Wednesday, 21 September 2016

The Stars, At Our Feet - The Plas Tan y Bwlch Journals (part 2)

Iron : made in the stars, gifted to the universe upon their deaths. More plentiful than any other metal. It is in our blood. It is in the land. The acid waters from the high, peated moorland carried the iron down to deposit it as pans of bog-iron in the extensive marshlands that once surrounded the village of Maentwrog. This iron was discovered and worked by the ancient smiths of the Bronze Age, ushering in a new Age of : Iron.

Left: bisected lump of 'bog-iron' displayed at Plas Tan y Bwlch (photograph by Remy Dean, 2016)
Right: galaxy Pictor A - when the light we see left this distant galaxy, 500 million years ago,
what is now the slate of the Cwmorthin quarries was still sediment and ashes...
(image courtesy of 
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and NASA, 2016)
Nebulae of rust stain the starscapes of tiny pits and scratches left by the footsteps of quarriers. Slate, once above their head, now at their feet reflecting the infinite night above. Of the land, of the stars.

The Stars, At Our Feet (i) photograph by Remy Dean, 2016
In December 2015, the Snowdonia National Park was officially designated the world's tenth International Dark Sky Reserve. This news, and the poetic image of slate miners returning to their barracks on a rare, clear night, their heavy work-boots splashing in the puddles and mixing the reflection of the stars with their own, were the seeds for an on-going series of images I have titled, The Stars, At Our Feet...

The Stars, At Our Feet (ii) photograph by Remy Dean, 2016
I took the title for this series of photographs from a poem by an anonymous Cwmorthin miner, found written on the back of a shipping slip, dated 1889.
You can read the News Release about Snowdonia becoming a Dark Skies Reserve HERE.

Find more about the Cwmorthin Quarries HERE.

Read about Peter Crew's archaeological excavations at Bryn y Castell hillfort and subsequent findings related to bog iron and the Iron Age significance of the Maentwrog area HERE.

The Stars, At Our Feet (iii) photograph by Remy Dean, 2016

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Plas People Past Present - The Plas Tan y Bwlch Journals (Part 1)

Approaching the house where it sits upon high, overlooking the perfected bend in the river Dwyryd, I walk a steep winding path sided by ancient trees. The leaves are beginning to tan. After this dull muggy summer, when it rained enough to drown cars and wash away the chrysalides from their sheltering soil into rampant rivers and the eternal seize, it cannot be the tanning of the sunshine but the brush of autumn that is bronzing the leaves with its subtle signal to fall. The branches and trunks record the sodden summer in new rings, hold a sample of our air within their grain, breathe in what we exhale.

So to the house. My hand upon handles turned by Lady Mary, whose skill also turned wood and carved church rails. My feet step on stairs ascended and descended daily by her maids and footmen. I touch the ever present past and walk the corridors of time that measures its steps with mine, second for second into a share of the future. The past remains mine as much as yours, though what we know of it is told in the coded marks they left us. Stone upon stone, word after word, the scratches left by rings on the age-polished door handles and the smooth stone of steps bowed by thousands of footfalls, to which I add my own.

For Helfa Gelf 2016, I am delighted to be Writer in Residence at Plas Tan y Bwlch, and have already started exploring the rich heritage of this great house and the land that surrounds it. I will be using combinations of text, artefact and images to document my findings and responses, which will be recorded here in this on-line journal.

I will be in residence at Plas Tan y Bwlch on Saturdays and Sundays until the end of September.
Those dates are 10th & 11th, 17th & 18th, 24th & 25th.

You will find me in the ground floor Bar, where you will be able to see some examples of my work, take part in creative workshops, listen to readings, and buy books.

I will host the Creative Writing workshops each morning from 11:00 to 12:00, and there will be readings and storytelling beginning at 14:00 each afternoon. Readings will include a special preview from my forthcoming fairy-tale-fantasy, This (recommended for age groups of 9+, though suitable for all). There will also be short-form creative writing activities at any time you 'drop-in'.

I am looking forward to lots of fascinating chats about art and writing, local history and folklore... Bring it!

