, we can see ourselves looking at the work, over our shoulders and also, watch ourselves being seen. Thornton is an artist with previous experience in dance, performance, and also, fashion and textiles – these latter two very much overlap with the former in her work as a way to adorn or modify and, thus, perform the body. Clearly, these disciplines directly impact on her approach to sculpture. These pieces are soft, impermanent and only half way to being inanimate. They teeter on the brink of their beauty—CCQ
“...they teeter on the brink of their beauty”
The Dandy & The Mute is at Oriel Myrddin Gallery, Church Lane, Carmarthen SA31 1LH from 01 January to 01 March www. orielmyrddingallery.co.uk Image opposite: The Dandy and the Mute, installation image, Clare Thornton, photography, Ric Bower
Read more from Phil Owen at www.tertuliablog. wordpress.com
01 First Night, 2011, Dornith Doherty, Archival pigment photograph, 76.2 x 101.6 cms 02 Vauxhall Bridge, from the series Pissing Women, 1995, Sophy Rickett, Gelatine silver print, Courtesy the artist and Brancolini Grimaldi, London 03 Silvertown, from the series Pissing Women, 1995, Gelatine silver print. Sophy Rickett, Courtesy the artist and Brancolini Grimaldi, London. 03 Them #17, 2005. Danny Treacy, Lambda digital C print mounted on aluminium, 215 x 180 cms, Courtesy the artist. 04 Them #15, 2005. Danny Treacy, Lambda digital C print mounted on aluminium, 215 x 180 cms, Courtesy the artist.
3AM: Wonder, Paranoia and the Restless Night Strange things happen between dusk and dawn and they are captured in an exhibition currently touring the UK. Steffan Jones-Hughes reviews its first showing at The Bluecoat in Liverpool. The dead of the night is a difficult place populated by insomniacs, worriers, the furtive and the dangerous. In cities and towns this unnatural hour is a time of sulphurous street lamps, neon and flashing alarms. Angela Kingston, writer and curator, has selected work by a wide-ranging group of artists from the past few decades who explore and examine the semi-conscious wonderful paranoia of a part of life that is most often seen by the restless. 3AM: Wonder, Paranoia and the Restless Night is delightfully dark, unsettlingly disturbing, dark and dramatic. Francis Alÿs captures on CCTV a skulking and confident urban fox as she navigates, or prowls, the National Portrait Gallery. Always alert, her eyes glowing in the lights and burning in the darkness, acutely aware of potential capture, but not in the least concerned by the hundreds of eyes watching her from the wall. The black dog of
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depression is caught in the infrared by Dornith Doherty in the hours before dawn, the darkest of all. Anthony Goicolea’s Code takes place in a darkened wood. Initially, one light flashes and another responds, until eventually we move from isolation to memories of scenes from a film where someone is being pursued by someone else. A sense of anxiety builds, wuntil we reach the point, where there are so many lights that they form a constellation. This cosmos eventually burns out to blackness, blankness, emptiness and nothingness. He provides a lesson in life and challenges the concept of the importance of individualism. Michael Palm and Willi Dormer’s Body Trail 2008 takes Bodies in Urban Spaces and strips out the colour to create a deep sense of the unheimlich in the city, bodies squeezed into tight spaces with an awkwardly-extended limb appearing brokenly from the hard edges of architectural features. For some, 3AM is the end of the night, closing time, the last dance, the awkward snog that tastes of booze and fags (Tom Wood’s Looking for Love 1983-86). The time when there’s a blur between hunter and prey, when conventions are dropped and new roles are assumed (Sophie Rickett’s Pissing Women 1995). It is the point when time is called, and the lights go on so that night workers can begin the clean up from the night before (Paul Rooney Lights Go On: The song of the nightclub cloakroom attendant, 2001). Anj Smith’s work is surreal: Nachträglichkeit is the psychological afterwards-ness of events. This is the time of searchlights, the only beacon of hope in an ocean of dark despair. Each artist explores a sub theme, Someone is lost, no one is
found (Dorothy Crass). Terrible things happen in the dark, the pain is relentless (Jordan Baseman). Sometimes the fear is real, often it is perceived; the nightmare, that uncomfortable relative of the dream, the monsters of the night, the dark side (Danny Treacy, Nathan Maybury). This is Grim(m), the horror genre, feeding on our fear of the unknown (Marc Hulson); the creaking door, the scratching at the window, the fear of fear. The deprivation of sleep is, in itself, a torture (Bettina von Zwehl). It can be self-perpetuating, altering our perception of reality. Night is most definitely not monochrome, but rather, it is starkly black and white. The white has the clarity of porcelain. In the work of Rachel Kneebone it is a time of subconscious fantasy, of writhing sexuality. The exhibition is accompanied by an publication, which includes essays by Angela Kingston, Bluecoat curator, Sara-Jane Parsons, and Bluecoat director, Bryan Biggs, who provides us with a 3AM Playlist, including 3AM Eternal by the KLF—CCQ
The Bluecoat touring exhibition is at Chapter until 02 March 2014 and then touring to Newlyn Art Gallery, Penzance (May - July) and Ferens Art Gallery, Hull (20 September – December)
The Curio Cabinet Choreographer Deborah Light spent two weeks with Aura Dance in Lithuania, devising The Curio Cabinet, which formed part of a double bill with Aura Dance’s Am I The One Who I Am at Chapter Arts Centre. Tara McInerney missed the performance but the filmed version on Culture Colony captured her imagination. Here is her response in words and image.
