There is a piece of work onsite which invites visitors to leave their mark on three cast wax tablets with an attached scribing tool. I return to it once a week to see what marks and insignias have been added since the last time I saw it and I’ve been periodically replacing the tablets with blank canvases which always seem to stay blank until the first brave person breaks the barrier of hesitation, then they seem to quickly fill up. Of the various initials, names and symbols the tablets attract I have been particularly intrigued by the repeated smiley faces visitors leave and wonder what it is meant to communicate to future visitors.
Pair this with the numerous figurative depictions around the site, and the way in which humanity expresses itself through effigies across culture and history, and I wonder why it is so important for us to create these symbols of ourselves? If ornamentation is an expression of skill, taste and belief which outlives the individual maker or commissioner, then what of the face, or in fact, any part of the human body? Are we creating a symbolic depiction of our civilisation as we know it? If decorative expression and ornamentation represent a particular point in history which we know to be fleeting then perhaps our effigies of humanity express a fear that our civilisation itself is also fleeting.
Last week I held an evening tour of Valle Crucis as part of the Llangollen Fringe which attempted to reveal some of the interesting tales of humanity attached to the site, combining the historic with incidental stories from the present day. To culminate the evening I asked visitors to take a wax head and hide it somewhere around the Abbey so that their action and the legacy of the evening would outlive the residency. I have only been able to spot one so far so I’m pretty sure this interaction with the site will last well beyond it (and who knows how long beyond that).
Wooden carving at Plas Newyd, Llangollen
A bit quiet over here because I have been making and the things I’ve been mulling over whilst I make have been a bit more about the role of my work and how much we should really be revealing about the whys and hows behind the making.
All my decisions as to the way my work turns out respond to the information I’ve collected and my interpretation of it, but how important is it to pass this on to the viewer, and how much should be revealed? So far the interpretation on site has been fairly open ended and introduces a couple of key themes to give visitors a nod in the right direction. However, I am aware that I am producing artworks for a site where most visitors aren’t aware that there is an artist in residence until they arrive here and who, for the most part, don’t visit contemporary art exhibitions on a regular basis. Is it right to assume that some introduction to the ways in which an artist works needs to covered in the interpretation? Most visitors and local residents I met in the early months asked me if I was a painter or a student and then had to listen patiently whilst I described the intricacies of my practice. Fortunately for everyone, all that practice means I can now concisely describe my work (although don’t hold me to it.)
I had an interesting discussion last week about the different roles of Valle Crucis for visitors, from the hard core history buffs (you know who you are), to people visiting for a picnic in a picturesque spot, to people who find a kind of spiritual power in the site which overrides it’s literal history as an Abbey. It’s not all monks you know. The interpretation, the places function, is completely unique to the individual viewer and I suppose all interpretation can seek to do is to add value to our own perceptions.
From the art side a great website discussing this, with particular focus on unraveling nonsense art speak, is Interpretation Matters.
Llangollen Fringe Festival is now underway and tomorrow, Thursday 25th, we’re holding an Open Evening event at Valle Crucis from 6pm. Details here, it would be great to meet you dear reader. If you can’t make it tomorrow the work I’ve produced so far will be out this Saturday and Sunday also, and then every Thursday until 8th August with the final exhibition on Saturday 10th August.
I am in the process of bringing together all the narrative threads from my time here into pieces at the moment, brass chain and uncut stones abound.