Follow my twitter feed for up-dates.

more info about the Residency at my Helfa Gelf page
and find out more about Plas Tan y Bwlch at their website

Nick Cave – The Funniest Man in Europe


With the feature film and album, Skeleton Tree, debuting in a couple of days' time, I was reminded of this blast from the past. So, 25 years on... and Nick Cave is still at the height of his creative powers!

“I’m very paranoid. I just don't like this situation. I don't like what it's doing to me, what it's doing to my life outside the interview situation. Whatever I say in an interview ultimately becomes public property, and becomes a kind of Nick Cave cliché…”

This is probably the only time you'll hear the name Nick Cave and the word cliché in the same sentence. Since the demise of The Birthday Party and the forming of The Bad Seeds in 1983, Cave has established himself as one of the most influential and original song-writers, as well as an accomplished novelist and actor of promise.

Nick Cave does not sing in lounges!
I met Nick Cave in a quiet West London pub, between The Good Son and Henry's Dream, before he jetted off back to Berlin, where he lived for some time after leaving Australia. Had Berlin changed for better or worse since the Wall came down?

"The last time I was in Berlin was when the Wall actually came down, so I've yet to see the repercussions of that. In a way I grieve for Berlin - simply because it was, for me the most, unique city in Europe. I wonder what will happen now that it's sucked into the rest of Germany.”

Wim Wenders, director of the film Wings Of Desire, in which Cave appears and contributes two songs to the soundtrack, commented that he could never imagine him living in any other city.

"Well I don't know how well Wim knows me, really. I must say, the moment I got to Berlin, I felt like I was home in some way. When I first left Australia and came to Britain, I felt quite crippled by London, in many ways. Berlin just seemed such a natural place to be for me."

The angel, Cassiel (Otto Sander), stands at Nick's shoulder
in Wim Wender's 1987 film, Der Himmel über Berlin
 (The Sky Over Berlin) aka Wings of Desire
Nick Cave seems unable to settle in one place, flitting from London to Berlin, to Brazil, where the The Good Son album was recorded. Where do his roots lie?

"I am an Australian. When I see other Australians overseas, no matter how gross they may be acting, I feel a definite kinship with them. I find them funny, I understand their sense of humour. Australia has a very strange sense. of humour, something that I've been trying to put across for many years.

"I was always trying to be the funniest man in Europe - but it never really worked - I don't think the rest of the World is really ready for the Australian sense of humour;"

He then tells a couple of quick-fire jokes, one vintage English sexist and one tasteless Australian jibe at the Tasmanians. I quickly interrupt to divert a possible stand-up routine by asking about his critically acclaimed novel, And The Ass Saw The Angel, which drew inspirations from sources like Faulkner and The Bible.

He tells me, "It's essentially a comic novel."

There are rumours about a film being made of the book…

"Yes there's talk about it, but all that's out of my hands. If someone wants to put my book to film then I'd be really happy about that. But I’m not really prepared to get involved with it. That book took up five years of my life and it's out of me, now. I'm really happy with the way it turned out, but I can't get involved with it any more."

Nick was involved with the screenplay for the harshly brutal film, Ghosts Of The Civil Dead a kind of documentary fiction set in a top-security prison, in which he made his noteworthy acting debut as a psychotic maniac, and for which The Bad Seeds provided the soundtrack.

"I was heavily involved in the writing of the first and third draft - it went through eight drafts and by the time the, script was completed, it was a very different story. I was responsible for inventing certain characters.”

It's hard to imagine Nick Cave fitting easily into someone else's creative process, how did he feel about it?

"I liked it a lot. I wouldn’t want to do it all the time, but I enjoy the different forms of creativity. I very much like working in a solitary way writing a novel, even though it's very much the hardest thing to do. I also like working with a small unit of people where everyone's very much bound to each other in the form of making a record. And it's also interesting to work with a massive film team where there's all these different people with different jobs and the director entrusting his ideas to make-up people, art directors, cameramen, lighting people, script writers, and so on - and I'd like to do more film music in that way."

