Friday, May 18, 2012

Day Five: A Walk with Bethan

The walk - I expected the walk would take me some time, but had not expected just how long. Because I was stopping to write my thoughts down, take photographs and do some drawings, overall the walk took more than 6 hours.
I got lost a few times, and saw, heard and tasted things that would not have been possible without Bethan's guidance. I felt also that I was on someone else's personal journey through memory. The text instructions given by Bethan were personal and rooted in family history. It was interesting to me that while on the walk as I was taking notes I was having a conversation with Bethan in my head - pointing things out, remarking, questioning; was this what you meant?
I am working on putting the journey into a text piece - it was going to be a brochure originally, but it doesn't make sense. My instructions from Bethan were in purely text form, and so the resulting piece should be text as well. I want the poster to be a3 black and white, so that it can be easily and cheaply reproduced. For next weeks exhibitions I want to print a bundle of them, and tie them with string for people to take with them.

The Text:

From the Lion, walk up the hill until you see a sort of stone/concrete box sticking out into the road on your right. It has black railings on it. It's a baptising well and watercress grows in there. Eat some. Feel good spirits.
I am sitting outside the lion. I can smell breakfast, and hear birds and the sound of a hoover. I am just about to start. The hill up looks steep. People here are used to hills, but I'm not. I wonder how long this walk will be and what I will find? I am going to measure my footsteps. Tourists are buying postcards. It's Thursday. I don't have time for postcards today.
I am at the well. A cockerel crows to let me know I am here. The sound of a stream and a blackbird, and the sound of my foot tapping on the wall as I write. How deep is the well? If I fall in will I be able to get back out? A man walks past and asks if I have made a good wish. I hadn't thought of that. I should make one as I eat the watercress. I can't tell you what it is of course.
I can taste the iron as I chew it up, tangy and peppery. There are a number of ferns here. The ones called tongues or something, and the trumpet shaped ones growing out of the wall. I don't know what it's called. I like it here. The suns come out now.
Walking back down the hill, there are forget-me-nots.

Go for tea and scones on the verandah at the Plas. My Taid used to fetch and carry for them when he was still in short trousers. Imagine it is 1926.
At the Plas, I thought it would be full of people but I am the only one. I ask if it's possible to have a cream tea on the verandah, the lady says 'yes help yourself.' It's warm so I sit outside, does this count as the verandah? A plane and then a train.
Were there golfers in 1926? I can hear the puuutt.
A labrador and some posh ladies arrive, remarking on my cream tea. The labrador soon sniffs it out and looks at me hopefully. I am drawing it before I can eat it, which is torturing him and building up the anticipation in me.
They order welsh rarebit, a pigeon gets up some cooing.
It's delicious. A damson fly comes to investigate. While I have been here the place has filled up.

Walk out of Harlech on the top road, past the pie shop and alterations place, past the plant nursery (buy some chamomile from the nursery if possible, it grows like nobody's business)
There's a bush near the nursery, teeming with bees. I have never seen so many. The lady in the nursery says it is cotoneaster. She doesn't have chamomile, but a distant relative. Anthemis copaniana, or something - she doesn't have the other as its not slug proof. Everything in the garden is meant to be slug and snail proof - she doesn't use pesticides because it kills everything else as well.
A baby robin comes close enough for me to touch. I can smell honey, it's a euphorbia. This place is amazing. I can't resist, a geranium, a mouse plant, and a few more whose names I didn't catch. The lady tells me this is her last year in the garden after 25 years, which makes me feel terribly sad. Who will buy it? and will they keep it like this. There are over 200 species of geranium, and a fern garden.
She takes me around to show me the varieties - one is black and hairy, with long tendrils. She says she mustn't get too close or it will bite. She shows me where her collection of plants is for taking to a new place. I will make a new garden, and take my friends, she says. But part of the garden is going with me, back to my little yard.
She tells me which of the plants to select, which is strong and how they like to be treated. She loves them all, she is parting with family members, and I try to let her know how much I will treasure them.
You should see a little opening in the wall, maybe a bench, go up to the prow, look down to the right. The view in the postcard you used for your collage. If you stand where the painter stood, you're pretty much standing on what's known as 'slidey rock.' You will see a slanting rock face with a streak worn smooth where generations of children have slid down in desperate, Craggy Island style make-your-own-fun. Have a slide.
Up at Slidey Rock. Jackdaws are making a racket and it looks like rain. An ice cream van makes its way to the holiday park. You can see everything from here
I leave my plants on the seat and gingerly make my way to the smooth rock. I don't think it will be too slippery, but it really is. I kick myself off and pick up speed unexpectedly and let out a ridiculous shriek. I wonder if the lady in the garden heard me. I think it must be quite dangerous, so only do it once.

