Kim Fielding

Kim Fielding by EG The Welsh arts community is currently reeling at the news that artist, photographer curator, co-founder of tactileBOSCH and all round mover and shaker, Kim Fielding, died suddenly last week, following a suspected heart attack.

Describing Kim in words, particularly when this blow seems so close to home, is difficult. He had a go himself  here  on his Culture Colony profile, but as anyone who has struggled with a personal statement knows, getting a sense of a person through words alone is like describing air without breathing it.

So Kim was all of the things in my introduction, and everything that he writes about in his profile, but then he also a the larger than life figure, screeching up late to a meeting on his bike, or throwing dinner parties for no good reason, except for the pleasure of putting people together in a room over eccentric but delicious feasts. He saw a hole where something might happen, usually for the benefit of many other artists, stepped in and occupied it with a seat-of-the-pants, skin-of-the-teeth derring-do.

The enterprise that was tactileBOSCH  was just a tiny part of his mission to make things happen. He turned his basement in Cardiff’s Riverside into an installation space for Cement Garden; collaborated with Jan Bennett to put a terrifying creature in the basement of an empty building in Llandaff Rd (part of the House project); infiltrated numerous other venues around the city  – most recently the Wells Hotel, Nos Da bar, a couple of  buildings at the back of Milgis in Roath, the Wales Millennium Centre and even Urban Outfitters – ventured forth to Berlin, New York and South America (to name just a few of his international adventures), but always came back home to make another pot of hair-liftingly strong coffee for all of us who passed through his flat.

And those coffee drinkers kept getting more numerous by the day as he scooped up new emerging talent as it popped out of Cardiff Art School (and often before the talent had fledged he offered a proving ground for ideas), groomed new curators for their first shows,  ran the most exhilarating photography courses (Room 101) or simply just got out and about and met people, scooped them up and made many of them his willing slaves (I can still retrieve the memory of the smell left in my car after somehow agreeing to transport industrial quantities of rubbish from tactileBOSCH).Kim prepping Max for Room 101Kim had a can-do attitude and artists tentatively suggesting a new idea to him would always get the reply, “hmm, yes I think we can do something with that”, followed by action and realisation.

And the Kim Fielding laugh was something else – descending into a kind of honking snort that was utterly infectious – and frequently heard. If something really tickled him he’d cry out “barking!” at the top of his voice. Irresistible, irrepressible and occasionally exasperating because he was juggling so very many projects and ideas at once. If I was due to meet Kim at a given time I’d generally block off a few hours afterwards to allow for the shifting sands of his day.

We first met when I was working for the Arts Council of Wales. That initial meeting probably based on a budget crisis as the sums didn’t always add up and there was often a danger of a grant for tactileBOSCH’s programme being reclaimed. The applications themselves were works of art in themselves – hundreds of different fonts, in different colours and peppered with exclamation marks – as eccentric and colourful as the man who put them together.

It was a while before Kim thought to apply for funding on his own behalf and finally got himself some time to focus on himself with funding from the Arts Council of Wales. He spent the time developing new strands of his work, which he describes like this:

“Although a photographer by trade my personal artwork is based in video / installation / written word / sound & vision. Invariably lens based – it usually revolves around the story or essence of the protagonist I might be working with [or against]. Often a response in hindsight to the entanglements of personal relationships and the power therein, ‘an innovative combination of photo-visual and the human condition’ quote and un-quote.”

However this doesn’t even begin to describe the imagery that he created, which was often confrontational or provocative and occasionally disturbing. He’d find models for his photographs and films in the most unlikely places, drag them off the streets and, before they knew it, have them bound or gagged or covered in some sticky and hard-to-remove substance (sometimes all at the same time) or put them in an immersion tank or nail them into a crate. I should add that they were always willing victims of the Fielding charm and often came back to go through the whole experience again.

Alongside his activities to support other artists and the work that he made himself, Kim was also an inveterate documenter of arts activity and it will be the life’s work of many of his friends to collect, collate, archive, curate and edit all of the photographs, videos and ephemera associated with Kim’s all too short time with us. There is so much to say about Kim Fielding, but it’ll take a long time yet before the full mosaic of this rich and wonderful life is pulled together, piece by colourful piece. In the meantime there is a giant void as we all come to terms with sadness of someone who did so much and meant so much to so many.Kim Fielding at Blowback You can hear Kim talking about how he set up tactileBOSCH with Simon Mitchell in my inept interview with him in 2009 (click on the image below to hear it). Kim Fielding 2009, img EG Or watch him talk about tB here courtesy of Culture Colony, or sample the essence of tactileBOSCH in this video of the Addiction show. [Please note that there are some images that might offend or disturb some readers in the last link and those that follow]. And if you want to see him with his work – here he is at the opening of his show Sidewinder at Oriel Canfas in 2009.

