Open Doors, Closing Doors – Cardiff Open Studios

David FitzJohn TactileBOSCH Citizen

This weekend (27 & 28 October 2012), as part of Cardiff Contemporary, around 100 artists will fling open their doors and welcome people in to see what they get up in their creative work spaces for Cardiff Open Studios.

This is the first time that there’s been this concerted effort by so many artists and is an indicator of the collaborative spirit that pervades the first outing of the two month visual & applied arts & design festival that is Cardiff Contemporary (01 October – 30 November).

There’ll be a bittersweet tang in the air because this weekend marks the end of tactileBOSCH‘s existence in the old Victorian laundry that this throbbingly vibrant group of artists has occupied for 12 years.

I first wrote about tactileBOSCH here when I was still just dipping a toe in the blogosphere’s murky waters. Buried in that blog is an interview with co-founder of tB, Kim Fielding so here it is again so you don’t have to rummage around looking for it. Though, as a still very green trainee journalist I hadn’t factored in my interview subject scoffing chocolate biscuits (provided by me as a bribe to get my interview), nor the very necessary hum of a fan heater – tB could be arctic in the winter.

The importance of places like tB can’t be overstated: incubators for new talent; studio spaces for economically challenged artists (most of the artists I know); platforms for work that doesn’t fit into other gallery spaces; a meeting of minds; a buzz. So much. I’ve already written about why affordable artists’ studios are important here so I won’t bang on, but the loss of tB from the Cardiff art scene will be keenly felt and it will be mourned by all the artists from across the UK and the globe who have had a chance to make and show work there.

So tonight (27 Oct), from 6pm there’ll be the party of a lifetime and, as always, everyone is welcome.

Blowback tactileBOSCH 2012

But before that party, there are plenty of other studios for you to visit and there’s bound to be tea, cake, chat, great work, friendly artists just waiting to say hello. The Cardiff Open Studios website has lots of helpful advice for planning your trip, including this map to guide you around the city.

Here are the venues and artists – take a deep breath, it’s comprehensive:

André Stitt’s Studio Artist: André Stitt Anthony Shapland’s Studio Artist: Anthony Shapland Butetown Artists Studios Artists: Philip Nicol, David Gould, Richard Cox, Mary Husted, Maggie James, Carwyn Evans, Carol Hiles, Annie Giles Hobbs, Dilys Jackson, Jan Beeney, Will Roberts Cardiff Print Workshop Artists: Anne Williams, Lauren Burgess, Catherine Ade, Becci Holmes, Jane Taylor, Dave Pettersen, Claire Carter, Georgina Brownlow, Sue Paton, Sue Edwards, Mana Pon, Sally Williams, Jane Marchesi, Eirian Lloyd, Bill Chambers, Lilith Gough, Jackie Shackson, Jan Arwyn Jones, Steve Griffiths Fireworks Clay Studios Artists: Becky Adams, Dan Allen, John Blackwell, Lowri Davies, Natalia Dias, Virginia Graham, Diane Horne, Lisa Krigel, Frankie Locke, Nicola Moorhouse, Sara Moorhouse, Zoe Preece, Matthew Thompson, Caroline Taylor, Paul Wearingm Gemma Wilde, Joseph Hopkinson, Jin Eui Kim, Louise Hall, Carol Freehan, Ann Jones.Fox Studio Artists: Phil Lambert, Catherine Lewis, Sam Aldridge, Elbow Room, Cathryn Lowri Griffiths, Jude Noon, Sara Annwyl Geraint Evans’ Studio Artist: Geraint Evans Inkspot Studios Artist: Candice Black Jacqueline Alkema’s Studio Artists: Jacqueline Alkema Kings Road Studios Artists: Jan Williams, Jo Berry, Gordon Dalton, Lee Campbell, James Charlton, Alun Rosser, Andy Fung, Amber Mottram, Rabab Ghazoul, Brian Watkins, Sam Pickthall, Chris Moore, Margaret Sian Williams, Chloe Barry, Barrie J Davies. Molly Curley’s Studio Artist: Molly Curly Morgan Arcade Studios Daniel Hamilton, Nicole Miles, Heloise Godfrey, Lynton Black, Liam O’ Connor,Christopher Holloway, Julien Decaudin, Godmachine, Emma Levey, Lucy Daniels, Cath Jones, Cath Wetherhead, Nic Jones, Robert Lo Bue (Applingua), Sarah HIll (Applingua), Yoke Creative Morgen Hall’s Studio Artist:Morgen Hall Oriel Canfas Gallery Artists: Alun Hemming, Anthony Evans, Chris Griffin, Pete Sainty, Adrian Metcalfe Printhaus Artists: Printhaus Print Workshops, Shaun James, Alys Wall, Jan Bennett, Sophie Barras, Sue Roberts, Liz Picton, Jenny Cashmore, Goat Major Projects, Nathalie Hooper, Cinzia Mutigli Print Market Project Artists: Pete Williams and Print workshops facilities. Studio b Artists: Anna Rafferty, Emily Lander, Kelly Best, Lauren Foulkes, Louise Shenstone, Molly Firth, Rhiannon Boswell, Elena Andruhiv tactileBOSCH Gallery and Workshops Artists Kim Fielding and a host of others presenting at final show after 6pm 27th October. Third Floor Gallery Studios Artist: Ian Smith Warwick Hall Studios Artists: Matt Cook, Freya Dooley, Matthew Evans, Gabrielle Frazer, Rebecca Wyn Kelly, Beth Lewis, Ellie Young

