Saturday, 24 October 2015

Entropy / Extropy - Art and Photography by Remy Dean with Pottery by Jane Williams

Friday 13 November (!) until 8 January 2016

This year's Yuletide Exhibition at Oriel Maenofferen (Blaenau Ffestiniog Library and Community Centre) showcases a selection of works by Remy Dean, including recent pieces produced during his term as Writer in Residence at Haus of Helfa 2015. Alongside these photographs, prints and drawings, there is a display of 3D work by local potter, Jane Williams - who we are all currently 'rooting for' every Tuesday, on BBC2's Great Pottery Throw Down.

Entropy / Extropy exhibition poster
The following is taken from the Artist's Statement of Remy Dean:

"I am an author and artist… I also teach.

"Folklore and hearsay interest me, how the myths and legends of the past affect our world today. I love telling stories that hover somewhere in the hinterland between fact and fantasy, whilst scratching at the surface of a truth.

"This exhibition includes some photography, drawings, objects and the outcomes of two recent projects:

"In my artist’s statement for NIGHT / LIGHT, my 2011 exhibition here, I wrote: “The weather, natural light effects and moods of the mountains can change in a moment and I would like to attempt to capture more of the transient conditions that only people who are lucky enough to live here, in Snowdonia, really get to know.” This on-going quest has resulted in the #Moelwyns series which I regularly add to via twitter @DeanAuthor #Moelwyns and the book of the same title that collects a selection of 52 photographs to create a portrait of the Moelwyns mountain range through the seasons. (To coincide with the exhibition, the images from Project #Moelwyns have also been compiled onto a Pinterest Board HERE)

"During September this year, I was the writer in residence for Haus Of Helfa. This residency of a dozen artists in ‘The Tedder House’, a semi-derelict building in Llandudno, is often referred to as the ‘flagship’ of the Helfa Gelf Art Trail.

Writing to Escape the Words - signed prints by Remy Dean,
framed and waiting, before the exhibition
"As part of the Residency, I experimented with the gesture of writing as a form of drawing, trying to find common ground for writing and visual art to cohabit. Using the same pathways from mind, through brain, to hand - utilising those same conditioned (hand-writing) reflexes to create a unique visual language of mark-making that shares many formal elements with writing, without the encumbrance of literal meaning… Expressing emotions whilst avoiding the deliberate formation of word-language and so, perhaps, circumventing the cultural dogmas often attached to words and languages. One perceptive visitor described this as, "a tiny form of dance, recorded visually". The results are gathered into the book, Scanner - Printer.

"Please come to have a look... and enjoy!"

You can find an on-line archive of past exhibitions by Remy Dean here.

Location and opening hours for Entropy / Extropy can be found here.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

When Corky Met Sparky – The Haus of Helfa Journals (part 4)

[start with part 1]

Moonshadows slowly stretched across the valley, though they were shed by no ordinary full moon. It was a harvest ‘supermoon’, about to be painted blood-red by the combined refracted sunsets of our planet… What a great cosmic finale to Haus of Helfa 2015…

It had begun on the day of remembrance for Hiroshima - a glaringly bright and dark-stained chapter of Earth history - and ended in this humbling and beautiful global event. The stars shone brighter as the lunar light dimmed. I imagined standing on our (not-so-) distant sister satellite, watching the dark earth all but obscure Sol, save for its rosy halo setting our slight atmosphere aglow, uniting, encompassing us all in the endlessly black, star-stabbed sea of space…

Well, I thoroughly enjoyed this year’s Haus of Helfa, and judging from the reactions of the many visitors, so did a lot of other people. On behalf of the thirteen artists in ‘da haus’, a big “Thank you!” to all those who came to have a look and get involved. I particularly appreciated the many stimulating chats about some very deep creative concepts…

Doors opened to the public every weekend in September
It has been a new experience for me, mingling with such a group of artists as they progressed their processes from conception to construction. One thing that quickly became apparent was how hard they worked, some more physically with hammer and nails, others intensely with bespoke tech, some internally, emotionally, intellectually… Whatever their method, it was obvious they cared: About the work; About how they were expressing themselves (we all know artists are self-absorbed, right?); but above all - perhaps more surprisingly - about what marketers would call, ‘the end-user experience’.

We love our audience…

There was a healthy creative atmosphere of competition, with no sense of rivalry, as each saw the others develop their varied outcomes, aware of what was in the next space. In this way, although each room contains a separate piece of work, the house itself does have a sense of, not quite collaboration, but a definite cohesion - perhaps owing much to the input of curators Sabine Cockrill and Marc Rees.

So, what were the motivations of all involved?

Although reasonable material costs were covered - and it was like being ‘given’ a studio, rent-free, for two months - this residency was not fee-paying. Sure, administrators were paid, but the artists were not! So the artists were doing this because they wanted to – that simple. This goes to show that, given half a chance, creatives will just get on with it. Driven by a need or a desire within, they will work very hard and consistently to produce something that can only enrich the local, and wider, communities. The success of Haus of Helfa has relied completely on this ‘generosity-of-the-self’ – it is a gift, from those artists involved, to us all.

Lucky for our contemporary culture, true art (whatever that may be in your opinion) is not money-motivated. So, what wonders would we witness, if more funding allowed artists the creative freedom that Haus of Helfa has offered… and what if…

What if more creatives were afforded the time and space to create?

This residency, sometimes referred to as the ‘flagship’ of the Helfa Gelf Art Trail, is now an essential part of Llandudno… and the diverse cultures of Wales… A little like Yuletide, it comes round but once a year, and as soon as it is over, we can only look forward to the next!

Until then, here is a brief recap and overview of what happened in ‘da haus’…

It is not over - until it is over

Through August, in the run-up to the residency, I started the writerly ball rolling by posting a song per day on twitter, themed around writing and writers. (Click here for these songs gathered as a YouTube playlist.)

