Monthly Archives: May 2013

Object Lessons

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The open studios on Thursdays and each second Saturday of the month have come into their own now and more than ever, I am amazed by my (incidental) facilitating role for people’s stories about objects.

Object lessons mostly begin with a few comments here and there about my work, the found objects, and craftsmanship, and it then leads to people sharing all manner of stories about keepsakes, cultural artefacts, repairs, and interpretations.*

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Returning to collect a frame that I had left to set inside a window this week I discover a visitor has used it as a plinth for one of multiple casts left on the stairwell.

We all see power in objects, be it sentimental value or cultural worth, and we want to talk about them – I want to hear them. Each time I talk about these kind of objects with strangers, or friends, I feel as if I should do something with this information – the way it’s recounted is subjective and unique to each story teller: one object can mean an infinite number of things to different people.

I think of a museum full of artefacts which don’t come with information panels, or perhaps are accompanied by several interpretations for the viewer to pick from.

Needless to say, I have been collecting the stories of objects – jotting them down in my notebook and thinking about how I can weave this into some sort of response to the contemporary role of Valle Crucis and my place in it. More on that later.

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Objects aside. I spent a very pleasant 15 minutes roaming the grounds this week on the hunt for wild violets at the bequest of local textile artist Ticky Lowe. (Have now been informed that these are speedwells?) Ticky has created a deconstructed collection of wild flowers local to Llangollen for an exhibition at Plas Newydd, details here.

*Sometimes, I seem to end up talking to people/visitors about objects when I am not in my studio and I haven’t even mentioned my work yet, I don’t know how that happens. Must have it written on my face.

Blinging

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Bit of a hectic week with work on the larger pieces very much under way, plus a school visit and a local community evening too. My research into Valle Crucis and the lessons learnt here so far have settled and I am creating work responding to specific alcoves and spaces around the Abbey. Spaces that vary in scale, intimacy and security.

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I am drawing inspiration from the Cistercian relationship with ornamentation, and in fact, our relationship with the decorative and the gilt today. Using brass, coloured glass, ornamental carving and figurative forms I want to create compositions in the empty spaces which mimic and play with the Cistercian’s guilty relationship with the ornate. This need for elaborate objects and materials speak both of the authorship and taste which is recorded across the Abbey’s building, destruction and repair.

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Pupil work at Bryn Collen as part of the Llangollen Fringe art workshops

I’ve also been involved with the Llangollen Fringe art program, led by local artist Jan Murray, and have visited local schools this week and last to talk about my work. Jan’s workshops explore sense of place and both Gwernant and Bryn Collen primary schools took part in a found media workshop in local woodland which had obvious links to my previous work. Their perception of my work, the objects and how to bring them together using binding wire was pretty inspirational; their work, alongside the other school groups will be on exhibition in Llangollen as part of Llangollen Fringe Festival from 18-28th July. More about that here.

Chance

 

FragmentedMy camera has been up to it’s old tricks again. The ghost in the machine has been reordering the images I’ve collected of the Abbey and of my work in progress, I have no idea why it occasionally does it but I like the chance element of it.

I use making because it let’s me invoke a chance element in my work. I can combine control of materials with their chaos too  – a piece of slate that breaks away and becomes two fragments of the original carving, or a big dent in an otherwise perfect sheet of metal. I respond to this and find value in their power to record process. I think these say much more about the history of materials, objects and place than the anonymity of high skill and crafts’ traditional quest for perfection and function.

When things go wrong in making and repair human fallibility is recorded. We have palpable evidence of interaction, just like the broken walls and bodged repairs in the Abbey dormitory.

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Fragmented13A large piece is now up at Valle Crucis, two more are in progress and should be making their appearance alongside the smaller interventions over the next week or so.

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Meddling and Destruction

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When I returned after a busy Bank Holiday at the Abbey Roger told me that some of the work I had left around the site were missing so I went to investigate. I found that six pieces were missing from the original 16. A few more than I had anticipated, but then I had wanted to know the limitations before I started installing everything in the securer spaces and now I had a fairly good idea what I could get away with and how I can work here without having extensive pieces go walk abouts.

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I began to look for evidence. Fearing destruction I looked for bits of broken wax or stone, coloured threads. Passing the South Transept I spotted the flash of white wax and discovered a carefully assembled collection of my objects: one piece had been taken apart and then grouped with another one of my pieces that was missing from the dormitory stairs. There was also a piece of ornate terracotta pottery here that was completely new. Strange. The total lost was now down to 4 pieces, but I had gained a new fragment too.
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A long thread of blue silk tangled on the Chapter House floor confirmed that at least one of the whittled figurines left within the Sacristy has been unfurled and the small wax figure detached and I stand over it, wondering which piece they wanted: the stick or the figure? I find someone else has placed a clump of cut grass under one of the wax heads on the dormitory stairs. After photographing the evidence I return to the Summer House. Upon turning the corner I see that one of the other whittled figures has been stabbed into the ground by the fish pond intact. Apparently Roger thought I had moved it when he found it there on Saturday morning, I hadn’t but had originally planned to install them like this and in fact, in that spot. Pieces lost: 3, not too bad.

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The pieces were intended to be temporary and whilst the research and idea development that led to them was extensive, the making of them was relatively quick. The process was not what made them precious, it was the ideas behind them and the reaction they received from viewers. If people interacted with them then this is just as valid a reaction. Of course, removing them all together is useless, unless I now receive ransom notes about them.

I hid my work and then someone else hid it from me, meddled with it and didn’t worry about handling it. Some of the future interventions here will be secured and some will not, I think we can be playful with this.

Micro architecture, taste and vastness

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So last week’s main activity was casting my collection of objects in wax and this week I have mainly been carving Welsh stone on a rotary motor. I have been inspired by the “micro-architecture” behind the carved stone alter screens, niches and fonts which may have once inhabited Valle Crucis during it’s working life as an Abbey. Drilling into the stone and boring into it the silhouettes I have collected around the site has made me realise once again the mishmash of styles and craftsmanship here.

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There’s two types of arched window, if not more, for a start but when you look much closer you realise that every subsequent repair or rebuild was a stamping of the then Abbot’s, or contractor’s, authorship and taste. Even much later ‘interventions’ by Cadw, such as the grills within the dormitory windows speak of the particular tastes and preferences of decision makers. (Clearly in this case someone has chosen to opt for the Gothic style arch rather than the rounded Romanesque, Medieval arch. Sorry, getting geeky now.)

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My favourite inconsistency at present is the cylindrical chimney atop the later farm house fireplaces, it looks semi-industrial. The thing that interests me most in representing the Abbey to visitors today is the interpretation of the intended life of the building, as a communal place of worship and monastic life, and whether, the story of people across its entire history should be represented too? As someone who loves to kick function to the curb I am interested to explore the appropriated uses of the building.

Anyway, those are ideas which I will be exploring in the coming weeks.

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There are currently 14 tiny pieces installed across Valle Crucis and frankly I was surprised by the vastness of the building against the minute details of my pieces when I installed them. This is probably a surprise to no-one else and clearly I needed to pull myself back from the jeweller’s bench and look around me once more. This realisation made me consider space more than I have previously and since I have walked around the Abbey with fresh eyes, noticing intimate spaces which force us to inspect inconsistencies and detailing; spaces with vast uniformity which invites the viewer to search for points of interest; and ornate detailing on a large scale. I know I can work with the first two types of spaces but I am really challenging the scale of my work to take on things like the Book Cupboard or Chapter House windows. I am want to take this challenge on regardless, but again, more on that later.