Posted on 6 Comments

The Sight, Smells and Sound of Art

DSC_0460
Abertawe 2021 Bloc (Outside Swansea Train station)

Back to Cardiff again to see some more art and collect my paintings from the madeinroath festival.

The madeinroath 2017 festival has Art has installations/happenings across almost 80 different locations across the suburb of Roath, Cardiff.  The wonderful thing is that it’s all free to visit. The weather was grey with a cold biting wind. The day before Storm Brian had lashed the streets with rain and all the outdoor events had been cancelled. Seamas and I meandered down the streets of Roath to the “Old Laundry” which was in a ramshackle  courtyard tucked away at the end of of a dead end street.

The first installation was that of Tanya Dower called “Thrill Seeking, Dirty”. The photo only captures a tenth was it was like. The installation filled two small rooms. The air of neglect was palpable. Firstly there was this thumbing, squealing, soundscape which reminded me of  a playful crazy version of BBC Radiophonic Workshop  noise.  There were a series of black and white photos of an industrial landscape and fragments of charred rubbish laid out on the floor but most importantly was the stink. Oh the smell. It repelled some people at the door. I initially thought it was incense being burnt to cover the smell of damp. Tanya and the festival volunteer with her spoke to us enthusiastically about the installation. It turned out that Tanya had “designed” this smell to comprise wood smoke, coal and urine. The whole installation had been inspired by her youth spent playing in the ruins of abandoned pithead building in Merthyr Tydfil.

IMG_1969
Me trying to work out what the smell is!

Upstairs there were several rooms with exhibitions/installations. Seamas found Lynette Margerison’s huge charcoal drawings  very moving.

I was fascinated by Ian Watson’s sound installation  “A Complex and Increasingly Important Announcement from an Extremely Limited Vocabulary”. The row of mini  solar panels drew their energy from the sun (what there was of it that afternoon) and produced a layers of clicks, drones and tones that oscillated and wavered. Ian generous spent time explaining to me and Seamas me how the solar panels generated the sound and how he adjusted the layers of noise.

 

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the Inkspot Centre.

DSC_0496
Flags and my exhibition upstairs in the Inkspot

I finally found out the names of the third year ceramics students we had chatted to last Sunday evening (Morgan Dowdell, Lucy Fielden, Marek Liska and Magda Strydon). They had also added to their work on display in the hall.  Just to warn you that Morgan’s work (at the bottom of these photos) (which is excellent) is also very explicit so look away now if you are of a sensitive nature!

 

I really enjoyed being part of this arts festival and I wish I could have seen more of the art across Roath.  I think you would have to stay in Cardiff for the whole week to explore and to get a good sense of the breadth of what was going on here. There’s always next year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on 2 Comments

Cardiff Festival launch

Cardiff is a city that embraces change and it embraces art. Everywhere you go massive murals are tucked into corners, whether in the city centre or in the terraces of Roath. It gives the city a great feeling of vibrancy.

Not all of the street art was official. Back lanes off City Road were also full of graffiti, which was apparently “tolerated” by the local police (according to a rather shy and sweet graffiti artist who was in the midst of creating a wonderful 6 foot blue skull).

Cutting through a tiny urban park and play area we come across the Plasnewydd Community Garden, which is located on poetic-sounding Shakespeare Street. As you can see from the photos, the sun was out. Which was particularly pleasant as we are in the misdt of a lot of grey and damp autumnal weather in Wales at the moment. There we paused to look in on Tessa Waite and her “Tea Encounter”. We had not arranged for an actual “encounter” but we visited her gazebo. The atmosphere inside was wonderfully calm. Tessa, from Brecon, is a Budhist and she radiated a lot of calm herself. We stood for quite a while listening to the sounds of the breeze and the shouts of the children playing outside.