There are links to all of the artists and studios on the Cardiff Open Studios site. All of this has been pulled together by Richard Higlett in an astonishingly short space of time.

It’s going to be a great weekend. Hope to see you there.

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Creative Wales

Simon Fenoulhet - Lucent Lines 2010

The Arts Council of Wales recently announced the latest batch of Creative Wales recipients, including two Creative Wales Ambassadors. The cat, which has been wrestling in its sack for several months since the decisions were made, was finally let out of the bag at the awards event hosted by Galeri, Caernarfon (the first North Wales ceremony).

Now this is a scheme that is very dear to my heart, established not long after I started working for the Arts Council of Wales in 2002. Unlike other schemes this one allows artists to step away from their day-to-day commitments and focus on a period of experimentation, research, trial and error. It is important because it recognises that there might be some failures which, we all know, are never truly failures but rather prompts to reflect, digest and move forward.

It is, however, a tricky beast. I have watched artists’ brains on the verge of explosion as the research period leads them off in many directions at once. On the plus side this creates fodder for the years to come, but focusing down to the most fruitful areas for creative pursuit can be difficult – seeing the wood for the trees from the middle of a forest in a storm – can be hard. This is where a critical friend or a professional mentor can help to shape the work at hand.

When I was trying to prepare artists for what might lie ahead I found it easier to draw as I went along, which resulted in a series of strange beasties that I called The Art Centipede (the illustration below is a mock up I did for g39’s closing show are we not drawn onward to new era and seems to have fewer legs than I usually managed). It’s not easy to explain the creative process as it’s so particular to each individual artist, but I had noticed a pattern forming at certain points in the Creative Wales process.

It should also be said that the post CW period can be very tough. Going back to the daily grind, but this time with a mind stuffed full of potential projects and fizzing to start realising them. That’s why it’s so important to keep talking to potential galleries or supporters while the project is ongoing to stimulate a bit of interest for the next stage.

I’m glad to see so many visual  artists make the cut again (three major and three lesser awards plus an arguable seventh in Simon Whitehead) – this scheme is almost tailor made for individuals used to working alone, albeit with an inclination to collaboration, and applied artists and writers often do well here too. Luckily ACW have laughed in the face of the winds of recession and upped the kitty by £50,000, recognising that investment in creative individuals to think and dream will bear fruit for everyone further down the line.

On the visual arts front there’s a picture forming – winners have had support earlier on in their careers by the galleries and organisations who make it their business to give emerging artists space to develop. g39, for example, can boast a relationship with five awardees and another is on his way to an exhibition in their new space. They are: S Mark Gubb, Simon Fenoulhet, Miranda Whall, Simon Whitehead and Craig Wood, alongside future g39 exhibitor Paul Emmanuel (winner of last year’s Welsh Artist of the Year). They were too modest to mention that the g39 staff can claim a total of four CW awards between them: Anthony Shapland, Michael Cousin (also a CW Ambassador) and Sean Edwards (who runs the Welsh Artists’ Resource Programme Warp).

