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).