Curator Visit to the Black Mountains

Axisweb’s Alicia Miller, responds to a Curator Visit to the Black Mountains, meeting selected artists in studios and venues across the region.

24th September 2014 

PEAK practice in the Black Mountains

Arts Alive Wales’ new PEAK programme gives valuable support to artists working in the Black Mountains, helping to better network them with arts professionals and the wider artistic community at large. It also works to engender artistic exchange and explore opportunities to bring attention and support to the immensely talented community of artists working in this very rural setting.

I was really pleased to be a part of the first curator visit of the project. It was just my kind of day out – travelling through the countryside in beautiful sunshine, visiting a fascinating array of artists’ studios and houses, meeting a generous and friendly group of artists and seeing a lot of work I hadn’t encountered before. The company was good as well – including Kathryn Campbell Dodd, my west Wales compatriot who travelled back with me on an unending train journey plagued with mayhem and mishaps; the gentle and insightful Amanda Roderick from Mission Gallery; Bristol-based critic David Trigg whom I hadn’t seen in years; Ruth Cayford, who took time out to make the visit in the busy run-up to Cardiff Contemporary; and ACW‘s Louise Wright who somehow manages to be omnipresent across Wales at all times!

The day started with a visit to the house of artist Penny Hallas and poet Lyndon Davies, to see work by Philip Watkins and Catherine Baker, both unfamiliar to me. Watkins admitted to not being particularly proactive in raising the profile of his work, though he has in fact shown quite widely. His stark and unforgiving paintings of industrial sites, deserted streets and other banalities of landscape have an arid beauty. He admits to ‘trying to reconcile living in such a pretty place with my penchant for council estates and underpasses.’

Throughout the day, there is conversation between artists and curators about the context of the work – the impact of the rural locale on the artists’ practice and career is of varying relevance and there is some sense that the relationship to the place of their work is anything but direct. What rurality does afford is quietness and space – Morag Colquhoun‘s studio on the Penpont Estate may be small and compact but it breathes in the breadth of its surrounding countryside, making it impossible to feel cramped. With nature a constant companion, there is always room.

Talking with Pip Woolf at the Arts Alive Wales studio, we discuss the definition of contemporary art. She questions where her work ‘fits’, and I ask if it really matters? It seems to me that ‘contemporary art’ is a wide sphere of practice whose only definition might be a commitment to interrogate its past, present and future in some way. The studio space offers a place to crack this open – it is a test bed for the imagination where process meets practice. The studios we saw during the day were particular and idiosyncratic, most especially that of Susan Adams and Chris Nurse. Built in their garden, it houses both their diverse practices, which sit beside each other with a strange familiarity. Adams’ oversized automaton crouches in the corner making the space feel more than a little off kilter, and it crackles with creativity.

It’s quite important for curators to be gathered up and taken off to see work – it gives them license to walk away from the administration they are often trapped in and spend crucial ‘looking’ time that reminds them why they love what they do. Vital as this is, it can get squeezed out in the pressure to get the next show up or the next grant written. Making it easy is so valuable to these art professionals. Rebecca Spooner‘s careful coordination of the day, meant there was no rushing. The schedule gave ample time to see and talk and have a valuable exchange. Though some of the group knew the artists visited that day, most admitted there were a few they weren’t familiar with. Several curators commented that it had given them a better ‘mental map’ of artists working in the region and some overview of their practice. These kind of meetings may not have concrete outcomes for the artists involved but they are important in increasing a sphere of awareness of their work. Getting work seen is as important to artists as seeing work is to curators.

– Alicia Miller

Artists:
Catherine Baker
Philip Watkins
Stefhan Caddick
Pip Woolf
Morag Colquhoun
Tessa Waite
Susan Adams
Chris Nurse
Download details of the artists: PEAK Artists

Artist Photographer: Toril Brancher (photo credit)

Visitors:
Louise Wright, Portfolio Manager, Arts Council of Wales
Kasia Howard, Education Officer, The Landmark Trust
Kathryn Campbell Dodd, Gallery Assistant, Oriel Myrddin
David Trigg, freelance writer and critic
Gavin Johnson, Regeneration and Development Manager, Ffilm Cymru Wales
Alicia Miller, Axisweb Associate in Wales, Axisweb
Amanda Roderick, Director, Mission Gallery
Louisa Mayor, Assistant Curator, Meadow Arts
Ruth Cayford, Project Leader, Cardiff Contemporary
Download details of the visitors: PEAK Visitors

Rebecca Spooner, Arts Development Manager
Emma Balch, Project Assistant

During summer 2014, PEAK organised a curator visit to the Black Mountains as part of a research and development project funded by the Arts Council of Wales.

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