Along the road near Coleg Harlech is St Davids Hotel. My Great Taid Ianto helped rebuild it after the fire in 1922 but now it is derelict again. Peep inside. Imagine being 12 years old, vegetarian. There is some wet lettuce and cold tomato to eat. It is like an old people's home in the dining room.
I have walked up past the Coleg. I am sitting on the wall outside St Davids. A man is buying a car from the dealers opposite, cars slide down the road. I have to wait here until the car dealer goes out of sight. Here's a geranium growing on the wall. The mans driven off in his old car. I wonder if there's another entrance further up? I can hear someone inside, maybe clearing up. Sounds like they are hosing the insides of the Hotel down. I feel a bit scared, there are warnings everywhere. The lower windows are boarded up so I can't see in. A chair is on its side, Lloyd loom with gold brocade. This place was fancy wasn't it?
The windows are smashed and the doors are hanging off, bluebirds live here now. Water drips down the black rocks, I'm right in now. Broken slates all over the ground, they are loud under my feet. Everything seems louder because I am trying to be quiet.
I don't like it here.
There's those forget-me-nots again. The cut on my leg is throbbing, where I slid down Slidey Rock and into the brambles. What's next? On the way back round the sound from inside starts up again. It's not inside, it's bouncing from the garage opposite.

St Tanwg's Church is in the dunes between the Maes and Traeth Llandawg. It is old out of time. Look at the faces on it. Go in and sing if there are people singing but there probably wont be. Sing outside instead. Not in English, they will hear you (the ones in the sand dunes).
I am walking along the road now. There's no pavement and the cars make me nervous. It's raining now. There's a little windy path going off to the left, but I don't know if it's where I want to go. I will have to chance it to get off this road. The forget-me-nots are here again, so maybe it's the right way. Bluebells, campion and rhododendrons cover the way.
As it clears I can see the sea and the dunes. This must be right. The sound of a strimmer stops, and I realise it has been there for a while, the hum is soon replaced by a bumblebee, blundering past. Japanese knotweed blocks the view again. Oh dear, it's a forest. It's quite steep and slippery. I have had enough slides today.
Some overgrown steps. I stop to draw them and listen to a conversation drifting up from the beach . Ladies walking dogs discuss why holidays are not much fun before moving on. The ice cream van chimes from faraway and a train comes by, much closer now. As I get down onto the dunes dandelion seeds fly towards me. The track leads finally to a dead end. And a lot of wild garlic. I double back and go up a different set of steps. They lead all the way up to a tall drystone wall, someone's garden. There is nothing for it, I can't go all the way back down now, I will have to sneak around the house. I see an old lady through the window, I don't want to scare her so I hurry around.
Back on the road. Some beekeepers are collecting honey in the field. I can see the puff puff of their smoke to calm the bees. It's nearly five o clock, I better get a move on. Going up the steps from the road I can see the sea. Someone is standing up to their knees, looking out. I hope these steps lead to the church.
They don't. Back to the road again I ask some power walkers if they know where the church is, they point to it in the distance. They tell me there is another one in Harlech, which replace this one - it has the same name - I hope you meant this one. I am going there now, I have come so far.
At the church, there is a sign outside that says amongst other things 'these dunes are special.'
There are two gates into the church. I take the left. The church is locked up, but I can see inside. I think about all the stone tables going around the church, can I sit at one? It's a grave.
The face is almost worn away by time. I don't know any welsh songs so I whisper the names of the places you have sent me into the silent ones ear. I try to draw the king, but his face has almost dissolved to nothing, and has been covered over with lichen. I can hear a tractor and sheep.
From the Maes over to where the boats are moored, the sand is a bit quick over there. Look at the ground. You won't see a boat called Nemo because it isn't there anymore. It used to be there and then one day it wasn't, there was only some oil and bits in the sand. This is a clue.
Down by the water, the boats all turn to stare. One is making a lapping sound. I look for the clue, and find a buoy and some tiny dead crabs. I walk along the beach, looking for a shell for my reliquary, ah, this is the one, it reminds me of you. I think this is the end of the tour, the suns gone and the winds getting up.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Day Four: On Track