The funeral will be held at 2.45pm on Friday 21 February at the Wenallt Chapel, Thornhill Crematorium, Thornhill road, Cardiff, CF14 9UA. at 2.45pm Map here.

With thanks to Pete Telfer and Culture Colony for all of the links to video content in

*** UPDATE***

Following the death of Kim Fielding a group of friends and family decided that the best way to mark his extraordinary life and contribution to the arts in Wales and beyond was to set up an award in his memory – The Kim Fielding Award

The award was launched on 24 October at the tactileBOSCH exhibition Paradise Lost, which, in true Kim Fielding form, included works by some 90 artists in the old Customs and Immigration building in Cardiff’s Bute Town and the crowd funding campaign achieved its £5,000 target in two weeks.

Studios – Where Art Happens

Elysium Studios 2012

Last week I was in Margate for the National Federation of Artists’ Studio Providers‘s  (NFASP) AGM and a series of events designed to bring artists and studio providers together to share experience, intelligence and generally bond. The day was hosted by the exceptionally friendly Turner Contemporary, who kept the refreshments flowing as we yomped our way through a networking event for studios, artists and funders in the South East (England), pulled together by Dover Arts Development (DAD), and on to a series of workshops for NFASP members that covered such useful topics as Public Benefit – what it really means, especially in terms of the Charities Commission  and sustainable business models for studios, followed by an opportunity for members to go into regional huddles to talk to each other and do a spot of networking.

I wasn’t there as an artist or a studio provider, but to attempt to write it all up for NFASP, with whom I’ve been working for the past year. All of my notes (a big fat notebook full) will go somewhere else, but I left with my brain fizzing after meeting a whole host of people intent on doing things to make life better for artists and the communities in which they work.

So here I’m just going to ruminate about artists studios, at a time when artists are possibly even more beleaguered than ever as they face hikes in business rates; a falling off in funding – especially from cash-strapped local authorities; the depletion in the organisations set  up to support them – following the various Arts Councils’ funding reviews; the decimation of arts education institutions – one of the key employers of artists; the drop in funding for small projects and corporate sponsorship. OK I could go on.

Fortunately artists tend to be very resilient and, as often as not, will see opportunities where others see despair – the rise in the number of empty shops  and office spaces being used by artists to make/show work illustrates this, although these might not be sustainable in the longer term.

It’s hard to define a typical artists’ studio model. In Margate I met with people making work or project spaces in: former farm buildings; unloved industrial workshops; heritage sites; empty shops; at the end of the pier and even on a decommissioned light ship, moored in the Medway. Other artists’ groups have re-animated schools, old mills, fire stations, factories, office blocks and even troubled social housing projects heading for the inevitable boarding up and police attention. Of course many more work from home and the South East Open Studios Network was represented at the networking meeting.

They’re rural and urban, big set ups with hundreds of studios and small collectives of five, six or seven members. Between them they have a staggering array of partnerships and networks, community, curatorial, educational and professional development programmes and they reach out internationally through residencies, exhibitions and exchanges, while covering the full spectrum of artistic practice and experience. From recent graduates, just starting the climb up the emergence curve, to established artists looking for the camaraderie of a shared space and, more practically, access to shared resources. What they have in common is the affordability factor. This is only natural as NFASP’s membership criteria includes the following statement:

“Our role is to represent and support all those engaged in developing and managing affordable studios for visual artists and studio groups and organisations form our core membership.”

At first sight £10 – £15 per square foot per annum seems exceptional. Why should these individuals get preferential rates? Well, as Marcel Baettig of the Bow Arts Trust points out, the average use of a studio is one day per week as artists juggle jobs and other responsibilities. We do all know that the majority of artists don’t live by making diamond encrusted objects to flog through the big auction houses don’t we? The sad fact is that most artists can’t earn a living from the production of their art alone. So they teach, or undertake project work funded by others and to their agendas and ambitions, or non-arts related jobs to pay the bills.

Should we care? Hell yes! Over the past couple of decades we’ve seen the fruition of capital strategies that have created new places and spaces to see and enjoy the arts thanks to the National Lottery, Europe and some regeneration funding. These have also attracted a big chunk of the available money from the charitable and corporate sector – new buildings are sexy and easy to put a nice, publicly visible plaque in. However this investment seems out of kilter with that going to the primary source of content for those buildings – the artists.

And artists need time and space to make work. It can be a lonely business so they need networks and support structures around them. Sometimes this is as simple as peer feedback and critical advice, but it’s also important to keep abreast of developments in contemporary practice and clusters of artists offer an easy hit for international curators doing the rounds to scout for new talent.