Are there any projects that he has in mind?

"Well I wouldn’t mind writing the music for some Jim Thomson adaptations, for example. I've read all the books and the woman (Maggie Greenwald) who made The Kill Off is now making Savage Night… and we’ll contribute a song to Wim Wenders' next film..."

Cave's lyrics are always filmic, theatrical and brimming with rich imagery, a kind of poeticism that seems to go with Australian singer songwriters, such as The Triffids, Go-Betweens, Dave Graney...

"It could be the heavy influence of country music on the kind of wise young sector of Australia. Maybe, being Australian, we have a little more to say than people in other countries, a little more need to say something. "

Then would he prefer to be acknowledged as a novelist or a songwriter?

"I don't distinguish between the two, I see the difference between the two but I don't place any more importance on one or the other. My work is the sum of my worth as a human being - so it's very important."

Revenge and extremes of emotion are omnipresent themes in the lyrics of Cave’s songs and prominently feature in his prose…

"In my songs I create characters and allow then to live out fantasies or certain emotions that taken to their logical conclusions I’m not prepared to act out in real life. So if I have a character who’s stabbing a woman to death - then it may be something that I'd like to do but am not prepared to do.

"A great deal of my songs are about revenge and there are certain people who know what those songs are about, and possibly those people are glad I'm writing songs and not actually ... (thumps table) Y'know." He grins dangerously.

"I think I'm able to express my emotions far better on vinyl than in real life, and maybe because I have the outlet of doing that creatively, it constipates me in other ways, in more real terms."

The Good Son is a very romantic, beautiful, vulnerable and honest record, filled with atmosphere that begs comparison with such greats as Scott Walker and Leonard Cohen. A very different Nick Cave to the screaming demon of The Birthday Party. How does he reconcile this image, as a suited lounge singer bordering on sex symbol?

"I don't think I’m a lounge singer, at all - a lounge singer suggests that there isn't a lot of emotion going on there and... I don't like it, I'm not a lounge singer! I don't sing in lounges - you know, fuck man! I’m no fucking lounge singer… You think that Leonard Cohen is a lounge singer!? You think Leonard Cohen could actually go into a lounge and sing and not be thrown out on his ear half way through the first song? I don't think so!"

…well, maybe Australians aren't ready for the British sense of humour?

"My image is what you're dealing with, not what I’m dealing with. I try my best to be honest with what I’m doing. I try my best to be honest on stage... in the recording process. I don't try my best to be honest in interviews, I admit! But the whole building up of my image is your business. So, do me a favour, don't quote the jokes."

OK, Nick...

This interview was conducted in 1990, when Nick’s relationship with the UK press was openly strained and, I think, it was one of only four interviews he made time for that year... I am very grateful that he was kind enough to spend his time on this one, during which he was most charming and attentive. Parts of it appeared in a feature for the June 1990 issue of Outlook, and later in the Crumblin’ Rock 1992-1993 Yearbook. It was also grounding for research that led to my critique-cum-biography, Hellfire: Life According to Nick Cave, published in 1995 with an introduction by Mark Radcliffe (The Dunce Directive ISBN 09522068 5 4).

For current info, check out the Official Nick Cave website

Monday, 18 July 2016

Summer of '16

This summer promises to be very 'British', but regardless of the climate - both political and atmospheric - and whether we have a proper summer this year at all, here are some dates for the diary:

I have recently been working on a final version of This. This is my new novel, and first of the This, That and the Other series of three... Hey, that would be a trilogy! The books are my first for children and young adults and I am writing them in consultation with Zel Cariad, my resident expert on all things fairy and dragon related. So with Zel's invaluable help, and by channeling the veteran child within myself, I have written a fairy-tale fantasy that winds its epic yarn between the world of the 'Fair Ones' and that world where we now dwell...