Yesterday was spent locating some of the sites and views as recommended by Rhian. Cwm Bycham was one of the places that Rhian recommended I go, and the one she felt was the most beautiful.
I didn't know what I was looking for, and so each time we came to a beautiful place i would say 'Perhaps this is Cwm Bycham? This is a great view.'
It turns out that Cwm Bychan is a lake and mountain area. Not a bridge, or a waterfall.
There are roman steps leading up to another lake, which we didn't see as we had to rush back to John's for the burning. But I got some good shots on the way, of the amazing mountain. I am not sure why but it reminded me of a Japanese animation.
Driving around the amazing countryside, it is really just a pleasure on the eyes. Before we went to Cwm Bychan I went up to the Slidey Rock area to use my 'How To Explore Kit'.
I am quite pleased with the results, and will work on putting the images into a new Health and Safety poster, to explain how to use the kit, just in case any artists wish to use it, as it travels around to the different countries.
First I used the thermometer.
The idea here is to measure the temperature of the place - is the place cool to you, or welcoming. If cool, find ways to make friends.
Next I used the binoculars. Instructions here are to make sure you look closely at the place, and if you are used to looking in, then try looking out.
Naturally the next idea is to look closely, and if you are used to looking out, look in. It is important not to ignore the tiny things, they can be very important. One of my favourite things about Harlech is the alpines and sedums growing from crevices and tiny gaps in walls.
They are so resilient, clinging onto the mountain top despite the wind. They are like minute worlds, the magnifying glass is great for really getting in close to them. I went on to use the fluorescent stars, the dots, the postcards, the pedometer, the compass, and finally the tent pegs and string.
This was in order to mark out a particular small area, and then explore it in detail to see what could be found there.
A variety of grasses, and plants, ants and other creatures, small pieces of glass. I look forward to making the health and safety poster later on.
The Burning of Art: we got to John's just as Antonio was in conversation with Casoria Art Museum, where he is director. They were smashing up a marble sculpture live on skype. We watched.
The Mayor of his city was there, and said he would commit to save the other works in the museums collection. Then in John and Celia's garden a new piece of work was burnt. Fernando and John had made the piece that afternoon for the purposes of burning it. I think it is a very different thing, to make work purely for the purposes of burning it, to me means the work is not the work, but the burning itself is. In this way the action is actually creating new art, rather than destroying something in a protest against cuts. This is  a very interesting notion - Activism is therefore a creative process.
They covered thepiece in petrol and it went up in flames very quickly, and turned to ashes. We were recording the burning on the ustream link here.
Antonio intends to take the remnants back to his museum and hold an exhibition of burnt works. 
In the evening Andy and I went to the Lion's pub quiz. I was keen to go and tell Rhian about my visit to Cwm Bychan. We came 3rd from last in the pub quiz, which I believe is very respectable. 
Rhian had another recommendation for me that she had thought of, to add to the brochure. I hope I have time to get to all of these places.
Then two local lads wanted to tell me what they thought about Harlech. They had heard that I had been working with Rhian, and wanted to let me know their thoughts. The first, works in the Spar and still lives in Harlech, he told me that most of his friends had moved away, but that he was determined to stay.
He wrote down simply 'This is my home'.
The second was in the army, and told me he had been around the world, and had done two tours in Afghanistan. He said that Harlech for him is a comfort, knowing this place, and its people are there keep him going. He said there is nowhere more beautiful in the world.
I had not intended to gather these thoughts, they were volunteered to me. What I am discovering is that though the people of Harlech are aware of the problems here (mainly a tourist trade which seems to be disappearing) they are all in love with the place. Rhian had said the other day, the young ones all go off to live somewhere else, but they all come back in the end, whether it is to visit or to stay.
I am now ready to go on Bethan's walk. I wonder if I will get lost?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