Also via twitter, I broadcast a series of eight #WordsOnWednesday - these were linked with the objet on display in my ‘vitrine’ and with jottings lifted from my notepads and sketchbooks:

Words On Wednesday # 1photograph and text by Remy Dean
Words On Wednesday # 2photograph and text by Remy Dean

Words On Wednesday # 3photograph and text by Remy Dean

Words On Wednesday # 4photograph and text by Remy Dean
Words On Wednesday # 5photograph and text by Remy Dean

Words On Wednesday # 6photograph and text by Remy Dean
Words On Wednesday # 7photograph and text by Remy Dean

Words On Wednesday # 8, photograph and text by Remy Dean

During the residency, I invited visitors to send themselves a postcard in response to a set of three stimuli. Thanks to those who did – click on the image below to see a mini-gallery of some of the results…

Notes to Selves: visitor-penned postcards on display in Haus of Helfa
I experimented with the gesture of writing as a form of drawing, trying to find common ground for writing and visual art to cohabit. The results are being gathered into a book, Scanner - Printer. This was briefly covered in my Haus of Helfa Journals (part 3) entry, and some of the results will also be shown later this year, in my forthcoming exhibition at Oriel Maenofferen, Entropy / Extropy.

My exploration of attaching stories to artefacts took the form of 'Corky', the Cicorc Conwy. He was on show in my Haus of Helfa space and generated lots of interesting and delighted conversations from visitors of all ages. Grown-ups were charmed and children were highly engaged, even making up some cicorc stories of their own - unprompted - to tell me! In all, a surprisingly successful exercise in getting a piece of fiction across to a very varied audience. This experimental method of story-telling is something I will, definitely, be exploring further.

Corky (Left) was allowed out of his box to meet Sparky!
…and as my sixth response to the residency, I kept fairly extensive on-line Haus of Helfa Journals – this is that, it is (you are reading part 4 right now)…

I have already mentioned most of the art and a happenings that occurred, in previous posts here (part 1 + part 2 + part 3), though, since the last entry, the major event known as Llawn03 occurred.

Celebrating a colossal concoction of camp and creativity(!), the Llawn Festival is the biggest arts event in the North of Wales in general, and for Llandudno in particular. Over the weekend of 18 – 20 September, artists, performers, and guests from Wales, Europe and the World, descended on the historic seaside resort town to express and enjoy a multitude of… things: art, objects, events, open air cinema, poetry, comedy, stories, singing, dancing, bingo, abseiling, bathing, contraptions, knitting, automatons, food, drink, sunshine, sea and sand – not necessarily in that order. Something for anyone and plenty for everyone.

At the Haus of Helfa, things got well and truly underway at 8 o’clock, when guests from the official Llawn03 launch at Oriel Mostyn arrived to take full advantage of the free bar and chat with the resident artists and each other.

Full (Art) Haus!

Alan Whitfield hosted a session of Austerity Bingo. Sitting at the front of a gloriously camp bingo set, wearing a gloriously camp blue sequinned jacket, he took on the mantel of a northern bingo caller, veering from cheeky’n’cheery to grumpy’n’angsty. Whenever a ‘lucky-number-seven’ came up, he was compelled to recite a fragment of poetry, revealing thoughts and feelings otherwise hidden behind the repetitive act of calling out random numbers. (“89, your grandmother’s Welsh.”) Sat before him, at the rows of formica-topped, wood-effect tables, guests dabbed red dots, looking for patterns and meaning where there were none, and hoping for the luck-of-the-line or even a ‘Full House’ to win suitably austere prizes.

Alan Whitfield gets the bingo blues and channels the Tedder House binghosts
It was both surface and symbol. The thin gaud of tacky glamour veiling the dusty raw brickwork, the scratched and pierced veneer covering the table-tops, the meaningless numbers given a semblance of order in rigid grids, the repetitive acts of number-calling and number dotting unifying the MC and the punters… The same actions, over and over, for no other goal than the brief respite of a random player winning a random prize. Meaningless monotony disguised as fun with the promise of reward… This was play, but sounds more like a working life. Then again, most of the players were just cheerfully enjoying!

Camping Out in Llandudno

Later that evening, Whitfield’s Bingo Hall provided the perfect setting for the light entertainment in the delightful form of Divina DeCampo (aka Owen Richard Farrow), a drag act with a difference: a fairly gentle and civilised sense of humour that did not play down to the bitchy stereotype, and a genuine voice talent! Whether drag acts are your cup of tea or not, this was ‘top entertainment’ in the fine tradition of seaside resorts. There was fun to be had at no-one’s expense. For me, Gilbert and Sullivan light opera is anathematic, but Divina kept just on the right side of send-up, whilst doing professional justice to the highs and lows. The more raucous Broadway hits were also pitched perfectly between parody and proper performance. I felt like I was back in Blackpool…  The between-song banter with the audience was witty without vindictiveness. Although everything else was suitably false, the warmth and talent was not.

As the wine ran out, the Friday night launch drew to a close. The last thing I remember is photographer David McBride and a guest, Mark, having an ‘ambient-off’ using their smartphone playlists involving Byrne, Bowie and Eno… Then I had a short walk to the Llandudno Travelodge, which is so new it still smells like a table-tennis bat.

The remainder of the Llawn03 weekend was by far the busiest and, though I was mostly in the Haus of Helfa Bar, I did manage to sneak out to the Tabernacle Vestry to have a look at the installations there by two artists that had been Haus of Helfa residents last year…

The Artful Spirit

Angela Davies had set up a rotating, under-lit column of rods and lenses that acted as a vertical projector. One of the lenses was interchangeable and could be swapped for others that had been hand-crafted in blown glass. The images they projected onto the ceiling-mounted, circular screen were evocative of the macro- and micro- cosmic. Could this be a planetarium showing us distant planets and nebula? Are we seeing, “the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water”? Or, given the setting, are these vitrified visions of spirits and angels? A beautiful and mysterious abstract that uses light itself and the process of seeing as its media.

Seeing the light - Angela Davies' installation in the Vestry
Venturing further into the vestry, we find Mark Eaglen, technomage, who is showing Transmission Call, his ‘cutting-edge-retro-TV-hologram’. This is a sculpture suggesting a simplified 1970s TV set laying on its back, lazily rotating in the tight beam of a single spot lamp. As the viewer approaches, the dark screen seems to exude a glowing form, the reaction of the viewer attracts the attention of any others in the vicinity, who of course cannot see the same thing unless they too come closer. They are drawn to this holographic ‘sculpture’ that floats above the screen like a ghost, as intangible as the memory of something they may have seen on the telly of their childhood. I had seen this piece before, though this time it was displayed much more effectively and the rotation and controlled lighting made the ‘ghost’ seem more substantial. Visitors reacted with the same playful curiosity and saw different things in the illusory 3D form. Some saw magnified crystal lattices, some saw desert landscapes or the surface of other worlds… endlessly rotating and endlessly fascinating.