IMG_1656

 

Then we finally made it to Inkspot Centre for the official opening. There had been a children’s parade through Roath with a whole lot of colourful flags designed by local schools and community groups. This flags had been printed by James Cook who was valiantly hanging them across the hall, with children thundering around at the foot of his stepladder! A massive indoor picnic was taking place with music and singing (and a harpist).  We spent a good hour or so downstairs chatting with the friendly ceramic students who demonstrating their clay working techniques.

The festival ends this Sunday and its well worth a visit.

 

 

Posted on 6 Comments

Setting up at Inkspot in Cardiff

On Saturday we traveled to Cardiff on the train carrying several large bags of carefully wrapped paintings. I had been feeling tired and anxious about driving there so we decided to go by train instead. Over a decade ago I started having panic attacks on the motorway and despite hypnosis and therapy, I still cannot face the thought of driving on motorways. Or even the thought of accidentally ending up on an motorway, which is what happened when I had my first panic attack in Port Talbot. It’s worse when I am tired. So Seamas (my husband and fellow artist) and I, traveled by public transport.

Seamas arranged the paintings across the 3 windows and they looked even brighter than usual in the slight gloom of the hall. My paintings shared the upstairs hall with Charlotte Formosa’s “Fluro” exhibition.  Her duo of very large paintings and decorated objects were a riot of luminous colours, textures and materials.

Poet Lucy Corbett had an exhibition called “poetry in a Bottle”. Her poems were bitter-sweet and thought provoking. She explained to me that she wanted to make poetry as ubiquitous as the advertising slogans we are bombarded with everyday. The idea being that people would take away the poems (not the bottles) and pass them on to others. I liked the ideas of the poems in bottles, as they reminded me of messages or distress calls launched by strangers from afar.

IMG_1182
Lucy Corbett’s Exhibition

Three Cardiff ceramics students were also exhibiting their works upstairs in in the hall and in the stairwell. Their works were very distinctive and rather beautiful.

 

IMG_1284

Downstairs was the intricate and fascinating work of Sheila Vyas. I could have looked at her mixed media work for hours. It was very powerful and emotional work. She also had the most gorgeous little dog with her that I wanted to take home with me!

IMG_1272
Shiela Vyas (in red)  with her fab dog

 

22449844_10212721956778665_3408034891986553033_n
Detail from one of Shiela Vyas’s pieces

 

Posted on 2 Comments

Brynmill Primary School

Brynmill Primary School
Brynmill Junior School

The distinctive pitched roofs of the red brick Brynmill School dominate the area. Sitting on the crest of a hill they can be seen from miles around. From the seafront and beach to the south as well as from Uplands and Mount Pleasant to the north. It is one of two local primary schools. It is a handsome building. Bold red brick. Confident and happy looking. The other is the Welsh-medium school Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Bryn-y-mor, which had previously been Brynmill Infant’s school.

Brynmill School was opened on 31st August 1896 and was big enough to accommodate over a thousand pupils. In its early days, boys and girls were taught in separate classes. The girls were taught in classrooms on the ground floor and the boys on the first floor.

During the Second World War many buildings in Brynmill were damaged. On 21st February 1941, the girls’ school was hit and the school had to close for a fortnight. Rhyddings House was also badly damaged by a bomb and it became known as “the bombed house” and a place where the local children would play.*

The school undergone quite a few changes. The many tall chimneys and the tower on highest part of the roof are gone. Extensions have been added at the front and back of the school. There are relatively few school-aged children that live in the heart of Brynmill, those that attend the school most seem to walk from Uplands or are driven in from other areas of Swansea. Schools are at the heart of sustainability. Many rural communities have lost their post office, pubs and schools and then cease to fully function as communities. Brynmill School, however, has clearly worked hard to keep their numbers up and continue as a beating heart of the community.

Pre 1920s Brynmill School
pre-1920 Brynmill School (from Graham William’s personal collection)

 

 

*Information about Brynmill School came from an article by Juliette James “Life in the district of Brynmill in the early 20th century” published in “Minerva: Swansea History Journal, Vol 24, 2016-7.

