This year, the National Eisteddfod of Wales is being held at a site in Ebbw Vale in the south Wales valleys. My friend Louise Bird was chosen to show work this year and I went to help her install it yesterday - it was a long day, the piece is called Iota and consists of 160 metres of deep sea fishing line crocheted along its length with little rosettes that Louise calls 'Iota'. Y Lle Celf - The Arts and Crafts Pavilion this year is a spectacular build. Normally it is held in a standard white marquee, but for 2010 a huge concrete basement from the old steelworks that were located at the site as been converted and covered with a huge pavilion roof. It is really spectacular.
Artists, Louise Bird and Carwyn Evans behind Iota
It took us 9 hours to hang the work - up and down ladders and ramps, it spans the space from the roof to the floor. Next door to us Good Cop Bad Cop came in to hang a wonderful set of works - the latex skin from a series of chairs and a table - I don't know what it is called yet...
Good Cop Bad Cop
I was also excited to see some of Andre Stitt's new paintings, which I have only seen online and in print thus far. Originally from Northern Ireland, Stitt is an internationally renowned performance artist who has been based in Wales now for many years. In the last few years he has been developing a practice as a painter.
I'll be going to the opening tomorrow night - so watch this space for an update...
Thanks to John Foster on his blog Accidental Mysteries for posting this, it's from the American folk art collection of dealer, Harvey Pranian. It was made circa 1930 -40 by Iowan, Ruby Ann Kittner and is offered for sale along with a photo of the suit being worn by her husband Jake.
I went to the opening of TheDart Board for Witches at Aberystwyth Arts Centre last night. It is good to have an overview of this kind; a look at the way textiles have been accepted into fine art practice and contextualised historically, culturally, politically. The show is themed with a focus on the human figure. There is generally a preponderance of women working in this way, textiles often still carry a strong feminist message; most of the exhibitors are women, but two men are also showing.
My favourite piece in the show is Tabitha Kyoko Moses'Hair Purse, curiously repellent and intriguing. I couldn't help thinking about the sporran my dad wore with his kilt when I was young!
I like Naori Priestly's work, I hadn't seen The Shadow of the Mother before, Louise Bourgeois, hovered in my mind, but with Naori's dark fairy tale edge.
Naori Priestly - The Shadow of the Mother
The painted carpets of Finnish artist, Silja Puranenare particularly strong. A combination of transfer photography, textile paint, soft pastels and stitching - new techniques and ancient techniques together making a highly distinctive style.
Silja Puranen - Siamese Twins
I wrote about about Rosalind Wyatt a while ago, and have only seen her Stitch Life of Others series in images, so was very pleased to get a chance to see something in the flesh.
Rosalind Wyatt -The Stitch Life of Others (part)
There are two textile works by Aberystwyth based Mary Lloyd Jones, I saw some of these pieces at Ruthin Craft Centre last year, and found them very engaging. I was a bit disappointed that there is only one piece by Laura Ford, I was hoping to have a chance to see some of her more recent work.
Overall I think it is a good show, but also a safe show in many ways - I would quite have liked to see some more experimental pieces - but it is a rapidly moving discipline and this is where publicly funded galleries are disadvantaged, the long lead in for curation and publicity always keeps the show a whisker behind the cutting edge.
Karen Ryan - Custom Made in England, Vanity series - seen here
I like Karen Ryan's work very much, and I wish I could get down to London in time to see the show she is in at Spring Projects called Straw Dogs - it finishes on 30 July so I'll miss it.
The exhibition includes Jason Brooks, Jake & Dinos Chapman and Hans Stofer and is a response the philosopher John Gray's 2003 book Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals. This book has been a major influence for me in the last few years and I used it as the basis of my essay for a Philosophy of Art module I took trough Cardiff Centre of Lifelong Learning in 2008. It is a bleak view which questions Humanist ideas of progress and suggests that the impetus to understand the world in terms of linear progression is a hangover of Christian theology. He suggests that the drive towards constant improvement has created a paradigm of greed and dislocation from the natural world which has brought us to the brink of self destruction.
