Monthly Archives: March 2013

White Out

Photo courtesy of Cadw

I’ve been snowed out of Llangollen so far this week and Valle Crucis has been closed to the  public, you can follow Cadw on twitter for updates. The Abbey looks particularly resplendent in it’s white coat, which is quite pertinent as far as my residency research is concerned. I’ve been thinking about the “White Monks” of Valle Crucis. White can be ghostly and ethereal or it can be symbolic of purity, it’s an absence of colour and I suppose a blank canvas begging for inscription.
Monk Twitter Pic

During my first weeks onsite I’ve been thinking about the figurative carvings across the site, ornamentation which would have been bending the original rules of the Cistercian order and now mark the human interaction with the site in the most direct way. To mark the building with faces and figures, symbols of humanity, says “we were here”. I’ve been whittling figures in wood and returning to some of the tiny Frozen Charlotte dolls I’ve collected and recast in porcelain, not sure where they’re going yet but will start playing with one or two installation ideas at the Abbey next week (weather willing).





I have no idea how this picture ended up like this after transferring it from my phone to my laptop but somehow it fits the idea of breaking up space into components and rebuilding.

Mostly this week I have been whittling wood with a new carving knife and shaping Welsh stone with a rotary motor. It’s quite repetitive work but let’s the mind wander. I’m moving the rest of my equipment into the Summer House on Monday, it has been nice to be away from the trappings of my ‘normal’ working practice but now it’s time to bring them over.


Ancient Honesty


I’ve been slowly working my way through a fairly comprehensive book all about Valle Crucis which Roger the custodian lent me. The Cistercian’s relationship with ornamentation really intrigues me and having dipped into the architecture chapter I’ve now really begun to notice the strange extent of simplicity and decorative stonework around the site.

A few nice quotes from the book, Valle Crucis Abbey, by G. Vernon Price, providing food for thought this week:

“The 1134 statutes also relate to sculpture and painting in the following terms, “That there may not be any sculpture nor picture in our churches nor in any parts of a monastery, we hereby issue interdict: for so long as attention is given to such things, the good utility of meditation, or the religious discipline of gravity, is often neglected; we have however some painted crosses which are of wood.”

“Notable superfluities and curiosities in sculptures, pictures, edifices, pavements and other such objects, which deformed the ancient honesty of the Order, and are incongruous with our poverty, we hereby order shall not exist in abbey, granges or store rooms, nor shall any picture save an Image of the Saviour (which are attached on a board to the alters, and are only painted in one colour).”

Of course, then there is “ample evidence to show that they [architects and builders] attempted to produce imposing and magnificent edifices, venturing to disregard the original spirit of the Order as far as they possibly could.”

“It has been recognised that this disregard of rules has resulted in a peculiar sense of architectural insincerity, combining a style of ostentatious display and strained Puritanism.”


Time, Risks and Legacy


Hello, I am now very much in residence at Valle Crucis. The Summer House behind the Abbey is now my studio and I am staying practically next door on a residential caravan site. I think being in one place, focusing on one thing, for a six month period has yet to sink in but it is very, very much welcome. Like most contemporary artists I’ve done a roaring trade in spinning various plates all at once: a combination of part time jobs, making, writing, exhibiting and cut and thrust research. It’s easy to lose time for reflection, proper reading and taking risks – you end up fighting for it rather than it happening organically. So it is quite a shock to stop; physically removing myself and landing here in the “Vale of the Cross” to focus on many things which drive my work under one, Abbey shaped, umbrella.

Needless to say, I have brought all the books I haven’t got round to reading and I know I have enough time for some of those things I’ve wanted to do, but ran out of time to try to filter back through and inform my response to the Abbey. So I am settling in.

20130204_115911The Summer House until recently housed an animatronic monk and other heritage interpretation about the site, but now it houses me (normally animate after 10am) and in time will house my work in progress and my creative interpretation of the Abbey. I hope it’s an upgrade for visitors, I did joke with Roger, custodian of the Abbey, about donning the monk’s robes and sitting very still but I promise I won’t do that.


Dormitory walls

The Summer House has also been a holiday retreat and there was some discussion yesterday about the building being much older than the 1774 stone suggests plus its possible function as a mill during the working life of the Abbey. This reuse and changing of function chimes in with the themes that drive my work, repairing and altering things so that we are inadvertently, or purposely, stamping ourselves on an object, material or place. The Abbey has so much of this, doorways have been bricked up and inserted, new floors have been put in and destroyed, there was at least two fires, it was farm buildings following the dissolution, and a rich man’s folly at some point. There’s original mason marks on the bricks which must be circa 1201, and today I spotted contemporary graffiti on the inner Chapter House wall. The dormitory walls are currently my favourite for obvious reasons.