These two pieces were not collaborative, though shown side-by-side in the vestry space, there was an undeniable dialogue between them. Slowly spinning and suggestive of great and small, using the properties and behaviour of light itself as an integral part of the works. This was a very good example of what Llawn03 is all about – using unusual spaces to showcase art. The old playing host to the new. What a beautiful discovery for the visitor following the festival guide - to wonder through a fairly unremarkable little door, down the side of an old church, and find such a poetic experience awaiting them!

Moving House

Around the back of the condemned Tudno Castle Hotel (where the furniture for the Haus of Helfa Writers’ Bar had been rescued from) another discovery awaited. Appearing at first to be a builder’s tarpaulin draped on scaffolding, we are drawn to what we soon discover is a huge and incongruous, rubbery crimson cast, of a house… a house that is conspicuous by its absence.

Getting under the skin - this is a Sobbing House, a house in which to sob...
This is an installation by Eli Acheson-Elmassry, titled, Sobbing House, a full size cast of her own home’s façade. It is obvious that the house this ‘skin’ belongs to is elsewhere, and so a dialogue of distance begins – where is the house? Has it been demolished from under this cast, or has the cast been moved here from another location? At first it seems great fun, like a huge one-sided tent or a playhouse for the shadows of trees and visitors cast through the brightly translucent skin by the low sun. Though we must bring ourselves to consider the title. The structure appears to breathe with the breeze and this motion could suggest sobbing, the blood red colour is indicative of the flesh - flayed and displayed, and obviously there is the reference to displacement and relocation. The artist has dedicated this piece to refugees, so the fun stops there and the piece becomes a poetic statement about the home and the homeless.

Another Man's Treasure

On the way back to the Haus of Helfa, we stopped by the Royal Cambrian Academy’s outreach expo, in a shop just along from the Mostyn Gallery. Here we saw some automatons on show: an antique pram that ceaselessly moved back and forth, a mannequin rotating on the spot and a motor that pulled a piece of iron girder up and down in an old cot. There was also a dolls house painted a very similar crimson to the Sobbing House, perhaps as an homage. This imagery was lifted from the paintings of Shani Rhys James and explored themes of motherhood and the oppression of women and ‘home-makers’ - perhaps?

Dwsin - the treasured objects of  (L-R) Marc Rees, Philip Hughes and Steffan Jones-Hughes
At the back of the shop was an interesting installation of three brightly painted cabinets displaying sets of objects selected by three curators, Marc Rees (Llawn's very own), Philip Hughes (of Ruthin Craft Centre) and Steffan Jones-Hughes (of Oriel Wrecsam). Each had been asked to select 12 items that have had a big influence upon their lives and their work. (Though I noticed that one had cheated and included 13 – a baker’s dozen again!) They self-curated their own treasured objects and explained the significance of their choices in an accompanying video.

This trilogy of assemblages was visually interesting and also contained unique biographical narratives. I appreciated the strong correlation with my own exploration of how words and associated objects accrue meaning additional to, and more complex than, their literal interpretations - such as BISCUIT, on show in the ‘vitrine’ back at the Haus of Helfa. It also reminded us that exhibitions and events such as Llawn, Helfa Gelf and Haus of Helfa, come about as the results of curatorial energies, selections and developments. Hats off!

All that is left...

The Llawn03 weekend blurred by and left one more final weekend to reflect and consolidate the whole gamut of experiences during the residency. I was glad that Sparky, the ‘traditional Prague upholstery dog’ (and my art-tours ‘mascot’, whom regular readers of this weblog may recognise) visited to meet ‘Corky’ the ‘traditional Conwy cork dog’, and had a good look round…

Coming soon: Sparky's Adventures in the Haus of Helfa... (watch this space)


Friday, 18 September 2015

Oh, My Word, What Have I Done? - The Haus of Helfa Journals (part 3)

Tonight is the night, baby! 

Over the past month, the Tedder House, at 26 Augusta Street, Llandudno, has been brought back to life by thirteen creatives. Every room now contains something different and stimulating, as the artists complete their installations ready for tonight’s official launch, heralding the start of the Llawn03 Arts Festival this weekend. (Come and see for yourself!) All the work in ‘da haus’ has grown and developed since the overview I offered in part 2 of these journals, and some that was not then tangible has now taken definite form.

I have been there all along - as writer in residence - to witness, document and, in my own way, create some sort of ART:

I have responded to the people, the place and its past in my own way using words - like the ones you are reading – as my primary medium. A portion of my responses have emanated from within the house via the ether and now my words, about there, appear here - on the World Wide Web. This has been one response: ‘writer-as-commentator’, setting down a document of the art and artists.

My Haus of Helfa space has, of course, been in the bar - an architecturally re-imagined environment composed of furniture, and imagery, reclaimed from local, derelict ‘has-been’ hotels. The work I had hung on the walls, the ‘calligraphy’ scrolls, were at odds with this ‘strategy against architecture’ and so they have now been assembled into book form, as befits a writer! This ‘book’ is a record of my exploration into where art and writing meet, creating a no-man’s land between the artificial borders that are sometimes perceived to separate the two.

It has been an on-going experiment throughout the residency - an attempt to exploit the visuality of writing as a form of drawing. Using the same pathways - from mind, through brain, to hand - as the written word: utilising those same life-long conditioned hand-writing reflexes, whilst avoiding the deliberate formation of word-language. Creating a unique visual language of mark-making that shares many formal elements with writing, and may express ideas and emotions in a similar way, without the encumbrance of literal meaning… and perhaps avoiding the cultural dogma often attached to words and languages. One perceptive visitor described this as, "a tiny form of dance, recorded visually".

Writing to escape the words... pages from SCANNER / PRINTER, a book
by Remy Dean, exploring the visuality of the gesture in writing as a form of drawing
This expressive exploration provides a foil to my use of ‘traditional’ terminology, when writing about the art happening in the other rooms of the Haus of Helfa. I am aware of the problems of translation that arise when meanings are transitioned from one form to another, such as using text to talk about and analyse visual art. (“Do you see what I am talking about?”) This is, of course, the basic problem faced by all creatives who use their art to represent anything, from the real to the imaginary and back again.