Gray has been criticised for his bleak approach to his subject, and he is hard to read and come out unaffected, but I feel there is some very important issues for the art world to consider in his ideas. So, I am doubly upset that I won't get to see this show!
I am really looking forward to seeing the new show at Aberystwyth Arts Centre which opens on 23 July. The Dartboard for Witches is an exhibition of work which uses textiles as part of fine art practice. The title for the show comes from the Sylvia Plath poem, Witch Burning.
The image above is of work by Naori Priestly, these lovely knitted shoes were also in a show curated by Oriel Myrddin Gallery - Crafted: Contemporary craft and fine art in 2009.
Here is the exhibition information: "Textile is a material with strong associations. It is our second skin for most of the day, so consciously or not we all have an intimate knowledge of it as a material - how it folds, how it feels. The very familiarity and association of textiles with the everyday domestic has in the past made it difficult to see it used as a serious material for artworks. But in recent years, artists have cut textiles loose from the limitations of domestic and decorative use - wonderful as these are - to explore the material's wider possibilities in carrying meaning. This exhibition brings together works by artists who use textile methods and materials in their fine art practice, often in unexpected ways, with the focus on the human figure."
Artists include: Laura Ford, Caren Garfen, Rosie James, Mary Lloyd Jones, Doug Jones, Elaine Wilson, Natasha Kerr, Shizuko Kimura, Becky Knight, Jane McKeating, Tabitha Kyoko Moses, Clyde Olliver, Naori Priestley, Silja Puranen, Lynn Setterington, Sue Stone and Rosalind Wyatt.
Louise Bird - Black Hole of Carmarthen - seen here
I am delighted that I have just been selected to join Fibre Art Wales, a group of professional artists working in Wales "...with the aim of raising the profile of Welsh contemporary fibre art, to educate and stimulate the public regarding new developments and challenges in the current visual fibre art climate".
It is an energetic group with an strong exhibiting presence, and I hope to be able to show in the next exhibition coming up at the National Botanic Gardens in Carmarthenshire.
I went to a symposium called On Venice/Ar Fenis at the Taliesin Arts Centre in Swansea today. It was an opportunity for artists and arts professionals to review and reconsider Wales' contributions to the Venice Biennale over the last four events. Wales was first represented in Venice in 2003. In the spirit created by the referendum for political devolution in Wales in 1997, and the creation of the Welsh Assembly Government, it seemed at that time to be a ripe nexus of opportunity for the visual arts. Wales had found a voice, critical debates were fermenting, polemics had been issued.
In the aftermath of the 2010 General Election and the sobering financial cuts heading down the line for the Arts Council of Wales, it felt particularly relevant to spend the day considering the successes and disappointments of Wales' Venice participation and the relevance of a continuing presence. The presentations and discussions were forthright and open, and it was good to have issues voiced and debated.Culture Colony have filmed the event and it is now available to view in six parts.
There was a nostalgic consensus that the most successful year was 2005, when Karen MacKinnon from the Glynn Vivian Gallery in Swansea was the curator. That year saw Peter Finnemore, Laura Ford and Paul Granjon participating with Bedwyr Williams in residence during the months of the biennale show. I saw the show at Oriel Davies Gallery when it toured in Wales and really enjoyed it.
Venice has been important for Wales; for the artists working here and the visual arts institutions. It creates a benchmark, raises expectations, stimulates excellence and allows the country to think expansively and optimistically in an international context. It has also revealed some of the things the sector needs to address to consolidate that momentum - issues of infrastructure, focus and critical debate.
I wrote about my visit to the Welsh event at the 2009 Venice Biennale here. The show was generally badly received internally and in the arts press, it was arguably quite damaging to Wales' international reputation. In light of this and in the spirit of optimism for the future - clarity of thought and purpose seem an imperative in such straightened times.