I am both ashamed and disgruntled that I have yet to witness The Curio Cabinet live. I encountered this dance piece via a video and all I could feel after watching it, apart from an inane glee at men in lingerie, was that it was so very far from what I understood to be dance. This was by no means a negative feeling – the experience brought on the wonderful and rare sensation of anything seeming possible, a prejudice cast aside and my mind pried open a little bit more. Having previously imagined experimental dance with a sardonic slant (I failed to see how shaking ones limbs could be a valid form of communication) when The Curio Cabinet showed me dinosaurs, male trauma and the gender divide all in one sitting, my expectations were confounded. It began with a trio of corseted dancers – whom by no coincidence are doubly constricted and finally trumped – two identical males, and one red-haired female. The gartered socks and corsetry conjure up a Victorian setting, and the white square drawn out on the floor initially struck me as the male realm, from which the one, flame-haired, trouser-wearing, corseted female is prohibited for the duration of the dance. In the gloom, hugging the wall, lurks a dark-haired woman in skimpy stretch-lace. As they incessantly tapped and knocked at the ground the male characters suggested digging and, when they fight, they are animated dinosaurs, the product of a paleontological endeavour. 92 — Issue 02
Inhabiting a polarised space, the female dancers were torn between chastity and debauchery, failure and success, censorship and freedom of expression. The lingerie-clad female freely explored the stage, circling like a ringmaster, and is all at once seductress and manipulator. Conversely, the redhead finds herself perpetually dragged around by an unseen force and rocks in what appears to be uncontrollable sorrow and frustration, forever foiled by the double standard. Somewhere near the end of the dance the penny dropped for me: they are the same woman. They shed light on the virgin/whore dichotomy so prevalent during the Victorian era, but resonating within our culture today. The drone-like males personify male trauma; their corsets cleverly represent the incarcerating burden of masculinity, their white box on the floor, the crisis of being in endless contest with your comrades. As Virginia Woolf said, “I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse, perhaps, to be locked in”.
After the seeing The Curio Cabinet I discovered that it was a testament to Britain’s (and arguably the world’s) greatest palaeontologist, Mary Anning. At a time when women couldn’t vote, were passed from family to family through marriage, and kept by men, she pursued her career an outsider, and her experiences resonate with everyone who has suffered prejudice at the cost of their biology. The next time someone offers to explain a concept to you through interpretive dance, don’t scoff – Deborah Light has proven this is not a medium be trifled with . You can see the film of The Curio Cabinet at www.culturecolony.com
Hide As Hide, created by Deborah Light with Jo Fong, Rosalind Haf Brooks and Eddie Ladd, is resurrected for a new tour around Wales and British Dance Editions 2014, we look back at its first outing in (2013). Words: Emma Geliot.
We were kept in the holding pen for a while, a full house twittering with anticipation until the doors opened and we streamed in to Chapter’s Studio space. Jo Fong, awkwardly naked, is standing on a little podium, giggling nervously as we took our seats. What follows is a revelation. Not dance exactly, although the performers are all dancers, and the language of dance is present. Fong’s performance persona is mildly hysterical, self-effacing, and full of doubt. Her body says it all and, for such a compactly built person she gangles, often pigeon toed and apologetic and, to my amazement, she dances with her face. Ladd takes us through the tonsorial challenges of the 1970s and 80s and the journey of her name from Gwenith Owen to Eddie Ladd. But this isn’t a narrative performance. Sentences are pronounced and are reverted to at times, poetic but detached. While Fong and Ladd take turns, Rosalind Haf-Brooks weaves in and out – sometimes a watching presence, sometimes frenzied: barking, twitching and, most hilariously, sniffing. There are a lot of costume changes and clothes sharing. As clothes are discarded she picks them up and sniffs them, folding them up, taking them away. Then she moves on to sniffing the other performers until Fong snaps in exasperation: “Stop it!” What is clear is that there are three distinct personalities at work here, which could mean a kind of disjointed three-way performance bubble, but it works. Occasionally there is a coming together, more often towards the end of the performance, but the piece works in movements or chapters without narrative, although Ladd speaks and Fong’s thoughts, at first, are relayed to us as part of a sound track that underpins the whole piece. All three performers have their own style, their own signature moves, which they work – Ladd’s taut precision translates into the careful positioning and repositioning of her limbs. She is reflective, self-contained and objective at first, but becomes more vulnerable as the snippets of narrative add up and she confesses that she was ashamed of her original name, which means wheat