Kazimir Malevich made what is probably the bravest and boldest attempt to circumvent these problems by reverting back to the basic forms he used as a language. With his Black Square, circa 1913, he made art into the thing, in itself. Instead of representing a real world object, his art became an object that presented its own concept, not re-presenting another. You can read more of my thoughts on this here. Graphic design guru, David Carsen, has also pointed out that 'legibility' and 'communication' are not always the same thing.

I have also been exploring different ways of telling stories, using notations, images, interactions and artefacts alongside traditional text. Perhaps my admiration for the late, great Joseph Beuys has led to the outcomes now being exhibited in a museum-style ‘vitrine’, which you will find in the big bay window of the bar area.  (This is the only surviving piece of original furniture belonging to the Tedder House and was also used to good effect in Alan Whifield’s video installation, last year.)

'Corky' and his cicorc chums in situ at the bar, earlier...
‘Corky’, the Cicorc Conwy, represents the main piece I have created in response to the site and the maritime heritage of Llandudno, and so has pride of place on top of the display case. He is accompanied by ten other ‘replica’ cicorcs that are up for adoption and will leave the space to have their own continuing adventures. The story, which could have been told using a variety of other methods, is ‘disguised’ as an ‘add-on’, in the form of an attached booklet. The ideas of transaction, transport and depletion were all poetically linked to cargo, voyages and farewells.

Within the coffin-like glass ‘tank’, you will see some other artefacts that relate to my #WordsOnWednesday series published via twitter @DeanAuthor every week during the residency.... and, there is still time for visitors to add their own words to the postcard gallery.

...and now, from me to -

The work of Iwan Lewis has now fully occupied his space. Iwan is primarily a painter, or perhaps a poet of paint. He has produced a series of pictures that run in a loose, dream-like narrative. The story they tell seems to suggest nostalgia and fantasy, appraising the similarity of the two. Were those times that provoke nostalgia actually as we recall them, or have they been lightened - or even darkened - by the touch of our own memory brushes?

Memories are made of...
Iwan Lewis worked in and with the room
I have seen Iwan place the pictures, which range in size from place-mat to dining table dimensions, and then un-pick their narrative, carefully considering their running order and relationships in different arrangements. The colour palette used across their painterly surfaces picks up from the hues around – the warm russets of the brickwork, the cool blues of breeze blocks, the minty vibe of ceiling plasterboards above, the dark ingrained floorboards at our feet… His artist’s statement gives a clue to the rather personal responses he is expressing, mentioning childhood visits to Llandudno, on family shopping trips, and using the memory of how bitter limeade tasted as a Proustian starting point.

Ronan Devlin, possibly best known for immersive and interactive art using light, has installed a pair of sculptural pieces. Light is conducted up through perspex panels, interrupted by the laser-etched patterns embedded in them. The illumination changes colour to a rhythm that draws our attention to the rhythm of the compositions carried on the otherwise clear surfaces. One is a geometric series of forms that interplay from one layer to next, creating interference patterns that respond to the individual position of the viewer, and change as they move towards or around them.

Ronan Devlin using LLight and pure pattern - that's a moiré 
(photograph courtesy of the artist)
The other piece in this pair uses similar effects, though within the patterns we see words. There is a dialogue of forms between layers and this sets up a dialogue between the two pieces. The words selected in the second piece all utilise the double ‘L’ element, as in ‘Llandudno’. The pronunciation of two ‘L’s is different in Welsh and English. In cymraeg, 'LL' is a single sound and stands in the alphabet in its own right, in saesneg, the doubling of a letter is often used to affect the sound of its neighbouring vowels – perhaps a hint of the political here? Layers of visual language belaying linguistic meanings and evoking non-linguistic rhythms that create pattern through mutual interference… (“Do you see what I am talking about?”) ... and, on return to the other piece, we now notice the subtle LL motif echoed within its geometrics...

Ronan has placed his works at one end of the large blacked-out room that is half taken up with Neil Coombs' Lost Infinities: These four, fish-tank-like, glass cubes now contain magical illusions that challenge the audience to re-assess how they see 'reality'. One of the images we see within each of the cleverly mirrored light-boxes is the ‘real thing’, but receding away in all directions are infinite copies that exist as light, without substance. These ‘copies’ seem to spill out across the real space inhabited by the viewers, passing through and beyond their bodies, but cannot be touched. The real objects cannot be touched because of the invisible glass panels, which we are made aware of by their slicing-up of the repeated reflections. Clever and fun.

Neil Coombs - boxes of delight.
? tsrif emac hcihW
The first box, as you enter, contains a little man who moves and beckons. ‘Contain’ is not really the right word, because he seems to float outside the glass cube, from one angle he becomes a ghost, repeating his actions out on the landing…

Another cube shows us books, starkly lit by a bare light bulb, reflected to infinity in all directions, the text on the book jacket flipping and reversing as it recedes. Another box has a tiny tableau set in a cemetery where something mysterious is happening as the walls are stormed by protesters, who find death offensive – this beautifully crafted piece reminded me of the sense of dramatic wonder conjured in the work of photographer Gregory Crewdson.

Neil’s final magic box contains a single egg. Is this an incubator of ideas? In place of a heat lamp, a projector shines down brashly coloured collages from above. Images, interrupted by the ovoid form, dance across the surfaces at a frenetic pace and then reflect off to infinity. I am sure Neil will not mind me pointing out that the egg is a well-established symbol in Surrealism, because it hints at things yet to come, the beginnings, the unformed idea of a thing. From the egg, something will emerge that has never been observed by anyone before… It is also an ancient symbol of resurrection (hence Easter eggs) which follows on nicely from the ‘down with death’ tableau.

…and, of course, “which came first…”

Tucked away in a top-most corner of the house, we now find the work of Alana Tyson. In a doorway, two walls of billowing orange fabric form a tunnel, its silky brightness counterpointing the rough dark wooden beams around. This ‘breathing’ passageway invites us to push on through and into…

The obvious suggestion is one of transition, from one place to another and perhaps of birth, as we push through the tunnel and out into the light. I feel sure that Alana’s current ‘expecting’ status has been an influence here…

Up in the rafters: the 'tangerine dream' of Alana Tyson
The colour and form of the fabric suggests a civilian parachute, though remains in keeping with the RAF heritage of the Tedder House. Once we have pushed through the tunnel, we find ourselves standing in a small room with a bright window. (It may well be a 'happy accident' that the lichen encrusting the outer windowsill is a very close colour match.) The space is almost filled with the silky forms that are kept inflated and rippling by fans from within. It is also reminiscent of a tangerine version of ‘Rover’, from The Prisoner television series, and so carries an element of threat. The bulging forms look alive, ready to envelope and absorb their viewer-victim.