 

 

Posted on 16 Comments

Transient

Transient (unfinished)
Transient

Here is a view of the length of Bernard Street from the South end, looking towards Uplands. It was quite hard to paint as I felt that I was trying to capture an absence. The light cuts across an empty road. When I saw this scene late on a Sunday evening in August I was struck by this emptiness, absence. No people. No cars, anywhere along its length.

Usually there are are cars outside the convenience store half way along the road, but it was closed. In term time the road is crammed with cars belonging to students, some who live in the streets that branch off from Bernard Street, some are parents dropping their children off at the local schools, some are passing tradespeople, many more are students attending lectures on the Singleton Campus. Yet, on this summer evening there was no one. It was like a ghost town. This one image, more than any sums up the transient community that Brynmill has become. It has become an unsustainable community. A community without families, especially those with children is a dying community.

Brynmill and Uplands suffer from the fact that the majority of students are absent for about 4 months each year. The situation has parallels with that in North Wales and Cornwall, where holiday homes mean areas are practically deserted in the winter. This has resulted in businesses closing due to a lack of all year custom and for the same reason has led to closures of libraries, schools and GP practices. Here, and in Uplands many shops and businesses have closed and have been taken over by bars and coffee shops. Are the losses of our library, post offices, banks and local businesses due to the lack of all year trade?

In Brynmill there are no banks, post offices, libraries, swimming pools or leisure centre. The Victorian swimming baths opposite Victoria Park were pulled down years ago. The public toilets were also destroyed (the week before the preservation order was to come in place).  We have two junior schools but few of the children live locally. You see children walking to school but that’s only because their parents have parked in places like Bernard Street and walk them to school. The pollution caused by all this additional traffic has a negative effect on the environment and people’s health. Yes, we do still have a chip shop, a pub, a coffee house, a community centre, a bread shop, a convenience store, a launderette and a DIY store.  But for how much longer? Its difficult to sustain a business on 8 months’ trade. It was probably a large part of the reason why The Cricketer’s pub closed down.

Yet, Brynmill has so much to offer. It has two fantastic parks; Singleton and Brynmill. There is a university on our doorstep. It is 5-10 minutes walking distance from the seafront. There are several well attended churches. I love the sea air. It is mild here. We rarely have frosts. It has a Bohemian feel to the place. As an artist, I don’t think I would thrive in suburbia where people would expect you to be neat and tidy. I am not neat and tidy. I love the hilly, terraces and the mix of people. People are friendly. You can start a conversation with anyone in a shop and they talk back as if they know you.

I want this community to live and to thrive, not to become a hollowed out dead place full of strangers who know nothing about the area. This project has been part of that. I have asked questions and have found out about the people who were born and grew up here. I walked up and down streets and back lanes. Again and again, trying to catch the shadows at different times of the day. Morning is my favourite time. I have counted the number of houses that no longer have lounges with sofas at the front of the house but rather desks and beds for students. The official figures are wrong. There are many more student houses (HMO) that are on the council register.

This has become an unbalanced and unsustainable community. The Local council and Welsh assembly are ignoring the problem. Chasing short-term profit at the expense of people’s lives and the local economy.  I have seen the place where I have lived for 18 years in a different light and I have only scratched the surface. I want to keep digging.

 

Bernard St with cars
Bernard Street – weekend before start of term

 

Posted on 6 Comments

Former “Cricketers”

21743011_768702773316501_4608170795147505305_n
Former “Cricketers”

Nothing sums up my Gafnu Cymuned:Hollowed Community project more than the sight of The Cricketers public house now shut and boarded up. It is just across the road from the St Helens Rugby and Cricket ground where sport has been played for over 140 years. On 19 June 1928 the ground was the venue of a mile race, for Swansea Grammar School’s Sports Day, won by a teenage Dylan Thomas; he carried a newspaper photograph of his victory with him until his death. Seven years later, Swansea RFC defeated the New Zealand 11-3 at St Helen’s, becoming the first club side to beat the All Blacks.