But more importantly artists’ studios can make an enormous contribution to their communities. This can range for support for emerging artists, to running exhibition/project spaces, workshops and other events and, perhaps most importantly for potential funders and planners, can re-invigorate those run-down buildings and parts of town that are suffering from changes to the economy. In his workshop about business models for studios, Marcel Baettig showed how Bow Arts Trust invests rental income in new studio buildings and in community programmes that really engage local people and help to create an understanding of what artists do and what they can do. Many studios are also now actively engaged in working with art schools to help bring on the next generation of artists: Spike Island, Grand Union, Elysium, tactileBOSCH, A Space, ACME and ACAVA being prime examples.

To be sustainable studios need a critical mass and a reasonable amount of square footage (opinions vary between 1500 – 2500 square feet) to be economically viable. Sadly spaces on this scale are not always available – particularly away from the big urban conurbations. But the waiting lists attest to the continued need for affordable work spaces.

And some developers, not always famed for their altruistic outlooks, have already worked out that artists make good tenants and help to add to the offer of new buildings, incorporating live/work spaces for artists in developments. The same can be said for more enlightened local authorities, who have registered that clusters of artists’ spaces can help to regenerate run down areas where enterprise grants for businesses have failed.

Keeping all of this on the agendas of those who can make a difference is what NFASP is about, but it’s a constant challenge to advocate and respond to new legislation (where are the artists in the nascent National Planning Policy framework?) and to support artists who suddenly find themselves with leaky buildings, dodgy leases or astronomical hikes in business rates (most are at the mercy of the discretionary reductions of cash-strapped local authorities).

As NFASP moves into a new phase without regular funding from Arts Council England, they are busily setting up networks for studio groups across the UK. So far there’s been one in the North of England, last week’s South East Network and, on 30 March  there will be one in Swansea for South Wales. If you’d like to be there (you don’t have to be an NFASP member to come along and meet other like-minded souls) you can email me to get on the list. The details of the day are here. Or if you’d like to set up your own regional network email NFASP and let them know.

With many thanks to Crate and Limbo for inviting us to join them after a really lively day in Margate.

Aine Belton - Drawing Time & Clare Beattie - Heard, Crate 2012

And finally, a quick plug for Elysium who will be launching their new studio spaces on 16 March. Follow the link to find out more.

Backwards and Onward

Happy 2012 blog fans and welcome, as the last pine needles embed themselves in the carpet, to a rather random review of the visual arts year in Wales.

And it was a good one, with lots of highlights:

There have been some mighty fine shows on offer this year and I’ve been lucky to see a lot of them. In no particular order of favouriteness here are some of the ones that tooted my horn:

Project Object at Oriel Myrddin in Carmarthen had everything going for it. I love it when artists are let loose on collections, or people are invited to talk about or curate objects that mean something special to them. This show came in four equally good parts and gave me the chance to come as close as I’m likely to get to the Aurora Borealis and slip a poodle into a public gallery. The Glynn Vivian unleashed David Cushway and some delighted individuals on their precious collection of ceramics. The resulting film,  Last Supper at The Glynn Vivian, shows how passionate folk become when asked to talk about the objects they love.

One would never have guessed that the Glynn Vivian team had been holding their collective breaths, waiting to get the green light for the new development project – the programme was as lively as ever. I’ve already written up my highlight here. The off site programme continues – follow it here.

Neil Mcnally was let loose on Newport Museum & Art gallery to curate a show – The Institute of Mental Health is Burning. Mcnally selected objects from NMAG’s fine collection, mixing it up with a host of artists. Those who went will have Goldie Lookin’ Chain’s Newport State of Mind (You’re Not From Newport) etched into their memory banks forever more. NMAG also brought us Dis-location by Andrew Cooper, an artist who never fails to engage my attention. Pete Telfer, God of Culture Colony, filmed Cooper talking about his work.

In mid Wales, Oriel Davies gave us two artists associated with the 2007 Wales at the Venice Biennale offering: Bedwyr Williams and Paul Granjon. Williams’ show, Nimrod, launched with one of his trademark darkly funny performances and the humour threaded through the exhibition, which coincided with the National Eisteddfod up the road in Wrexham – Williams took the Gold medal and went on to win the People’s Choice and Ifor Davies Award in an unprecedented hat trick.

Bedwyr Williams, Nimrod Oriel Davies

Granjon took over the gallery to create a workshop for unlikely gizmos with very willing volunteers for Oriel Factory. With a suite of his quirky drawings and a loop of films featuring some of his performances, inventions and songs to spur them on, the workshop elves came up with some highly inventive creations – none of which are likely to feature in the Innovations catalogue any day soon.

Across the Cambrian mountains, Aberystwyth Arts Centre has become an important venue for artists’ moving image with The Box seasons, but I’ve also enjoyed Visitor (still  on, if you’re quick) and Wild Thing.