The room is seemingly filled, but mainly with air, the material itself is just a thin surface. This brings the parachute metaphor to the fore – a thin fabric that can mean the difference between life and death... and so too, that moment of new life when the baby passes from the warm, safe environment of the mother, into the big, bright world.

So, for  now, “I’m bailing out!” …but I look forward to discussing all this with you, over a nice glass of red wine! You will find me in the bar.

It is all happening tonight, beginning at Oriel Mostyn Gallery at 7 p.m. (where you may find some examples of my photography on show) and continues, just around the corner, in the Haus of Helfa at 8 p.m. before the cultural art-crawl moves on through a wonderland of smoke and mirrors, bingo and ‘top entertainment’...

… you wanna be there.

[read part 4]

More info can be found at these websites:

Read also The Haus of Helfa Journals: part 1 & part 2

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

A Baker’s Dozen - The Haus of Helfa Journals (part 2)

Over the weekend, the Helfa Gelf Residencies for 2015 in Haus of Helfa, opened to the public, and considering the Haus was competing with Festival Number 6, it was not a bad turn-out. The visitors were, in turns, intrigued, disgruntled, interested, confused… What were they doing there, in some half-empty, semi-derelict house in the artists’ quarter of Llandudno?

They were all exploring, with different expectations. Some were expecting to see mini-exhibitions for each of the thirteen artists listed in the guide book. Others realised that, in the first week of a four-week residency, there would not be much to see in the way of fully-finished installations and expected to meet the artists ‘at work’.

The work on show is definitely ‘in-progress’ and in varying stages of development. Some rooms still have only the beautifully bare brickwork on show. Half the listed artists were absent on either day, whilst others were on hand to chat with visitors about their concepts and processes in rooms already full of stimulating… ‘stuff’ - Stuff which is well on its way to becoming… ART?

Welcome to the Writers' Bar in the Haus of Helfa
On entering the Haus of Helfa, the visitor is met by two rooms, one on each side of the raw-wood staircase. To the left, is the ‘Writer’s Bar’. This area is now furnished with bar-counter, tables and chairs that have been reclaimed from the nearby grand, though tragically now condemned, Castle Hotel. (Renovate not rebuild!)  This year’s Writer in Residence can be found, as you might expect, in the bar! Of course, that would be me!

Every Saturday and Sunday through September, I will be on hand to chat about my work and yours. The wall hangings you may have seen on display reference traditional Japanese calligraphy scrolls and each have images taken from my sketchbooks and notepads - some of my early responses to the residency. I am interested in the relationship of writing and visual arts and, in some of these pictures, I have explored the visuality of writing… presenting the very unique gestures and formal elements of hand-writing without the encumbrances of literal meaning. There are also ‘spring-board’ quotes from one of my jotters that may help to inform my approach to writing about these residencies.

There is an interactive element: If you have chance to sit and chill with a (non-alcoholic) beverage in the Writer's Bar, there are postcards on which you can write some words of your own to leave on display there - read this earlier post for more details.

The first piece of original work I have completed, specifically for the residency, is also displayed in the Writer’s Bar: Cicorc Conwy is a story told with the use of artefacts, involving a limited series of 10 hand-crafted Cicorcs, numbered, signed and available for adoption. (I think the correct Welsh pluralisation might be Cŵncorc.) You can also meet old ‘Corky’, the inspiration for the piece, and find out about the 'traditional' Cork Dogs of County Conway [click for more info]. I will also be very happy to sign either of my recent books, The Race Glass and Final Bough - both available at the bar.

Monarch (left) and Governor Fenner (right) two of my cicorcs up for
adoption... perky and - to quote curator, Marc Rees - "curious little fellows"
By way of explanation, my submitted artist’s statement reads thus:

“Folklore and hearsay interest me, how the myths and legends of the past affect our world today. I love writing stories that hover somewhere in the hinterland between fact and fantasy, whilst scratching at the surface of a truth. Most of all, I hope to write stories that are not boring, tales that will entertain the intellect and stir the senses. I do not know what discoveries I am about to make, or what form my poetic responses to them may take. I do not know what will happen next, but I look forward to turning the page.

“I will be working on fictions based on research, undertaken as part of my writer’s residency, into the history and past associations of the building itself… the memories of number twenty-six Augusta Street. I hope to explore different methods of storytelling and express my findings through texts, images and artefacts.

“In addition to texts that you may find in this space, you can follow my commentary on-line via my weblog: and on twitter @deanauthor

“I will publish accounts of my interactions with the works and their creators, here in the Haus of Helfa, creating a personal on-going commentary during September. This written account will emanate from within these walls via e-media to the wider community and so create a globally accessible document of events.”

…enough about me (for now)…

To the right of the stairs, as you enter the old Tedder House, is a large space scattered with old cathode-tube televisions in the process of being set up to show short films relating to the ‘making-of’ Marinella Senatore’s community project, Re:Verb. This was not up-and-running, so I will Re:Serve judgement (for now)...

Right, be brave and venture up the stairs to meet the other Residents:

In the long and large room that fronts the first floor, Alan Whitfield has been hanging gold ‘tinsel’ curtains that conceal and reveal the dusty bricks behind as the breeze from open windows rustle through the strands, making them sparkle in the sunlight. There are tables set up in rows and boxes of bingo dabbers – clues to what this magically and gloriously cheesy ‘grotto’ may become.

Alan is a veteran of the Haus of Helfa and in previous related works, he recorded reminiscences recounted by those who knew the Tedder House when it was a private RAF servicemen’s club. These snippets of recorded memory were then played on a fabulous reel-to-reel tape machine, placed in the house, filling the space once more with some of the same voices that had echoed within the walls many years ago. Of course, those voices were few amongst the many who had once spoken and laughed in the rooms - representing just some of the shared cultural experiences of a generation that experienced the war.

