THIS is the beginning . . . Because somewhere between not knowing . . . and knowing . . . there lies imagination . . . THIS, THAT and THE OTHER . . . Book 1 . . . OUT NOW . . . THIS is the beginning . . . Because somewhere between not knowing . . . and knowing . . . there lies imagination . . . THIS, THAT and THE OTHER . . . Book 1 . . . CLICK HERE . . .

CURRENT : RED SPARROW WRITERS : storytelling, workshops, book signings : RSPB Conwy : booking now for 29 October 2019
THIS (parts 1 & 2) : OUT NOW from The Red Sparrow Press : paperback & e-book editions

FUTURE : Folklore & Fairy Tales of North Wales : Mixed Exhibition at Oriel Ty Meirion Gallery, Dyffryn Ardudwy : 22 October 2019 - 5 January 2020
THIS (Kindle Editions parts 3 & 4 of THIS, THAT & the OTHER Book 1) : Publication Dates TBA

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]


  1. Finally getting round to reading your blog... excellent.

  2. Thank you - glad you like...

  3. Thanks for the excellent account - I took a number of photos of the event and you've helped me flesh out the descriptions eg from where there are links to the other photos.

  4. Thanks for your comment and for sharing the photos - happy to be of service.