Back in Cardiff Richard Higlett had his first solo show in Wales at g39’s temporary new home in The dairy, Pontcanna with Welcome to Your World. Higlett never fails to surprise and this show was no exception: a talking cat, the GPS (gallery of portable sound) car and a band (Bear- Man) playing from a hole in the gallery floor. Experimentica came back for its 11th outing at Chapter (where else could you find a man covered in mucus bouncing on a trampoline?) Chapter Gallery continued to surprise and delight with Pile and  The With Collective my personal faves.

Over in Penarth, Ffotogallery’s programme was as strong as ever, showcasing new and established talent and with complementary and engaging talks and the ever-popular Artists’ Book Fayre I’m so glad that this is my local. They’ll be bringing an international photography festival to Cardiff in 2013.

Artist-run spaces offered some really exciting shows and events this year: tactileBOSCH in Cardiff, continued to present rare opportunities to see performance, along with installations and painting shows that spilled out all over Cardiff for MOIST; Elysium ran another Bus Stop Cinema and disrupted the streets of Swansea; g39 hit Leipzig’s Spinnerei for the big Art Weekend; The Rhôd created a new series of site-responsive works in an old Mill in the hills of Carmarthenshire and created their own pavilion at the Venice Biennale (Rhodio). Swansea’s Supersaurus played host to shows by Gordon Dalton and Tom Goddard, while Supersuarus member Owen Griffiths dug up a football pitch to grow vegetables for Vetch Veg (sometimes you just couldn’t make this stuff up!)

Online artists’ film platform, Outcasting is heading for world domination. Not content with presenting international content, Outcasting’s evil genius, Michael Cousin, has joined forces with, er, me and St David’s Hall’s exhibitions officer, Ruth Cayford to form Fourth Wall. Pedwaredd Wall CIC, which will be filling Cardiff with artists’ moving image this autumn, thanks to festival funding from the Arts Council of Wales. Watch this space for more info and a call for artists to submit.

Goodbye and Hello

2011 was tinged with some sadness as Swansea lost two inspirational women: Swansea Metroplitan University lecturer Susan Griffiths and Mission Gallery Director Jane Phillips. Both died too young and leave a big hole in the visual arts community.

We also said goodbye to arts education as we know it with some major restructuring of fine art courses and a few closures. I’ve already written about this here so I won’t bang on but I’ll be watching as things unfold over the next few years.

James Boardman, Light Corridor, CSAD degree show 2011

And last, but not least, of the farewells goes to all of my former colleagues at the Arts Council of Wales, who find themselves staring at an uncertain future following the recent major restructuring (more on this as it unfolds).

Meanwhile some new faces appeared on the scene and began to make their mark:

Amanda Roderick took over as director at The Mission Gallery under very sad circumstance, but her work to date would, I’m sure, make Jane Phillips proud. Ben Borthwick got into his stride as Chief Executive of Artes Mundi, which is scheduled for this Autumn in Cardiff. Up in Llandudno we said goodbye and good luck to Martin Barlow, who left Mostyn after steering its development into one of the finest exhibitions spaces in Wales. He is  replaced as director by Alfredo Cramerotti, who took over as the first major retrospective of Blaenau Ffestiniog-based sculptor, David Nash – Red,Black,Other – launched to much excitement.

And finally, we said hello to #0 of tant magazine. They’re currently inviting submissions for #1 so please follow the link.

    David Fitzjohn, TactileBOSCH Citizen 2011     Jonathan Anderson, Dark Star - Mission Gallery

It’s been such a busy year and I’m sure I’ll have forgotten to mention a lot of the wonderful things that I have seen. Please feel free to add your own favourites in the comments section.

In the meantime I hope you have a very productive and creative 2012.

Writing The Future

Richard Higlett from Welcome to You World g39 @The DairyThe last month or so have been incredibly busy and it’s going to take me a while to catch up, but two things have happened in the last few days that raise a lot of questions and signal some potentially very positive things, so I’m going to try to weld them together.

The first happened last Saturday, when I went along to the New Critics Day at the Welsh College of Music and Drama. This was the culmination of a joint initiative put together by Literature Wales and National Theatre Wales to stimulate critical writing about theatre in Wales. The first cohort of mentored new critics came to share their experiences of covering NTW’s first year of productions with their mentors, The Guardian‘s Elisabeth Mahoney and Lyn Gardner (and you can read Gardner’s blog about the day here).

Now with the focus of the day on Welsh theatre and largely reviews, or the lack of them, in the (UK) national press, plus the inevitable kicking of The Western Mail‘s critical engagement, I wanted to consider how the what was said related to the visual arts. If Theatre thinks it’s got it bad, contemporary art in Wales and its communities can seem invisible.