The listener, in the empty room filled only with aural memories, may well have considered all those voices that were absent, all those experiences that have been lost or are now meaningless. Ghosts come to mind… and the emptiness of a once busy club (now a humble, empty husk of a once grand house) becomes even more eerie. The wallpaper, which absorbed those voices along with the exhaled smoke from their pipes – where has it gone? All we see is bare brick and crumbling mortar – if not for those ferrous voices, we could be in any one of a hundred similar abandoned buildings.

This year’s response is again based on research and anecdotal history gathered from those who remember bingo nights at the Tedder House – and we are promised three bingo sessions, for real, on the weekend of Llawn03.

Adjacent to the Whitfield Bingo Hall, is the chamber of Rebecca F Hardy who works with assemblages and interventions, collating photographs, material, objects and texts that carry, often personal, memories – of people passed away, of places now gone or changed, of rooms in houses that she knows well and will never visit again. By gathering evocative and emotive realia into these accumulations, she presents the viewer with evidence of what has passed - into the past - and now remains only in memory.

At this point, I feel that it must be said - and celebrated - that Rebecca’s residency was interrupted by the birth of her child, which makes her the most creative artist in the residency, having actually created life itself! How can we compete with that!? Yet, she still managed to find time to progress her work…

A carpet taken from her grandparents’ house with a circle cut from it, placed aside and ringed with plaster casts of brain-shaped ‘jelly moulds’. In creating such assemblages, she remains conscious of the more intimate aspects of the materials used, evoking experiences of touch, texture and smell. She selects items that, though they are intensely personal, are able to resonate with the common experiences we share. The circle is a strong and clear symbol of the cycle – birth, life, death – and so it puts a great positive angle on her work, which more often seems to deal with grief and passing, that she is personally restarting that cycle!

"Chippin' around, kick my brains 'round the floor..."
Rebecca F Hardy has been 'cutting a rug' -
perhaps to Under Pressure? The cycle continues.
I guess that the room opposite this is the space of Iwan Lewis – there is an easel in one corner upon which is a painting in progress. Iwan is an abstractor who challenges the established notions of what is currently the state of painting. I think he hopes to flout fashion in favour of a direct and honest relationship between the artist and the painted surface - whilst keeping a sense of humour. His work has been described as ‘abstract’ and ‘surreal’, but Iwan’s struggle seems to be to escape the imperialism of such critical labelling. We eagerly await…

…and up to the Second Floor where, in the big front room, we find Neil Coombs, another Haus of Helfa veteran. He is an author and multi-media artist who is known for photo-collage and montage, often with striking surreal elements that raise a smile. There is definitely humour in his work, along with some process of personal, psychological association. “Tell me about your dreams…”

Neil tends to produce work that has a recognisable personality, but is not predictable. So, the finished installation will be a surprise… and he has been very busy indeed, slaving away with saws and power-tools, constructing something like a stage set. Some of the column-like structures he has built are to support light-boxes… he has promised to show me infinity.

In the next room, Tash Brooks contemplates her existential explorations of the human condition. Her installation consists of images projected onto, and through, layers of diaphanous veil. The images are of herself submerged and holding her breath: a body, which is mostly made up of water, within a body of water. Almost becoming at one except for that thin surface of skin that contains her - and beneath that thin surface of molecular tension that separates water from air. In the darker antechamber, off her first room, there are large ‘fish-bowls’ that will also capture projected images within them.

The work seems to explore: Awareness of one’s physical self as a contained essence. Separation form others and the wider world. To be part of, though remain separate. What it is to be aware that we all inhabit what the existentialists referred to as “the inescapable prison of the flesh”. Our only experience of anything other than the self is a purely sensual one...

Gwen Vaughan will explain her fascinating painting process
The third artist on this floor is Gwen Vaughan who works with mixed media to produce surfaces that are sometimes intricate, and sometimes supremely simplistic… surfaces mapped by diagrammatic patterns reminiscent of mind-maps, scientific diagrams or even the tree of life.

Gwen is working with direct drawing, paint, print and layering of transparent acetates. Most of her works in progress at the Haus are beautifully balanced compositions made up of repeated gestures that cover the ‘canvas’ to achieve a quiet complexity. The patterns are not truly abstract, but are created using patterns found in nature, maths and music. There are repeated geometric motifs relating to the molecular structures of minerals and crystals, patterns derived from mathematic analysis of musical scores, algorithmic mark-making echoing the complex beauty of nature that arises from elegant simplicity. Like her work, Gwen is quiet and complex, and will happily chat at length, about her concepts, materials and processes…

…onwards and upwards, to the top floor and former attics:

Michael Powell’s room in the Haus looks like a room in his mind. On first entering, through the ‘magical’ portal of natural wood, we may think we have stepped into the drawing room of some Victorian, down-at-heel gentlemen, or a father’s study in a fairy tale.

There is a large, wooden cabinet against one wall, its draws are turned inside out, stacked in a seemingly hap-hazard manner that allow us to see their contents. Some contain tiny model tableau, assemblages of toys and ephemera that would not look out of place on a Quay Bothers animation set. Some are lined with pictures – narrative images and/or illustrations. There are stories behind some of them. Some of them are behind stories. You see, the text often illustrates the image. It is a chicken and egg and omelette conundrum…

Art over-flow! Welcome to Powell-world!
The space shouts of a fertile, or ‘over-active’, imagination. A mind overflowing with quirky little stories, each one battling for supremacy over reality, waiting to be plucked from the state of flux and set down in a more fixed form. Lively, little story snippets trying to avoid the hunter that will capture them and pin them down. For now, they enjoy their freedom… but, there is a manual typewriter waiting to perform the task, and a big book on a lectern that hints at their final destinies. Is this another writer in residence – yes! Or, perhaps he would prefer the title, ‘story-teller in residence’... as most of the ‘art’ appearing here is telling a story.

We are back to that question I posed in part one: What is the difference between, art and writing? Between words and pictures and picture-words? What exists between artist and audience? Where, and at what point does the, so called, ‘art’ happen? Increasingly, I find the answer is simply, “the individual’s response from within”. Art is what you make of it.

Across the landing, we enter the realm of Peter Haveland, where he has suspended projection screens, to carry films of the immediate environs, around Llandudno, accompanied by associated narrations… I am sure there will be a story behind this, though I have only managed to listen to the tiniest snippet so far, which somehow reminded me of Jonathan Meades – which can only be a good thing!