ICAW Residency - Day Three

Yesterday I went to the Lion Hotel to interview Rhian, the landlady in order to plan the guide brochure for Harlech. We agreed that this should be 'The Lion's Guide to Harlech' since it would be based on her recommendations.
The conversation moved on apace, and at times I felt quite lost in the descriptions of places, and place names as Rhian moved from here to there. I recorded everything so later today will try to piece everything together. We agreed that 'The Lion's Guide to Harlech' would have Taz, the pub dog on the front cover, and we will talk about all that the pub offers, as well as Rhian's tips for what to see and do in Harlech. The Lion is obviously at the Centre of the Community here, getting involved in the twice yearly flower shows, where cake and sloe-gin competitions take place. Rhian had won the Cake competition last time, with her pavlova.
I will have a busy day today, locating Rhian's recommendations.
Also today, I intend to use my 'How to Explore Kit' and have decided to go up to Slidey Rock and explore it, as it seems to be an important local landmark - and spectacular viewing point, and as Rhian says - 'The Best Thing About Harlech? The Views.'
After my meeting with Rhian I went back to the Coleg in time for tea, which was early, as we had a skype appointment with Neil Powell and Finola Gaynor, they toured us around an exhibition of prints by Lance Wyman, at Norwich University College of the Arts.
Then John Brown gave a talk about 'Art in the Age of Materialism.' These talks were recorded in order to be published on the ICAW website.
Today is Wednesday, and we leave in 2 days time, but have so much to do. With the 3 meals a day, plus organised talks and happenings there does not seem to be much time to make work, so today, as we have the art burning at 5pm I will miss the lunchtime meeting in order to try to get some more work done.
Before coming on the ICAW International Artist's residency I had made a number of plans which I intended to carry out, but of course once in the situation the place and the people necessarily have an impact on the ideas t be explored.
I have brought with me 2 traditional explorer's hats, thinking that this may be a good icebreaker for talking to people here. In fact there has been quite a lot of discussion about the English occupation of Wales, and in conversation with Rhian she discussed how important the re-acquisition of Wales is to the Welsh and how they still celebrate today. It would, therefore seem very inappropriate for me, an English person, to march around the Town in an Explorer's hat - a symbol of colonialism.
Being thrown together with artists from across Europe can at times be difficult, strangely, though England is right next to Wales I feel foreign here. I have found a small talisman in an antiques shop which I think will remind me of the feelings being thrown up.
It is a tiny shoe with a cat in it - and the word foreign printed across the bottom. It describes how I feel. Sometimes it is good to feel foreign, and sometimes it is confusing. I think that the way I approach practice is also foreign, the other artists seem very confident in their idea of what they are doing. Not a criticism, but an observation is that ICAW seems to be about bringing artists together from across Europe and beyond, it turns out that the group know each other well, having been on these visits in Portugal, Israel and other places. It does not seem so important WHERE the current place is. The works which are due to be made on this residency will travel to Italy, and to Poland and so I suppose need to be able to travel. My practice almost always involves a response to site - here in Harlech I am working with 'Local Experts' to create a guide to Harlech. This is not because I am interested in making guides, but because I am interested in conversations with people about the places they live, I really believe that Local people are experts on the places they live, even if the expertise may not be regarded as data, it gives a more human understanding of place. The problem then is in wondering how the work will travel.
DOUBT. I am suddenly aware of how parochial my work may seem. I am concerned with the small, the overlooked, the insignificant. I am not interested in sweeping gestures and bold statements, and my methods look much like social science techniques more than traditional art techniques. It makes me question my place here.
This can only be a good thing, can't it?
The guide that I am to make with The Lion is more to draw attention to the need for Harlech to be recognised as a place to visit - I want to send the guide to the local tourist board, as a pointer or a marker of the place, not because I want to make a guide for Harlech, but because someone here wonders why there isn't one.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Harlech Day Two