One transferable thought came through, that without reviews and a wider critical dialogue around work, we lose opportunities on all fronts. Artists and curators don’t get the feedback they need to help them move on; potential audiences miss out on conversations that offer a way in to work that can often be challenging, daunting, perplexing but often inspiring (not a word I use often). Without the access to ideas, to critical conversations, how can audiences be expected to engage with contemporary practice? And if they can’t engage who will advocate for the arts in a climate where the chilly winds of the recession are whistling up everyone’s jumpers?

Hold that thought for a moment, as I go on to event number two. The launch of the rather sexily entitled strategic vision from  Stevens & Associates and Holder Mathias architects for Cardiff Council – Establishing Cardiff as Europe’s Largest Contemporary Art and Design Gallery: A Clever, Creative and Collaborative Cardiff Solution (yes, really).

I say strategic vision, but at this stage it’s more of an ambition as the meat isn’t on the bones of how it will be delivered yet. However the aim is  to get Cardiff on the European contemporary art and design map in five years, using existing organisations and resources to create a critical mass and profile for the plethora of activity in the Capital City.

This, I’m reasonably convinced, comes out of a pragmatic response to the Arts Council of Wales and National Museum of Wales’ joint study into the Future Display of Art in Wales, by consultants DCA  and the subsequent report, by ABL Consulting (who seem to have vanished, along with all traces of their report), that looked specifically at a National Centre for Contemporary Arts (non-collections based) for the Arts Council of Wales. That report concluded that a) such a centre should be in Cardiff and b) that it would cost around £40m, which put the wind up everyone in 2008, with then Heritage Minister, Alun Ffred Jones parking it as something to be considered in the future.

In the interim the National Museum has been able to deliver their stunning new galleries for Modern and Contemporary art, creating a new focus and context for contemporary art in Cardiff, but with no municipal art gallery to match the ambitions of The Depot project (part of the close, but not close enough bid for Capital of Culture 2008 bid) there is no real focal point (Chapter Arts Centre aside) for the fizz of activity in Cardiff.

So, it was a rallying day, with lots of feedback and suggestions from those present, including a heartening number of artists and curators, in stark contrast to the launch of @Creative Cardiff, but no real clear way forward.

Now it seems to me that this could go several ways – it could end up being a joint marketing exercise (although we were assured that this wouldn’t be the case) or it could signal real investment in the visual & applied arts and design in Cardiff from Cardiff Council, focussing on supporting activity rather than infrastructure (those with long memories are still smarting from the collapse of the Centre for Visual Arts). Where this investment will come from remains to be seen, but it’s obvious that Cllr Rodney Berman, Leader of Cardiff County Council is quite passionately and emphatically behind this.

So back to the first event – I promised they linked up somewhere – the problem with arts activity in Cardiff isn’t its paucity, it’s the lack of critical coverage to draw attention to it, to address the sometimes variable quality of what’s produced and to boost Cardiff up the search rankings for cultural tourists.

Supporting new critical writing is all very well, but it needs a platform. Who will be covering this year’s Experimentica, Made in Roath and tactileBOSCH’s colonisation of Cardiff under the MOIST umbrella, which links the two festivals and more besides? Where are the reviews for the current shows at Chapter and g39 (image above from Richard Higlett’s Welcome To Your World at g39’s temporary home in Pontcanna)? It’s clear that the Western Mail just doesn’t have the staffing capacity or the resources to cover these things, except as listings, so a concerted effort will be needed to create outlets for critical conversations.

We’ve got Pitch* on Radio Cardiff, we’ve got blown ** magazine  and Culture Colony is proving to be an important online forum across art forms in Wales (I’m not ashamed of plugging three projects close to my heart) and more magazines launching soon, but we need to be getting this stuff into the Nationals, onto the telly and generally out there if the Cardiff initiative is to succeed. And if it does it’ll have a very positive impact on the rest of Wales.

Anyway, watch this space for new developments, and if anyone has the answers, on a postcard (or more digitally, in the comment box) please.

* Read Elisabeth Mahoney’s review of Pitch for The Guardian here
** And Peter Finch’s blog take on blown here

One Hundred Years of Sisterhood

Estelle Woolley Cut - cats claws and razor: Wunderland at tactileBosch March 2011
If you’re reading this on 08 March then a very happy International Women’s Day to you. This year is special because it’s the centenary and it must be said that there have been some major advances on the equality front (though let’s not mention the car insurance issue!), but there’s still a long way to go for women artists.

If you need convincing then take a trip to your local art gallery or museum and count up the number of works by women artists in their permanent collections, then tell me it ain’t so. If you want to stray into the minefield of whether it’s a good idea to show work based on gender then do don your flak jacket and read this and the comments that follow.

But, in Wales, for the next few weeks, you can access the work that often slips under the radar, much of it organised in collaboration with the Women’s Arts Association and, if you follow the link you can access the full listings of events and exhibitions that they’ve had a hand in.