"She did not know that before the next day dawned, she would have seen things that she never thought she would ever see, and that soon she would change forever. She would be changed from being a fairly normal little girl into being a very special and extraordinary person. It began a long time ago… but for Rietta, it all started when she met another very special and extraordinary person."
- taken from 'This', by Remy Dean with Zel Cariad 

The book is set for publication late this Autumn, but I will be reading preview extracts from This at these following events (click listings for more info and directions):

'The Legendary Llangollen Faery Festival' : 13 and 14 August 2016

'Sci-Fi Wales', Llandudno : 3 September 2016

...and I will also be

Writer in Residence at Plas Tan y Bwlch, Maentwrog, during September 2016.

I will be responding to the house and its environs using texts, images and artefacts... producing new work, signing copies of my books (Final Bough and The Race Glass) and reading from This on the second, third, and fourth weekends (those dates are 10, 11, 17, 18, 24 and 25 of September)

Plas Tan y Bwlch ...steeped in history and seeping with stories

Plas Tan y Bwlch overlooks the village of Maentwrog, named after Twrog's Stone, the ancient stone supposedly hurled there by a giant to smash a pagan altar, and now sited in the Mediaeval graveyard of a church surrounded by a grove of ancient yews. The site is mentioned in the Mabinogion as the place where king Pryderi was defeated in magical combat by Gwydion, and is where, centuries later, the Bible was translated into Welsh-language, and more recently where iron age dwellings and unique bog-iron foundries have been excavated. So, the place and the Plas, are seeping with stories, both ancient and modern.

Hope you get chance to drop in and have a chat!

You can read all about my previous Writing Residency at last year's Haus Of Helfa here...


Recently, I have 'bravely' delved into the haphazard chaos of boxes that is my writer's archive and have already been reminded of some old, though still relevant features and interviews that have never been digitised. So, in my 'spare time', I intend to rescue some choice examples from their dusty obscurity and put them to work again, by uploading them to this weblog. So watch this space for occasional blasts from the past related to film, cult-television, mainstream rock and alternative music...

Monday, 11 July 2016

Behold, The Beast - remembering 'Shadow Raiders'


I recently re-watched the entire run of Mainframe's Shadow Raiders. It was as exciting and inventive as I remembered and, 18 years after its debut, is re-confirmed as one of my all-time favourite SF TV series. Mainframe was a Canadian computer graphics and animation production company, responsible for the ground-breaking video for the 1985 Dire Straits single, Money For Nothing, and for the first fully CGI television series, ReBoot. They were also responsible for bringing the series of far-better-than-they-have-to-be Barbie movies to the screen - Island Princess being a favourite of mine - and later developed into what is now Rainmaker Entertainment Inc.

Shadow Raiders the fantastic, yet underrated, SF TV classic (1998 - 1999)
War Planets: Shadow Raiders - a show for kids right? If being a kid means enjoying imaginative and inventive stories, serious plot developments, convincing characterisation, gorgeous CGI art, dynamic action sequences and an on-going and involving arc - well, yeah, it's kid stuff...

Shadow Raiders is just one of an array of spectacular series created entirely from computer animation by Mainframe, its multi-award winning makers. What marks it aside from the other Mainframe shows, such as ReBoot, and the new Transformers, is its particularly well structured plots and some intense moments capable of bringing a tear to the eye, or instigating a jump from the sofa with a fist in the air as our heroes triumph over insurmountable odds... Such is its power to immerse the viewer in its fantastical reality populated by sympathetic and convincing characters. Even though the regular cast consists of a giant blue insect, a boy whose head is on fire, a shiny robot babe, a short fat lizard and a couple of hefty stone people, it is surprisingly easy to forget that what you are watching is CGI!

Of course, the awe inspiring talents of the CGI animators have much to do with this suspension of disbelief, as do the excellent voice actors, but it is within the writing that the real strength resides. The stable of writers includes Christy Marx, who has also written for Babylon 5. Some elements may seem reminiscent of Babylon 5, such as the shadowy beast drones, the world-killing beast planet, the great machines of the world engines concealed deep within planets, remnants of some ancient alien technology... But there, any similarities end. Shadow Raiders is 'proper grown up SF' and takes its story-telling just as seriously, but is not averse to going for all-out laser battles and exciting starfighter sequences. Plus, it seems highly unlikely that the Beast's minions would ever 'get the hell out of our universe' just because we told 'em to. No, they enjoy consuming planets and extinguishing all life far too much! The only way they will go out is with a humongous bang and plenty of drama, never a whimper or an anti-climax...