So early support is obviously vital, but there’s still no commercial infrastructure to represent artists in Wales, apart from the sterling efforts of agencies such as Mermaid and Monster. Those few who do have commercial representation often have to look outside Wales for this. Artists who have come out of the Creative Wales process often pick up big solo shows: Sue Williams* went on to be one of only two Welsh artists included in the Artes Mundi Prize exhibition. Tim Davies, one of the very first AM artists (2004) got his CW award and went on to represent Wales at the Venice Biennale of Art in 2011 and is now on the board of Artes Mundi. Both Simon Fenoulhet (after his first CW award) and Andrew Cooper have had big solo shows at the ever-supportive Newport Museum & Art Gallery (which I’ve already covered in previous blogs – Andrew Cooper here and Simon Fenoulhet here), but what next? It seems a lot of artists are running to stand still in Wales.

Andrew Cooper - Dis-Location at Newport Museum & Art Gallery, 2011

And faced with the inevitable criticism about spending money on artists when the economy goes to hell in a handcart, it’s worth remembering that the spend on arts in Wales can, if equated to the expenditure being spread over a year, amount to a morning (with time off for tea and recession-friendly, poor-quality biscuits) of the Welsh Government’s budget. And behind all of this is the still very serious question of how artists’ awards are treated by HMRC. While the big boys of the creative industries get new tax breaks in the latest budget, the approach to these awards is patchy across tax offices. Some will be taxed on it, others not and I was once told, by a helpful HMRC officer, not to ask the question as it would result in everyone being taxed. Yet the creative and cultural industries still come in as the sixth biggest earner for Wales (way ahead of sport btw), and those big commercial enterprises feed off the original ideas of our artists. So go figure.

Culture Colony were in Caernarfon for a series of conversations around Creative Wales, with past and present recipients teasing out what it is. You can watch them here

*As an aside, but to illustrate the press reaction to artists here’s a little anecdote for those of you who have bravely read to the end of this: A Sunday Times journalist, casting around for a new story after the expenses’ scandal had stalled, cornered me for a quote about Sue Williams’ perfectly serious exploration of sexuality through body casting. I had no notion that the whole thing would turn into what I now, still shuddering, refer to as ‘Buttock Gate’ (I’m not linking to this or it’ll all rear up again, do your own googling). The story went viral and it’s deeply disturbing to see yourself (mis)quoted in many languages, while the illustrative pictures accompanying the story go from the artist in her studio to a random nymphette in a pair of lacy pants. Journalists eh!

From Mill Lane to Cotton Mill – g39 in Leipzig

g39 Portmanteau entrance, Halle 14  Leipzig 2011
I’m just back from my first gig as an embedded journalist – not, I hasten to add, a flak-jacket, helmeted journo reporting from a war zone, but still in the front line of international cultural relations. Cardiff’s g39 were making their presence felt as international guest curators at Halle 14 in the giant ex-cotton mill in Leipzig for the big art weekend Zeit Fuer Kunst. For some reason Ute Volz, manager of  Halle 14 (the title grossly belies what she actually does, but it’s the closest translation I can come up with)  thought it would be a good idea if I came along too.

It all started when the Contemporary Art Society sent g39’s co-director, Chris Brown, on a research visit to Leipzig last autumn (2010). From there he invited Ute Volz and Karsten Schultz of Halle 14 to speak at the On Collecting symposium at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff at the end of last year (some of you might remember me writing about it here). After the formal presentations things became more relaxed as we shared some of Cardiff’s less salubrious watering holes with Volz and ended up pledging to visit Leipzig as soon as possible.

Well these things get said in the afterglow of a lively seminar. So imagine my surprise when an invitation to come for the big event on April 30/ May 01. Halle 14, along with all the other creative enterprises and galleries that make up the Spinnerei, takes the interesting approach of each inviting an international partner to exhibit in their space for the big art weekend and this year g39 was it.

As the logistics of shipping big and complex artworks across Europe would have wiped out a big chunk of this small-but-perfectly-formed gallery’s budget, g39 decided that works should fit into a suitcase, or small crate, and the show Portmanteau began to form. Chris Brown, with curator Michael Cousin selected a show reel of  12 existing moving image works and some works by artists who’d already shown in the gallery. Then they went on to commission three new works by Dawn Woolley, David Cushway and Sam Aldridge – two performance/installations and some very mobile sculptures.