I was delighted to be asked to help select the works for Wunderland at tactileBosch, and then a bit daunted as I wondered if we’d have enough work to fill the huge space and with the quality of work we wanted. Just goes to show how wrong you can be.

I do have reservations about exhibitions based solely on gender, especially when there is not curatorial rationale to link works together, but this one works, and I take no credit for it as it was Tiff Oben and the tB team who actually pulled it together and found sympathetic settings for very disparate and sometimes challenging works. You can read Tiff’s really eloquent description of the Wunderland here.

Similarly at the Artemisia exhibition at St. David’s Hall (why isn’t it on their web site, why?), I realised that sometimes it’s worth creating a critical mass of talent to underline the importance of the contribution that women artists make to cultural life in Wales.

And if you can’t celebrate this contribution during IWD’s centennial year then when can you?

If you’re involved in celebrating with an event or exhibition please post your events below. I’ll be trying to get to as much as I can over the next few weeks and do a review of personal highlights after I’ve recovered.

In the meantime I’ll be opening Female Frame III at the Wales Millennium Centre on Thursday 10 March between 6-8pm and hope to meet some of you there.

We’ve come a long way in the past hundred years, but there’s still a way to go. As a friend said to me today, “I’ve got bruises on my head from bumping it against the glass ceiling.”

Cardiff without artists?

Just a quick update on my last blog as there’s a lot of rumour and speculation flying around about the future of the Fine Art Course and the Sculpture Pathway in particular.

Here’s the latest press statement from UWIC:

UWIC is committed to ensuring that current students on CSAD programmes have every opportunity to continue their studies unaffected by the changes in the School.  To that end, measures will be put in place to ensure the delivery of the established curriculum to its conclusion in 2013 and that this will be of a high order, as is to be expected.

UWIC is currently engaged in a consultation process on academic staff appointments and no further comment will be made on this.

It is however important to say that suggestions that ‘75% of the staff in fine art have been sacked’ and that ‘88% of the cuts’ are falling on Fine Art are gross exaggerations, unnecessarily alarmist and extremely unhelpful manipulations of the facts.

This was in response to the posting on facebook, which has since been taken down after pressure was exerted.  Now I’ve been working with figures for many years and been in similar situations where I’ve been surrounded by people facing redundancies and an uncertain future and know that percentages and statistics can, as the old adage goes, be tortured until they tell you what you want to hear.

There are lots of sneaky things that can be done under what is euphemistically termed as “slotting in” or “redeployment”.

If the current exercise involves shunting existing staff to other departments within CSAD, but outside Fine Art, or the counting members of staff as one, even if they have .5  (ie half time status) then maybe the figures won’t look so bad – on paper.

I should, at this point, make it really clear that I have not gone after any members of staff for information, as I am keenly aware that their position is extremely vulnerable during the negotiation period. These observations are informed by too many years of experience.

Instead I’d like us all to be very clear about what is being lost if CSAD neuters its respected fine art department and what the closure of the Fine Art & Photography BA in Newport actually means:

While the sciences and design departments are very happy to track their students and report back on successes, there’s been very little done, in recent times, to actually find out what impact fine art graduates have on the cities and towns where they choose to study but, after over 25 years around this stuff, I can tell you that they:  Set up studio spaces, reinvigorating unloved buildings,  helping to create a new buzz around run-down areas; work in galleries; work in education at all levels; make scenery and props for the performing arts companies in Wales; take part in regeneration projects; work in communities; create festivals and one-off events that raise the profile and tourism offer of their area; promote Wales, through their hyper-active networking and exhibiting –  especially on the international stage – as a vibrant place, forward thinking and a good place to live and work.

I give you: g39, WARP, ARC, tactileBosch, Oriel Canfas, Bay Art, Trace Collective (and until recently Trace Gallery),  Milkwood, Kings Rd Studios, Fireworks Studios, Fox Studios and, amongst many others, Chapter Arts Centre, set up by a group of artists 40 years ago.

Message received, I’m sure, by faithful blog friends. But let’s get that message out to those who can make a change. So far the Welsh Assembly Government have let the universities sort things out as they struggle to comply with the new regional plans for HE and with the student and funding caps imposed on them. Instead of some rational thinking there’s been a lemming-like dive over a cliff. Let’s also be clear, in England the (Westminster) Government has been less arts-friendly and a great swathe of institutions dedicated to the arts and humanities are facing 100% cuts (not a slip of the finger, really, 100%), so there’ll be hordes of students who could have been attracted to more enlightened Wales … but there are now very few places for them to go to, and those institutions still standing can only offer a limited number of places. And let’s remember that Wales sees its future in the Creative Industries.

If you’re as exercised by this as I am then this is where you should email or write:

UWIC Board of Governers:
Mr. Richard Walters
Clerk to the Board of Governors
Chair: Mr John Wynn Owen
PO Box 377, Western Avenue,
Cardiff CF5 2SG
Telephone: 029 2041 6072?