The Vice President in charge of Operations at Mainframe is British-born Phil Mitchell, whose job involves running all aspects of production and development for TV. Phil is also one of the original developers of the seminal series, ReBoot. Remy Dean caught up with Phil to ask him a little bit about Shadow Raiders - how the show came to be and what may yet become of it...

Press shots of some of the 'synthespian' cast of Shadow Raiders
RD: The 'acting' in Shadow Raiders is often very effective, and sometimes poignant, and the characters can convey real emotional depth. As these 'synthespians' only live inside the circuits of the computers, how is this achieved? Are the scenes first acted by a human cast?

PM: No - that would be using a method called 'motion-capture' in which real actors don a suit covered in sensors and their movements are fed into the computer to provide a basic set of motions which the animators then refine. What we do is called 'keyframe animation' and there are no real actors involved - except the voices. We do encourage the use of 'real-world' reference - animation is all about observation. So, by self-observation, watching movies, et cetera, on tape, the animators see how real actors behave, and put this knowledge into their own work.

Are the characters actually based on real people? Julia reminded me of Louise Brooks.

Not deliberately, but we draw our inspiration from many sources. It's possible that Louise Brooks was in there somewhere!

Could a member of the 'synthespian' cast interact in real time?

Given enough money and computing power anything is possible - but we are not equipped to do that sort of thing at the moment.

What comes first, the ability to render a visual idea or an artist’s concept? In other words, do the concept designers and directors set real challenges, or does everyone work within the parameters of what is known to be possible?

Both. We like to push the bounds of what is accepted as 'possible', but at the same time must bear in mind the constraints of production. Often concepts that work on paper are just too involved from a logistics, time, resources, and manpower point of view. But we like the problems that these situations pose - they demand creative solutions, and push everyone's creativity.

It also depends on where the idea came from. A children's book? A comic? A story treatment? Is there original art or not? Do we have to follow it thematically, or are we free to take it in another direction? The production designers are the creators of the visual look of any project. They do illustrations, then from that we create models inside the computer. We sometimes try lots of different looks before the final character or set designs are arrived at.

How closely do the animators and the writers work together?

Not very: The writers work closely with the Producer and Creative Director of each series.

Shadow Raiders was initially based on a line of toys and games. How detailed were the guidelines from Trendmasters, the toy manufacturers, as to the show's content?

It was a collaborative process really because the original toy line didn't have many characters and we had to develop some new ones to give the series an interesting cast.

The scope of Shadow Raiders is certainly on an epic scale and has been likened to Star Wars. It reminded me a little of other golden age science fiction, like Flash Gordon, too. What do you perceive as being the show's major influences, on both its look and content? 

Good question. I guess everything from those 50s Hollywood epics to the science fiction cornerstones of 70s TV. Basically, we took a whole bunch of stuff and distilled it down to what seemed appropriate to the subject matter.

How rigid is the main story arc and how long is it planned to last?

Shadow Raiders was two seasons long – twenty-six episodes. It is now finished.

But, can we expect more from the War Planets universe in the future? Any more seasons on the way?

The series finished production earlier this year (1999). We are certainly looking for a new broadcaster-home for the series as we'd like to do more. There are plenty of storylines yet to be explored. We understand the series was very popular in the UK and Europe so we're talking to those broadcasters to see if we can find a way to fund further seasons for those audiences.

Thank you Phil Mitchell, and may you have every success in finding further outlets for more Shadow Raiders - it would certainly be welcome on UK screens, particularly mine!

Phil Mitchell was talking to Remy Dean.

For cast details, episode list and more, see the 

This interview from 1999 with Mainframe's Phil Mitchell first appeared 
in the UK science and science fiction 'fanzine', The 5 Times, issue 20. 

Saturday, 24 October 2015

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

Friday 13 November (!) until 11 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 a 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)