Now this isn’t going to be a formal review of the show – that’s going on Culture Colony (and when it’s up I’ll put in the link), but I hope it’ll provide a glimpse into how this kind of international enterprise works.

Arriving a few days after Brown, Cousin and some of the exhibiting artists (I draw a veil over my accidental diversion on a high-speed train to Hannover), things had already begun to take shape. Helen Sear’s beautiful wall print of a photoshop-manipulated image of stuffed birds in a glass vitrine, first seen at g39 in 2009, had been hung on a wall in a space already twice the size of g39’s diminutive exhibition area; Richard Bevan‘s black vinyl triangles – a deceptively simple rendering of information based on significant times and places in g39’s history – stuck to the wall, facing  Candice Jacobs‘ gold vinyl “Thank You!”, a starkly decontextualised pleasantry glinting in the sun. Anthony Shapland’s film poster (text deleted), hung next to the film projection area, linking it to the film work he was showing – an introduction to a longer project about the life of Raymond C.Cook. In fact several of the exhibiting artists also had moving image work – g39 having been an early pioneering promoter of this kind of work in Wales.

Helen Sear, Display 2008 at Halle 14, LeipzigCandice Jacobs, Thank You, from Too Much 2010, Halle 14, LeipzigRichard Bevan, Untitled, Halle 14 Leipzig 2011Dawn Woolley, Foolish Passion, Halle 14 Leipzig 2011

Away from the yellowing beams of the same sunshine that poured into the vast third floor of Halle 14, Lesley Guy‘s painstaking pen work on images from  a series of a hundred obituaries pages formed a ghostly phalanx around the space that Dawn Woolley was filling with her photographic installation, which would provide a setting for a gruelling performance that she did not once but twice. Halle 14 had provided technical support through the wonderful Denis, who managed to source all sorts of extras to make sure that the show and the performances were presented to g39’s exacting high standards.

David Cushway, Plate Spinner, Halle 14 Leipzig 2011Sam Aldridge, 2 x Safety Helmets, 9 x Safety Cones, Halle 14 Leipzig 2011

As Cousin tweaked the projector for the 12 moving image works and David Cushway set out his plates and poles for his plate-spinning performances, I helped Sam Aldridge assemble his nine cardboard traffic cones. These would be placed in the gallery with instructions in Google-translate German to move them around, wearing hard hats he’d made a couple of years ago.


Dawn Woolley - Foolish Passion, performance, Halle 14 Leipzig 2011

By the end of Friday everything was under control and we could go into VIP mode with the option of Porsches to ferry us about (I opted for Volz’s Peugeot, I’m not really a Porsche kinda gal) to the various events associated with the big art weekend: the Blixa Bargeld/Carsten Nicolai (the latter also showing in the Spinnerei)  concert was a definite highlight for me, as was the enervating trip to Bimbotown, possibly the maddest nightclub ever. I was eaten by a sofa – ’nuff said.

Over the weekend I had a chance to look at what the other galleries  and organisations were offering. The g39 floor was host to Basel Art Academy’s student show – demonstrating what can be achieved with proper resourcing and support – and to put the Welsh offer in context. I know I’m biased but I think we kept our end up, and the 5-7,000 people (the g39 attendance clicker was still in Cardiff) who visited Portmanteau seemed to agree.

The love and respect between g39 and Halle 14 just seemed to grow and grow – possibly because there were no tantrums, no hissy fits and everything was possible and effortlessly dealt with.  At the end of the weekend Halle 14 announced that g39 were to become permanent international partners. And nothing could be more perfect.

My profound thanks go to Halle 14, g39 and all the exhibiting artists for making me so welcome and so proud to see contemporary art from Wales make such a big impression in an international context.

 

Opportunity Alert: Halle 14 is just launching a new residency programme with a May 20 deadline. If you’re an artist who is interested in living and working in Leipzig for three months and can respond to the theme “What Happened to God?” then follow the link asap.

 

Portmanteau featured:

Sam Aldridge, Richard Bevan, David Cushway, Lesley Guy,  Candice Jacobs, Helen Sear, Anthony Shapland, Dawn Woolley (installed works/performances)
Pascal Michel Dubois, Maia Conran,  David Cushway, Candice Jacobs,  Tamara Krikorian, Jennie Savage & James Tyson, Helen Sear, Anthony Shapland, Lisa Stansbie, Dawn Woolley (moving Image)

Balloons Over Canton – Chapter and Llanover Hall Partytastic

Llanover Hall balloons April 2011

When I was a mere slip of  a girl my parents took me to a strange place, with fluorescent food, artists dressed in bright coloured outfits, flashing lights, music, performances, films. It was odd and exciting. It was Chapter Art Centre’s first birthday.