Overall, we didn't stray too far from the Coleg yesterday. I became infatuated with the Coleg's Halls of Residence which is an austere block building, now standing derelict, waiting for demolition. Much of the day was spent in the board room, making plans, and listening to calls between Antonio and the world press, building towards tomorrow's burning of an abstract marble sculpture.
We went for a drink in the afternoon at the local pub, stopping on the way at the outpost at the top of the hill to view the castle - this looks very much like the point which Turner's painting might have been made, and after that all discussed the need to get down to some serious work today. This may have spurred us all to sit and work all evening until bed.
I began to put together my How To Explore Kit, but I need to use it this week as well as consider how to display it in the exhibition. Also I had a good look through 'The Book of Harlech' by Lewis Lloyd, which was lent to me by John. And this leads me to the next part of the work which I am to do this week. A strange coincidence, and a remote collaboration.
Last October I worked with Bethan Lloyd Worthington, from Manifold studio group, London - on a collaboration as part of the BCB. See that Blog Here.
Bethan saw that we are here for the residency in Harlech and got in touch to let me know that 'Harlech is home.'
My practice in Stoke has for the past 5 years involved leading tours, sometimes as a tour guide, and sometimes as myself. It makes sense that I can create manuals and brochures about Stoke-on-Trent, I live there and I know the place well, but in a new place like Harlech, indeed a new country, it would be crazy for an outsider to try to come in and make a guide. It is great that I have met the landlady of the pub, and will meet her later today to think about the guide, but this coincidence with Bethan leads to another type of guide: Bethan is to become my 'Remote Tour Guide of Harlech'. Based on Bethan's personal memories and experiences and family connections to this place I will take Bethan's tour. It turns out that this fantastic book I am reading, 'The Book of Harlech' was written by Bethan's Uncle Lew, who taught at the Coleg where we are based. Everything is connected up. So it seems right that now, Bethan will be helping me to write an alternative guide/tour of Harlech. We are back in touch again, and the same push/pull that happened last time we worked together emerges: this is a secret/private place for Bethan - and my work is all about the public - this personal tour that I will take will reveal something. I plant to use my kit on Thursday when taking Bethan's tour. It is going to be interesting.
I aim to take this tour on Thursday, so today, I need to work on my kit, meet the landlady of the pub, and go to this evening's WEA lectures at the Coleg. Better get on with the day.

Monday, May 14, 2012

ICAW: Dash Art Harlech International Residency

I am currently in the board room of Coleg Harlech. It is a rotunda on the edge of a beautiful brutalist concrete building, looking out to sea. 
We arrived into Harlech early evening yesterday, and after dropping of our bags were immediately whisked up to John and Celia Brown's beautiful cottage at the end of a very long and steep track, through cow fields.
So far there are four of us visiting Harlech, myself and Andrew Branscombe from AirSpace, Helga Gasser, from Vienna and Antonio Manfredi from Naples. There has been a lot of discussion about Antonio's art burning which has caused an enormous stir across Europe.
Antonio's original action has spread, and now art burnings have taken place all over the place - and the Art War has made world news.
On Wednesday, we will return to John's cottage, where a live stream art burn will take place with Antonio and artists invited from the area to take part. Join the audience here: and let us know what you think. Antonio and John are on the telephone to the BBC about the burning , and what it stands for as I type this. See below.
Now, what to do in Harlech on this residency?
My proposal involved creating a 'How To' Kit for May. This one would be 'How To Explore' and should contain a number of tools and instruments for exploring a place. I was also interested in making some sort of alternative guidebook, based on my connections with people in Harlech. I have created some postcards to give to the peple that i speak to (at the top of this post.)
I already started looking for places to intervene, or explore. One idea is to use the community noticeboard outside of Coleg Harlech to announce something.
After John's house, Andy and I went to the pub, where the first important connection was made.
We met a nice dog, I collected some images and stories and then the landlord wondered what we were doing here, and so I told him about the residency and Harlech Biennale. He said there is a real problem with a lack of tourism to the area, and that his wife is particularly passionate about this. He showed me a stand containing leaflets about attractions and places across Wales, but pointed out that there is no guide for Harlech. I asked if he thought his wife would mind having a chat with me about the need for a guide, and she came directly. She spoke passionately about Harlech being left out of the tourist loop. I have arranged to go back and speak to her tomorrow, and plan a new guide for Harlech. What better way to explore Harlech than through the recommendations of a local person, so well connected to the area.