A famous cricketer, Gary Sobers, once hit six sixes in a row, in one over, during a cricket match in the nearby St Helens cricket ground in 1968. The final ball of the six sixes supposedly sailed through the air and crashed through the window of the Cricketers pub. In later years this great sporting feat was commemorated with a cricket ball drawn in the window that the ball supposedly crashed through all those years ago.

Sadly, an important piece of local and international history, has been bulldozed by the march of Swansea University. Now this window is boarded up and like much local history rubbed out by the advancement of student houses (HMOs) and the student ghettoisation of Brynmill and Uplands. Its rather curious, that despite being surrounded by students in Bryn Road and King Edwards Road, that this pub was not a viable business. A rather telling piece of evidence against those who always claim that more students bring more money to the city. They didn’t bring enough money to this local business.

Recently, stories have appeared in the local press claiming that discarded needles have been found around the back of the pub. These claims have been fiercely rejected by locals who see the newspaper reports as fake news planted by the developers, in order to strengthen their case for another massive HMO. I don’t think Dylan Thomas would have approved of the passing of this historic pub.

DTM015milewinner_1
Newspaper cutting of Young Dylan Thomas’s triumph at St Helen’s
Posted on 2 Comments

Former Corner Shop and Post Office.

IMG_1640b
Former Corner Shop and Post Office

The Corner of Bernard St. and Marlborough Rd.

Long before I came to Swansea in 1998, there used to be a corner shop and a post office, side by side on Marlborough Road. There were both there in 1986. There is a photo to prove it (see below). The Corner shop had gone by 1998. The building was completely renovated; the large side window on Bernard Street was blocked up, the upstairs windows made smaller, the front door was moved and the shop window removed and replaced with modern uPVC double glazing. The front of the building was pebble-dashed. The chimney was removed, presumably when the new roof was added.

I do remember the post office. It was still open when we moved to Waterloo Place in 2000 – I remember queuing to buy stamps and posted my Christmas parcels there.  Soon after, the government decided that there were too many Post Offices, and although people said that the elderly would struggle to walk the half a mile to the Uplands, to pick up their pensions, it was closed in 2003.

The red pillar box remains. The only clue to the former identity of one of these nondescript houses. The other clue is the lack of a boundary wall at the front of the former shop. Just an apron of grey concrete. They are both student houses now. There is still a “for let” sign in the window of the former shop. They sit in a street which is well over 50% student houses.

 

 

 

Posted on 4 Comments

English Corner

English Corner
English Corner

I love Victorian tin chapels. Maybe it’s because a playgroup I went to as a child in Hereford was held in one. I think that one was painted dark green. It was near the racecourse.

This tin building is at the crest of the hill, on Rhyddings Park Road. The corrugated iron is painted cream. It is jammed in by the side of the much larger and grander Argyle and Rhyddings Park Presbyterian Church.

The tin chapel is a friendly and welcoming building. The painted blue door always seems to be open. Playgroups meet here. I often see people with small infants coming and going.

There is a banner hanging above the door advertising “English Corner” for visitors to come and practice their English. This Welsh church has clearly gone out of their way to welcome international students and immigrants. I knew nothing about this community until I looked at their website and discovered that the church has been led by two energetic and thoughtful overseas mission workers, Charles and Molly Chua ,from Singapore for the past 11 years.

English Corner was set up by Charles and Molly after they found two lost Chinese students wondering the streets of Swansea. Charles and Molly took the two students to a Chinese shop and then drove them home. Over a cup of tea, the students pleaded: ‘we need someone to help us with our English!’ So they did something. The church set up weekly English classes on Friday evenings, and “English Corner’ grew rapidly, from 9 to 29 Chinese students in 3 weeks. Now 50-60 students regularly attend. It has since grown to become an international community linked with the Universities and Language Schools in Swansea. This proactive and positive work has had many benefits for the local community, students and new residents as well for the church which has a diverse congregation of Welsh and Chinese, Asians, Europeans and Africans worshipers.

So this unassuming little tin building holds a strong and vibrant community.  I like that.

Find out more about Argyle and Rhyddlings Park Church