Fast forward 39 years and it’s party time again (even though I’m only 29) as Chapter celebrates 40 years since a group of artists colonised the old Victorian school in Canton, Cardiff.

Since that first visit I’ve spent so many happy hours absorbing the weird, wonderful, challenging and sometimes just downright strange offerings that have passed through the centre. From The Ken Campbell Road Show, (Sylveste McCoy with a ferret down his trousers long before Dr Who beckoned) and The Greatest Show on Legs   in the early days, to last month’s excellent Boothby Graffoe, my funny bone has been consistently twangled. The cinema programme introduced me to some of the finest films I have ever seen – some I had to go and see twice in the same week – and there’s been theatre, music and dancing, poetry and techno doings in the May You Live… digital arts festival. While  the Experimentica showcase has taken me on so many extraordinary journeys I can’t even begin to pick out all the highlights, although watching Good Cop Bad Cop perform Mas O Amser as the sun set behind the windows of the stiwdio space was magical and sowed the seeds for romance (aaah!) some years later.

But the gallery is where my heart lies. For a long time it was one of a very few spaces in Cardiff where you could experience contemporary art and see work by Welsh artists contextualised in an international and truly experimental programme. It’s almost impossible to pick out or name all of my favourites (there have been so many) without overrunning on the wordage, but there were two that really moved me.  Simon Pope’s Gallery Space Recall – reviled by the local press, who hadn’t naturally seen it, it played on place and memory in a strangely visceral way. While Anthony Shapland’s Suddenly After a Long Silence, with it’s gentle and empathetic look at the ordinary through transitions between day and night, night and day, will stay with me for a very long time.

Chapter has reinvented itself many times over the years, but maintained the same commitment to presenting the cream of experimental work across all art forms and, in  the process, has also supported generations of artists, who have used the centre to produce new work, or sometimes just to meet over coffee or beer and thrash out new ideas and collaborations. Out of sight, in the warren of offices and studios and across the road in Market House, artists and creative companies are beavering away producing some of the most interesting stuff to come out of Cardiff’s capital city. I have to give Chapter a shout out for their early and continued support for blown magazine and for inviting us to join the party on Sunday at the sunny and creatively throbbing Art Car-Bootique extravaganza. With a new refurb and the end of an era feeling as director Janek Alexander steps down after presiding over the rise and rise of one of Europe’s foremost arts centres, it seems as the reinvention will continue for years to come. Bring it on.

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Meanwhile, as the Chapter crowd were quaffing champagne to toast forty years and welcoming incoming director Andy Eagle,  just around the corner another cultural gem was celebrating. Llanover Hall, has just completed the new theatre space where the next generation of young artists will learn new skills, build their confidence and move on to join the throng of creative adults at Chapter.

Now Llanover Hall is a place that’s very dear to my heart. I went there as a child, slowly working my way through various courses (discovering on the way that I wasn’t cut out for drama, photography, screen printing or ceramics but loved the life  drawing classes). Another powerhouse fueled by enthusiastic artists and tutors, who have carried on their support through the Llanover Hall charity. So I eschewed the free cake and champers in Market Road and had crisps and wine and watched as enthusiastic young people showed us what they were made of. Everyone was in party mood – from the balloon launch to the grand finale – including the centre’s cleaner Rose, mildly tormented by Patrick the MC (and former Llanover drama-ite), who also ensured that the builders, who’d turned up to join in the party, got their own fair share of ribbing.

Improv, a catwalk with a difference, comedy, puppetry, light twirling and the final climax of UV madness to the soundtrack of a mash-up of Led Zepp’s Whole Lot of Love and, um the Pearl and Dean ad music, what wasn’t to love. I’d meant to show my face for an hour and then scuttle round the corner but the sheer joie to vivre of all concerned kept me glued to my seat. Llanover has been through some sticky patches in the past but I hope that Friday night demonstrated to the council members and officials present that it’s a municipal treasure and must live forever.

There are times when, as the t-shirts say: I Loves the ‘Diff

blown balloons at Chapter Art Boot-Ique