Number 26 Augusta Street, Llandudno, has sheltered many diverse people in its life, including hostel boarders, hotel guests and former RAF servicemen (ah, the paper planes...) and is now a temporary haven for artists, and their art... part of the annual Helfa Gelf Art Trail.
Go up the first flight of raw wood stairs, still smelling of the sawmill, and the dereliction starts to give way to things of interest… in one room there is what looks like a collection of Victorian vitrines awaiting badly needed restoration by some careful museum expert. The ‘bell jars’ contain specimens that appear to be part of an ongoing experiment involving the reactions of fungi with wires and different materials. This is an installation-in-progress by Morgan Griffith aka sonomano. The walls are hung with a few collages that look like they could be from the scientific sketchbook of whatever amateur naturalist, or ‘mad scientist', is conducting the experiments. Their imagery is related to the contraptions on floor and tables, including some more mushrooms. The mushroom metaphor could be a comment on the house, fungi are part of the cycle of decay and new life – the house is stripped down to its ‘bones’ awaiting its rebirth in another form for another purpose…
In the small room opposite, we find Pea Restall and her team constructing a primitive clay cavern, big enough to get inside – this, she explains, is the early stage of an installation that will be enhanced by a low frequency sound sculpture. It is reminiscent of a wood-fired clay oven and also has very wombic, earth-mother connotations…
The big room at the front that links these two spaces has an exhibition of junk sculptures displayed on rough wooden chests and unpainted shelves: bits of broken things and charity shop toys arranged in an abstract way that become more than a sum of the parts.
Upstairs again, and you enter a different world, perhaps we have stepped through some sort of time-space portal, a la Doctor Who, into an alien domain where a stranded stranger attempts to reconstruct his space capsule in order to return home – this is the alternative universe of Mark Eaglen (or at least a quantum fragment of it). In one chamber a circular disc pulses with psychedelic patterns that look like time-lapse bacteria multiplying in a petri dish, until you look closer, then the installation assimilates you into its process. Your shadow is captured and, through the inventive use of a video feedback loop, is split and multiplied in an ever changing mandala of light. It is technically baffling, but that does not stop it being huge fun to play with. Toddlers, that have to be steadied on a chair by their parents to reach the beams of light, chuckle with delight whilst the adults impatiently wait their turn.
|Welcome to the alternative universe of Mark Eaglen|
You can read my review of an earlier exhibition by Mark Eaglen here...
In the room across the landing, there is the beginning of an on-going response to the building itself from Lisa Carter. War-time photographs are displayed on one wall and a plumb-weight hangs from a long line, suspended inches from the floor, looking rather like a tiny bomb halted moments before impact... Apparently, the house was once home to Baron Arthur Tedder, who devised the method of saturation bombing, known as 'carpet bombing', where large target areas are systematically bombed using grid coordinates.
On the top floor, beneath the exposed roofing rafters, we find a room containing some work by Emrys Williams, whose studio is just a few doors away. Here a world of childlike exploration is evoked, model galleons, toy zebras and games are in dialog with his characteristically naïve paintings of quixotic figures and surreal houses. A model duck looks very much at home sat on its nest of straw in the painted fireplace. Text butterflies liberated from the pages of old books are attracted to the light of vents and windows…
|Come and play in the wonderful world of Emrys Williams|
Crossing the landing, we find a room with some inert audio-visual equipment. A projector, a monitor, some headphones. Still being set-up. For now we can but imagine.
Another small room has a collection of brass fittings and a circle of model railway track laid out in an almost ritualistic way. A light bulb hangs at shin-level from a cable wrapped around a rafter. It could be anything… perhaps some sort of psychic compass to communicate with those spirits that may yet linger in the bricks and mortar… only the artist, Angela Davies, knows what this may become.
In the corner of what would have once been the attic, we find Helen Jones working away on a huge swathe of white material. It looks a bit like a traditional quilt, though she is using distinctly non-traditional methods involving tile-spacers and cable-ties. It resembles a long christening gown, or perhaps the plentiful undergarments of a Victorian lady. There are also some rather ‘inquisitional’ metal structures hung from the ceiling. What is it all about? Helen explains that the metal pieces are based on chastity belts, and the material is meant to evoke Victorian dresses, underwear and the laundry that would have been dealt with, day-in-day-out, by the servants that would have lived in these attic spaces. The white drapery will provide a backdrop to a projected audio-visual piece that will explore and clarify these connections… So for now, I shall think of it as the ‘christening gown’ of the new work, and look forward to returning further along in the residency to see how it all develops.
So, what appears to be an empty derelict house, is actually the birthplace of some fresh and fascinating art installations. The contemporary, high-tech take on materials and processes is beautifully counterpointed by the ‘building-site’ aesthetic of their surroundings. Works by fresh and fascinating local artists that will grow and develop over the next few weeks to become what they will be... in time for the Llawn02 festival.
Reflecting on this, I find my thoughts exploring the many other closed-up empty spaces in Llandudno. Business are closing, buildings stand empty – what a huge waste of resources! Wales has - always has had - a burgeoning creative community. This is showcased by the Helfa Gelf Art Trail, when local artists open their studios and welcome people in to witness their process, and even have a go themselves. It would make sense, would it not, to use more of these spaces creatively? What better way for an estate agent to draw attention to a large property than to allow its space to be used, temporarily, to display locally produced art? Or, even better, to allow up-and-coming (sorry, emergent) artists to work and display in such places… So, kudos to Mostyn Estates for setting this fine example. Surely, there must be other estate agents and property developers that are not really as lacking in imagination as their popular image suggests…
Perhaps we do not have to make space for art and creativity in our lives - the space is already there, standing empty, yet filled with potential, awaiting some creative thinking.