Test screening of Peter Haveland's audio-visual installation
encouraging emotional engagement with the land...
Peter is particularly suited to this residency, and if Peter is particularly suited to the residency, why is the residency particularly suited to Peter? Recently, his projects have been focussed on the exploration of what he calls ‘Debateable Landscapes’ – forgotten places that occupy a hinterland between urban and rural, between used and abandoned, places that are no longer in use, at least not for their originally intended purpose… Artificial places that are in the process of being reclaimed by nature, or natural places that were in the process of being claimed by humans when that development was arrested. Many of these places are abandoned, derelict or left undeveloped because ownership is in dispute, companies have gone bust, industries became obsolete, finance ran out, people protested, people died… many reasons. His photographed and filmed responses to these environments are a form of exploration and archaeology of people, places, past and present. The Tedder House is right up his street!

David McBride batons down - working directly with the fabric of the house
In a nearby room, David McBride is at work with wooden batons, paint and photographs he has taken of details found inside the house – patterns in the stone, brick and timber - uncovered evidence of original construction and subsequent alterations. He is responding to the very structure of the building itself.

David is an artist who primarily uses photography to investigate our abstract landscape. He is known for strong and simple compositions that evoke the Modernist icons such as Malevich, Klein, Albers, Stella… In a very real sense, his work here at the Haus of Helfa is ‘new constructivism’, the perpendicular framing structures he is installing are painted with subtle – and not so – colours ‘lifted’ from the images of the stones and mortar that they will serve to frame. This will be a sculptural response, as well as a photographic one.

Lastly, but not leastly, in a gabled corner of the house, Lisa Carter is working on another of her installations that responds elegantly, and at a deep level, to her research findings. She is another veteran of the Haus of Helfa and last year, she produced The Tedder Carpet - a room occupied by suspended plumb-weights, hanging from ceiling to almost touch the floor. They referenced the architectural limbo of the site, with the plans to develop the house themselves suspended, but they were arranged in a grid pattern to echo the Tedder ‘low-level marking methods’, used to plan for saturation ‘carpet’ bombing during WW2.

These plum-lines with weights that resembled bombs, took up very little volume within the room, though the installation almost filled it and rendered the heart of the space inaccessible, a very understated comment on the results of such bombing. As the audience moved around the structure, the nylon suspension lines swayed and the weights moved slightly, bringing to mind that instant before impact… serene yet chilling…

Lisa Carter's systematic use of spaces and gaps... in the house and in the memory...
This year Lisa, has developed another idea from her war-related research findings. Again, she has occupied and truly responded to the space, utilising the actual spaces and gaps. White envelopes are placed in a grid pattern, wedged upright using the gaps between the floorboards. Other wooden wedges compress stacks of envelopes along one side of the floor area. The envelopes are arranged so that when the sun slants in through the window, they cast shadows and also reveal their back-lit translucency – they are empty. Envelopes immediately indicate correspondence and their emptiness raises questions. So the emptiness becomes poignant. Are these envelopes representing letters that were never written, or thoughts that could not be put into words?

Not a microscope photo of brain neurons....
not a war-time aerial reconnaissance photograph...
but the dust-laden web of a spider in the space between 
wall and window frame (photograph by Remy Dean)
Her artist’s statement talks about the ‘eloquent brain’ – a region within the cortex that holds language and controls speech. So given this clue, we are led to consider many things… the ability to speak, the difference in languages, and what happens when this area of the brain is damaged. Physical trauma to this part of the brain affects the physical mechanics of speaking, but not writing. The envelopes then hint at a more psychological trauma that affects the ability to speak, to communicate… to remember. This year, Lisa has produced another piece that is deceptively simple, subtle and deep, one that rewards quiet contemplation from the viewer.

- and this empty space must be the room of .................... ?
This year’s role-call of residents at Haus of Helfa, 26 Augusta Street, Llandudno are (in alphabetical order):

Tash Brooks
Lisa Carter
Neil Coombs
Remy Dean
Ronan Devlin
Rebecca F Hardy
Peter Haveland
Iwan Lewis
David McBride
Michael Powell
Alana Tyson
Gwen Vaughan
Alan Whitfield

Click on a name above for more info.

More info and directions for Haus of Helfa, can be found on the Helfa Gelf Residencies page.

also check out the Llawn03 website

…and if you are in Llandudno during any weekend in September, do drop by - a cicorc is waiting for you!

Lelia, a very special cicorc, wonders who will take her home with them?

Until next time, bon voyage!

B C N U (in the bar) xxx

[read part 3]

Saturday, 8 August 2015

A is for Cow - The Haus of Helfa Journals (part 1)

It was the 70th anniversary of the atomic blast that levelled Hiroshima.

The sound of the ceremonial peace bell still chimed through the world media.

It somehow seemed fitting that my first visit to the space that I have been allotted in the house, at number 26 Augusta Street, Llandudno, was on this solemn day of remembrance, 6 August... Because, along with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the firestorm created by the bombings of Dresden ranks as one of the decisive horrors of the Second World War.

RAF Marshall, Arthur William Tedder, 1st Baron Tedder, GCB, 1943
(picture courtesy, Imperial War Museum)
Dresden was suggested as a target for ‘strategic’ bombing by British Air Marshal Arthur W Tedder. This was the same man who was instrumental in devising the grid system for the RAF ‘low-level marking methods’ used to coordinate the carpet bombing so dreadfully showcased during February 1945. It was not only Dresden that burned, the very air in and around the city caught fire. The true number of casualties will never be known, but estimates range around 25,000 with some historians putting the figure much higher and into hundreds of thousands. The destruction of Dresden is often explained as a response to the bombing of Coventry... Number 26 Augusta Street is still locally known as The Tedder House, it was renamed in honour of Arthur W Tedder when it became an RAF servicemen’s club.

The building now stands empty, its interiors hacked back to the brick. Like an evacuated, gutted house evoking the emptiness of those buildings in post-bomb Dresden, or the ground zero monument of Hiroshima.  Now, that emptiness will be challenged by its antithesis: Creativity will transform the inner space once more. This year’s artists in residence are set to occupy those empty rooms and bring the dormant house back to life.

Ghost writer in residence at Haus of Helfa?
I have been placed on the ground floor, where big bay windows let the light stream through into the darkness. The room is a blank page, quite a big blank page. So, can they install a bar? Yes they can!

