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Crowded Community

Wednesday morning with was bright and crisp. I decided to the cold blue sky and bright autumn sunlight was similar to the conditions in which the original series of the “Hollowed Community” paintings were created. I want to compare the empty almost desolate streets of August with the very crowded ones of early November.

The children are back at school and students have returned in even greater numbers than ever. The number have supposedly increased by 20% and there certainly seems to be more noise at night times and cars in the day time.

In 2015/2016 there were approximately 21,800 at Swansea University and Trinity St David’s Swansea Campus, including 18,340 full time students.  When many HMO (Houses of Multiple Occupation) houses have up to 6 students living in them (some of the very big  HMOs on Bryn Road have 12 residents) and some streets have over 70% HMO housing, the streets get VERY crowded.  Students are supposedly discouraged from bringing their cars to Swansea but about 25% don’t live in the city and drive in from the surrounding areas. There are now two campuses for Swansea University, one on our doorstep in Singleton and the other new campus, the Bay Campus is five miles to the east of the city in in an area that used to be known as Crymlyn Burrows (Burrows means “Dunes”). So students live in Brynmill and Uplands for the social scene and drive to the Bay Campus.

Many of the long standing residents of Brynmill report that they have “never known the parking situation to be as bad as it is now”. Its not just the student but also lecturers and research staff looking for free parking on the residential streets. The University has only a limited number of parking spaces on campus that fill very quickly in the morning.  There is parking on “The Rec” on Oystermouth Road but that has recently put up its parking fees so you find students and staff will jammed their cars onto the corners of narrow streets rather than pay the fee. All this is compounded by the loss of paper parking permits so that residents do not know whose cars are entitled to park in residents bays.

My photographic project is called “Crowded Community” to contrast it with the summer paintings. I take my tour and find cars where I didn’t realise they would be, down the back lanes.

Parking on the pavement was a surprisingly common too.

Or on double yellow lines

On some roads I found it difficult to find a space to take a photograph from.

 

Its not total “carmageddon” as such, has in other places there are spaces in the residents parking zones or on the forbidden zones like double yellow lines and bus stops.

And finally, a shot with no cars just a woman with a pram – but it is double yellow lines along here.

 

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Hollowed Community Project

I am preparing a follow up photographic project on the “Hollowed Community” scenes but first I wanted to explain what the original project was about. So I have reproduced the the introduction to my exhibition catalogue for the madeinroath festival here:-

My project explores the theme that the community of Brynmill in Swansea has become “hollowed” out by the proliferation of Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs), which house an ever burgeoning population of students attending Swansea University. HMOs in many streets constitute in excess of 50% of the houses. This ever increasing transient population has had a devastating effect on the sense of community in Brynmill.

Families and children living in the area has have dropped markedly since the increasing number of HMOs started to swamp Brynmill. This has had knock on effects for sustainability as families normally sustain communities with services and business catering for these families.

My project looks at the visible signs of  this  “hollowing of community” by looking at the time when students are not here, such as in the summer months. It is in this absence of students that I have attempted to catch this ghostly silence, this funereal quiet.

In streets suddenly empty, devoid of cars, elderly people suddenly appear on the streets, as if from hibernation and, most tellingly, the sparse number of children start to play in the streets and parks but so much fewer than before.  It is as if the community is in a temporary mourning in this sudden quiet and the area looks more spacious, as it breathes out in the summer sun. This is I have painted, and documented, this lull before the next wave of erosion.

In this space I am reminded of those American realist painters who paint the quiet, the spacious and the still and revere a certain treatment of light and colour such as Edward Hopper, Jim Holland, John Register, Frank Hobbs as well as by Contemporary Minimalists such as Christopher Benson, Leah Giberson, Tom McKinley, Micthell, Johnson,  Jessica Brilli and Emmett Kerrigan.  I aim to bring an American sensibility to a Welsh urban landscape in my “urban minimal”* paintings, to contrast their sunny optimism with our cold reality.

Emma Cownie

  • Urban Minimal

I wanted to capture this temporary calm of summer in paint.  So I started to take lots of photos of the local area with an eye to using them for the basis of paintings.

My “rules” for composition and painting

No cars

No People

Bright light. There must be shadows – at diagonals if possible.

Simplified forms – there must be little detail in the final painting. I wanted to explore the interplay of the geometry of shadows and man-made structures – the tension between the 3D buildings and the 2D shadows. Simplified blocks of colour.

 

Urban Miminal Series.jpg

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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.

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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.

 

 

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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.

 

 

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Getting ready for madeinroath 2017

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Roath Street Art

We took the train down to Cardiff on Friday to look at the venue for my “Gafnu Cymuned: Hollowed Community” exhibition in the

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Outside Inkspot, Cardiff

madeinroath 2017 festival. It was great to visit Cardiff again. I used did my degree and PhD in Cardiff in the 1990s and I used to know the areas close to the university, Roath and Cathays, very well.

The city has changed massively in the last 20 or so years. It has become more European, in its feel. The centre is full of massive shops and eateries. Around the edges of the main shopping district was full of building work, where lots of purpose-built student accommodation was being put up.

My exhibition will be in the Inkspot Art Centre, off Newport Road. I have the wall by the windows on the right hand side and a hall with a beautiful Victorian wooden ceiling. The Festival runs from Sunday 15th to 22nd October 2017.

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MiR  brochure

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Link to madeinroath 2017 Festival Page 

 

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Former “Cricketers”

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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.

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Newspaper cutting of Young Dylan Thomas’s triumph at St Helen’s