And the Education Minister for Wales:

Leighton Andrews
Minister for Education Welsh Assembly Government
Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills
3rd Floor, Pillar MO1/02
Welsh Assembly Government
Cathays Park
Cardiff, CF10 3NQ

We have a brief  window (just over a week) to make our voices heard. After that we’ll have to consider a future where there are no up-and-coming artists in our capital city and don’t forget Newport, already battered by the recession and about to lose the Passport Office.

And if you need some grist to add to the mill of your protest, have a look at and quote the Visual Arts Blueprint, produced by C&C Skills, published only two years ago.

NB: There’s no picture with this post – there’s a message in there somewhere.


It seems that drawing,  painting  and print are back on the agenda again. Artists’ collective tactileBosch put out a call for artists working in two dimensions and the selection that forms Citizen certainly proves that there’s plenty of mileage left in the traditional media.

Curated by Sam Aldridge, Andrew Cooper, Kim Fielding and Neil Jeffries, there’s the usual eclectic mix of stuff, but the venue’s nooks and crannies lend themselves to a range of work and nothing seems overcrowded, nor are there any jarring juxtapositions.

True to form, tactileBosch made the opening on 01 May memorable and really did roll out the red carpet. And there was live music from the likes of techno duo Barry Hole’s Hit List, offering up terrific renderings of 80s classics like Kraftwerk’s Das Model on a multitude of synths and gizmos. Made me almost nostalgic for my youth.

As with any open call, new voices emerge and Citizen offers a chance to see the unfamiliar alongside those who have embedded themselves on the Welsh art scene.

Jonathan Powell’s bathetic heads and Richard Monahan’s dysmorphic characters require a longer look. While Elys John’s monochrome flowers, (see main pic above) painstakingly rendered, bloom and grow to fill the screen: Computer rendering, but without the usual showing off. He also offers a slightly harder-to-see projection that’s part dandelion seeds, part jellyfish, part heavenly bodies. Tucked under the roof, it’s easy to miss it but worth looking up. Both films are hypnotic and, despite their hidden techno credentials, are beautiful in their organic simplicity.

There’s the full gamut of approaches here. Matt Skelley’s Three Chairs, uses light to create an afterburn image that transforms the mundane into something magical. Martinez de Lecea’s series of digitally tinkered with images are extremely powerful in their restrained use of technology, while Mi-Young Choi offers hyper-real skies with lone missiles cutting across the canvas, in sharp contrast to the dark canvasses of Steph Goodger’s hellish painting’s, based on Dante’s Inferno. Similarly Sonja Benskin Mesher’s jewel-like abstract landscapes contrast with Geraint Evan’s apocalyptic urban scenes.

Of course it wouldn’t be a tactileBosch exhibition without a performance. As he and his fellow students deal with the news that the MAP (time-based/performance) at UWIC will be no more from the end of this academic year (snuffed out with barely a murmur), Chris Evans decided to rebrand himself as a painter – literally. In his performance Jackson Bollocks, he suspended himself from the ceiling and used his head as a paintbrush.

There are 23 artists in this show and a blog can’t do them justice, although the foursome of curators certainly seem to have done so. I suggest you get up to Llandaff in Cardiff before 23 May and see for yourself. Check website for details of opening times and days.

If you want to see more of drawing but not as we know it, here’s a trail for the forthcoming Opus show at Bay Art. It’s called “What will be seen” and promised to stretch perceptions of drawing to the limits.

Meanwhile, I’m off to the opening, across two sites, of Ffotogallery’s latest exhibition, Life Less Ordinary looking at performance in display in South African Art.

You Had to be There

Ok, before I start this blog, here’s a caveat. The images here a reproductions, (my) low quality representations of original images,  which themselves are representations of something. I have credited both artist and photographer but the images of the images are mine. Taken to give you a flavour of what I’m talking about when I try and articulate the problems of presenting or representing performance art out of context. Hope you’re still with me so far.

Reduplication of the Real opened at Cardiff’s Old Library (technically now the old, Old Library), on a wet Thursday evening (20 January 2010).

Neil Jeffries has pulled together a series of images documenting performances from a wide range of artists – new, established, local, international, offering a window on a world that, at first glance, seems populated by strange people doing stranger things.

Therein lies the rub. Performance art is, by its very nature, a live interaction with an audience, who build their own internal narratives as it progresses. Out of context, in the frozen gaze of the lens, it can seem mighty peculiar: passers-by in the works located out in the real world are caught on camera – jaws sagging, cartoon question marks hovering over their heads as they glance and move on or stay and see what will happen next.

In this show there is no context offered for the work and it becomes a bit of a freak show.