So what does it mean to be the first writer in residence for Haus of Helfa?

It is all about art.

There are to be twelve ‘artists’ in residence, plus one ‘writer’.

So, is a writer not an artist?

Or, are writers a special type of artist?

What is art, and what is writing?
Label Your Words by Remy Dean (photograph of assemblage, 2015)
Lines drawn with a pencil can be just simply that – nothing more than marks on paper – yet, through some intangible and subtle act of transformation, they can become art… and also, lines written on paper can be just simply that – nothing more than a bunch of words – though a collection of words can somehow become more that their collective meaning, sometimes they may transcend their basic code. A diagram is one thing, a work of art is another. A shopping list is all very practical, a piece of literature is something else. Same tools, same ingredients… different end results.

To confuse matters – a diagram can be elevated in status to become a work of art and a shopping list could become a poem… depending on the skill of the creator, the context in which it is experienced, the intended meanings and the perceived meanings. Something to do with, as Charles Bukowski put it, STYLE, or with what William Blake described as the POETIC GENIUS. The style and poetic genius of the creator or/and the audience.

Artists are dealing with something beyond their means, wrestling or dancing with ideas that cannot be fully expressed by the physical tools at their disposal. They are hinting at something, exploring ideas that cannot, or should not, be fully expressed. A piece of art is on-going, never fully finished. After it leaves the domain of its maker, it continues its journey and begins to consolidate its meanings in the minds of the users – a conversation ensues between the work (and its intended meanings) and the viewer (and what is understood from it)… Art, therefore is a PROCESS.

A butterfly, fluttering across a meadow of summer flowers, its colours flashing in the sunlight, stirs the senses in a way that a pinned specimen in a museum drawer cannot, and the memory of seeing it can be more beautiful than the experience. A few words can evoke that scene in a very similar way as a skilled sketch may do. I just caught a butterfly in my mind and I gave it to you – is your butterfly the same as mine? I think mine was a comma, but its flight was so lively and joyous that I could not be sure.

The pinned specimen was different – a blue variety, and something I can also do is carefully blow the pale dust from its delicate, iridescent wings, unpin it from the display tray and hold it in the palm of my hand. Watch closely and… yes! Its wings tentatively move again, part closing then opening like the pages of a book that will not lay flat. It is delicate and shimmering in the light from the open window, little legs grip the very tip of my finger for a moment before it takes flight, the blue of its wings flashing against the blue of the sky as it flies free and far… we smile, until the bird swoops and takes it. Are we now happy for the bird to have something to feed its nestlings? Or are we saddened that a specimen that had sat in a dark dusty draw for more than a century only got to enjoy its miraculous resurrection and new found freedom for mere moments?

Do not worry, the bird was not really there – I made that bit up – we watched as the butterfly flew away, a diminishing fleck in the vast dome of bright sky… and was gone.

'The Visual Arts' is an often used term of differentiation.

From the very simple butterflies example above, we can see that text and writing are within the visual arts. See what I mean?

A is for 'Cow'
(a manipulated vintage illustration)
Reading, with your eyes, has an obviously visual element, yet in good writing that element vanishes and we see the evoked mind-images, instead of the visual text. Painting and drawing are much more ‘in your face’, yet often it is internal dialogues that have led to the creation of the piece and are then sparked off in the minds of the audience. The image creates words. Many artists will argue that they express only emotion and the response in the viewer is purely emotional – many writers will also claim this – though this is clearly not the case. Art deals with far more than emotions and, probably, if we could sum up everything a piece of art is or does, then it would be reduced to a document and no longer be art.

So, all visual arts are attempting to express something from the artist and elicit responses from the viewer. What differentiates each piece of work is the materials and languages used, and the codes conveyed. Writing began as the drawing of sounds, visually recording those sounds that make up words that are the codes of a language - and through the understanding, or at least an interpretation, of language a meaning is arrived at. Visual art also uses languages, such as theories of form and colour, there are codes, and through the interpretation of those codes a meaning is arrived at. Different interpretations = different meanings.

Let us start at the beginning, when drawing and writing were the same thing...

This meant ‘cow’:
A Cow
We can still understand the visual code here as a simple portrait of a generic 'head of cattle', the broad curve of its horns above the tighter 'U' shape of its head. Originally devised as a means of accounting to keep track of cattle, which were used as currency, and to aid with the introduction of taxation. The glyph was scratched into soft clay, which could be re-wetted and wiped clean for re-use.

“How much does that cow cost?”

“One cow, please.”

“I already have a cow…”

“Well that’s one cow you owe me.”

“Hang on a minute…”

When there arose a need for more permanently accurate records, ones that were harder to tamper with, clay was replaced with stone. It was more difficult to etch curves into harder materials, so the cow glyph was simplified and adapted into straight lines only.
Three Cows
Imagine reading one of these stone tablets upside down... perhaps this was the reaction to that first ever tax bill:

 " A A A "

The letter for ‘cow’ survives to this day as the first letter of the Alphabet - a testament of the central importance of cows to ancient western societies.

F is for ‘cow’

It is the same story for the letter 'F' – adapted from Fehu, the first letter in the Viking Futhark, the ancient Germanic alphabet.

This glyph started out as a simplified pictograph of a bull or cow, seen from the side: a horizontal line representing the body of the animal with two upstrokes for horns. I see it as a cow fording a boundary river, as it is driven from the territory of one owner onto the land of its new owner.

Lucky Cow!
This rune came to represent wealth and prosperity, and became upright when it needed to be used in conjunction with other runes in a row of writing. Later its form was simplified to what we recognise as our letter 'F'.

Words become pictures become words become pictures.

B C N U xxx

PS: The shortest SF story ever, written by Forrest J Ackerman and first published in Vortex Magazine during the 1970s, was titled Cosmic Report Card: Earth and consisted of a single letter…

NB: Due to copyright, I am unable to reproduce the story here.

& so with that, I shall F off ...until next time.

For more info about the Haus of Helfa Residencies, see the Helfa Gelf website

(this is art not academia, but if you are interested in more info on the origins of writing)

Origins of Writing at The New York Metropolitan Museum of Arts's Heilbrunn Timeline
Writing Timeline at the Ancient History Encyclopedia
The Story of Writing at