in Welsh: “I am ashamed that I was ashamed”, she says, curled up to face the black back wall. Haf-Brooks is the control, her persona less easy to read – curious, sometimes manic and challenging as she rushes at the audience, frothing and gibbering, overseeing the costume changes (everything black: jackets, underwear, hooded tops that mask the face, dinner trousers) which, to our delight includes a clothes swap while the previous wearer is still occupying the garment (don’t try this at home readers – it’s much harder to put on trousers while someone else is wearing them than you might think). Fong works vulnerability, that fatal flaw in the female psyche that wants to please, that fears to offend, that wishes to take up less space. As we near the end of the show she begins to dance with a (deliberately) unconvincing exuberance: “This is a performance. I’m performing. I’m performing for you.” Then she stops. “But maybe this isn’t what you want. Maybe this isn’t the performance you came to see.... I’m going.” And she leaves. Haf-Brooks clambers in to some improbably high shoe boots; bends forward, the hood of her jacket slumping over her head. Not a human shape, an unreadable form. The lights, three spots on wheels controlled by the trio of performers, are snapped off one by one. The shadows that have stretched up to the black walls, shrunk again, or
merged, vanish in the greater darkness. That’s all folks. The crowd is appreciative. Who we are, how we got here, who we have to please or convince. Personalities tried on and discarded like clothes we’ve grown out of, or names and hairstyles that no longer do the trick. There are some important ideas in Light’s work, delivered with technical skill, a lightness of touch (no pun intended) and humour. Maybe this isn’t the performance I came for, but it ended up being the one I wanted to see. This review originally appeared on www. culturecolony.com in February 2013 Performance Details: British Dance Edition, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh. Fri 31 Jan 2014: 2.15pm Volcano, 229 High Street, Swansea. Thur 6 & Fri 7 Feb 2014: 8pm Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold. Tue 18 & Wed 19 March 2014: 7.45pm www.deborahlight.com
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Ray Howard-Jones 1903-1996: A Retrospective 6 June - 5 July
Hineni Holocaust Memorial Exhibition 2014 photographic portraits by Dr Glenn Jordan 11 January - 8 February
Ray Howard-Jones (1903–1996) was born in Berkshire, but grew up largely in Penarth and studied at the Slade school of Art. She is best known for her impressionistic paintings of the coastline in Wales. As a War Artist, a rare position for a women, HowardJones was commissioned to record military installations, including the preparations in Glamorgan for the D-Day landings. Unveiling this exhibition on 6 June is of particular significance, marking the 70th anniversary of the WW2 D-Day landings in France.
COMING SOON... 18 February – 22 March Women’s Arts Association, International Women’s Day An eclectic display of multi media artworks by women artists from across Wales.
Women’s Arts Association International Women’s Day ‘Cwm Colhuw’ by Gwyneth Price 18 February - 22 March
George Little ‘Industrial Shadows’
29 March – 10 May
This iconic Swansea based artist is exhibiting his collection of abstract paintings.
Cardiff & Vale College – Art & Design Exhibition
17 May – 31 May
Students at the Barry Campus exhibit a fantastic collection of stunning creative work. George Little ‘White Rock, Slag and Clinker Landscape’ 29 March - 10 May
FREE admission Open 10am to 4pm Monday to Saturday (except Bank Holidays)
Art Central Town Hall King Square Barry CF63 4RW www.valeofglamorgan/enjoy/artsandculture
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For more information contact Tracey Harding TCHarding@valeofglamorgan.gov.uk
An Independent Pespective on the Arts Subscribe at ccqmagazine.com Miao Xiaochun, in front of his work ‘Out of Nothing’, at the 55th Venice Biennale, for CCQ magazine, Avis+Bower
David Opravo the past’s imperfect
of all the old things in the house that need fixing there are several calling with wails whistles wallops & so many have been broke so long it’s a sombre moment to find air
the future’s tense
maybe it’s only in the outlines of silence
a calendar suckling before it was broken
we find lost keys or virginities so long ago left
there’s a quiet door back when cooking was an opened tin
within the noise of being in a hurry blurring the lines between gash peach plum & gravity
it hurts to look at like the last time you make love ever scrubbing
cleaning the kitchen the cooker shifts on naked floor
you sit in that square encircled by greasy dust you begin to laugh
once again exactly as it was
as if laughter were a time machine
to explain that no amount of talking is going to replace the heating coil there’s not enough change
in the drawer for a new one as he looks at you saying he’ll change a head shakes broken only has one shape one purpose one name he’ll find a new life with water who’s happy to love him you turn away to the sink so tired of tepid glad you’ve found a new source of ocean
Mobile Phone 2016, collage on paper, 2013, James Green
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Megalithic Head ,acrylic on board, 2013, James Green
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