The images are all presented singly (with a couple of exceptions). Are these the ones that sum up the experience of that performance or the images the artists/curator liked? They are also presented at a small scale, some smaller than A4, giving a cartoon strip feel to the gallery walls, and adding another layer of alienation from the event.

I don’t want to knock any attempt to find a wider audience for a practice that most arts institutions still fight shy of, but wonder if there’s another way to do it?

The show runs until 08 February in The Hayes, Cardiff.  It’s not terribly well signposted so, once you’ve got into the Old Library, go to the entrance opposite House of Fraser and upstairs . Soon the Museum of Cardiff will fill this venue so it’s a last chance to see artists’ work in a venue that was long associated with them.

Artists’ groups – together we are beautiful

On 11 December Cardiff will be a-throng with artists from Bristol, Birmingham and, of course, Cardiff, cementing a three-way partnership that’s been blossoming for  years. Artists who work away from the perceived art centre of London, who work in ways that’s hard to comodify or Saatchify.

These visitors will, by and large, be part of the burgeoning artists-collectives networked across the UK.

Artists come together for all manner of reasons: to share studios, to exhibit together or simply to find a forum to discuss their work.

Wales with its dearth of dealers and commercial galleries (not to be confused with the galleries that sell work, who are not to be denigrated), seems well-placed to host this celebration of the off-centre, to focus on practice not prices.

Cardiff’s artists’ groups

And here in Cardiff we’ve got artists’ groups coming out of our ears. From the well-established: g39 is eleven years old; Trace: Installaction art space is nudging towards its first decade, albeit in a different form; Old Library Artists have been together since the early 1990s and Butetown artists have been around in one form or another since the 70s,  to newer initiatives like Open Empty Spaces. And then there’s tactileBosch, ten next year and not flagging yet.

tactileBosch, in an old Victorian laundry in Llandaf, has become a major player on the visual arts scene in Cardiff, but its reach is truly international.

It’s a proving ground for artists, whether they’re still in, or fresh out of, art college, or more established but wanting to try new things.

Everything is possible

Founded by Kim Fielding and Simon Mitchell (who went on to found  Volume Projects in London) nearly ten years ago, it’s been a seat-of-the-pants ride for this artists’ collective. They don’t get any sort of core funding from anywhere, business rates reductions from Cardiff Council are by negotiation and building repairs come courtesy of the Probation Service.

And yet, somehow, they punch far above their weight,  infinitely accommodating of proposals and ideas. Offering vital (if sometimes wet in winter) studio spaces, artists, such as recent graduate Sam Aldridge (left pic) get critical support and feedback as they develop their ideas.

Every year tactileBosch programmes those hard-to-deal with art projects: performance, complex installations, moving image, sound, alongside more traditional art forms. They’ve latterly added their painting strand: Wood, Canvas, Steel, that takes in print and drawing. I’d signpost you to their archive but they’re in the process of moving their website.

The images featured here reflect part one of an ambitious three part exhibition called Auxesis. Curated by resident tB artists Andrew Cooper, with Michael Murray, part one is the easiest to pin down, as it’s happened. It was largely installation/moving image based, although the opening night of any show will feature performance and music, that’s part of the ‘Bosch tradition.

Part two folded in nicely to Experimentica, reviewed in an earlier blog: tactileBosch goes Experimentical, featuring a raft of performances that complemented the Chapter Arts Centre programme. Part three opens on Saturday 23 January 2010.

tactileBosch is the first staging post for December Eleven. Which is where we came in.

Are friends collective?

Trying to define what makes an artists’ group or collective is as easy as wrestling with a barrel of eels: sometimes it’s about sharing spaces and resources, sometimes it’s about geography and most often it’s about tackling the imbalance between the number of artists out there and the scarcity of gallery slots available to show certain kinds of work.

I spoke to tactileBosch co-founder Kim Fielding, and he shared his memories of the early days of tB,  when he and Simon Mitchell  came up with the name and the tag line The fist in the velvet glove, and how things are shaping up now. tB is now truly a group effort.

Kim Fielding 2009, img EG

mind the gap

Kim refers to a problem across Wales and probably further afield: the cracks that newly graduated artists can slip down after leaving an art college, about the transitional period: “Coming out of college, there’s a gap. So mind the gap.”

But there are other cracks in the system too. In Wales there’s no discrete pot of funding for artist-led activity, unlike in Scotland. This means that these groups are up against priority-ticking projects bidding for lottery funds, most of which have headed over the Severn Bridge to a large sporting event planned for London in 2012.

Next week the Arts Council of Wales begins its most radical funding review ever. Simply put the funding from government is at a standstill and may well decline further. There’s not enough jam to go around the existing portfolio of clients so there are cuts to be made.

This process won’t have a significant impact until 2011. Let’s hope that the Arts Council creates some breathing space for the next generation of artists to truly flourish.