Peak has been supporting artist Sarah Rhys, based in Mamilhad, Monmouthshire, with her current project Coal Tree Salt Sea. Sarah is preparing for a solo exhibition at Abergavenny Museum from 18th Jan – 1st March 2017.
‘Coal Tree Salt Sea began in Ystradgynlais when I met the Josef Herman Art Foundation Cymru. I was interested in archiving work for the Mining Josef Herman Project. Through this initial meeting the Foundation became interested in the way that I working and in particular my approach to ‘place’. This led to an invitation to develop an artist residency in partnership with them for which I was awarded a research and development grant from the Arts Council of Wales.
The early phase of the work was based around Ystradgynlais, but since the project was also influenced by the people I came into contact with, ensuing conversations caused a rhizome of connections and meanings. This led to a research trip to Poland, Josef Herman’s country of origin. There I explored a salt mine as a counterpart to the coalmines in Wales, I subsequently accepted an invitation to meet a group of poets and artists in Prague, known in medieval times as the City of Alchemy.’
– Sarah Rhys
Sarah is self publishing an artist book with her Coal Tree Press to accompany the exhibition at Abergavenny Museum, which will also be presented at Oriel Q, Narbeth from 5th August to 3rd September.
The book is now available for order from rhysstudio.org/shop
The following extract is from a conversation with Dr Iain Biggs, Co- Director of PLaCE International.
Iain Biggs: How did the Coal Tree come about?
Sarah Rhys: ‘I had spent a few days in Budapest in Autumn preceding my residency. In the Jewish Quarter, I was particularly moved by a sculpture in the garden of the Synagogue: a huge silver tree that bore the names of Jews murdered by the Nazis, engraved on its leaves. At the base of the tree were branches representing whole families that had been systematically destroyed It was a very striking image. In the Judaic, Christian and Hermetic tradition of the Kabbalah, the Tree of Life is the central mystical symbol.
Later on, after I had started my residency, a strong and compelling image came to mind: of coal pouring from a cattle horn and then later from a hollow tree. A sort of inverse geology and cornucopia.
I wanted to make something outside in the landscape and wanted to find a hollow oak tree. Oak felt appropriate, significant: both oak and animal horns feature widely in Celtic culture.
In Welsh, oak is derwen, and druid is derwyddon, which means oak knowledge.
I met Arwel Michael from the Ystradgynlais Heritage and Language Society through the Josef Herman Art Foundation. He took me to a tree on a hill in nearby Cwmgiedd, where he lives. This ancient hollow oak had served as a den for him and his friends in childhood. This oak had all the right qualities.
Arwel had acted in the Humphrey Jennings documentary film The Silent Village (1943) in which he appeared, aged two, sitting on his father’s knee. Humphrey Jennings chose Cwmgiedd as a parallel village to Lidice in the Czech Republic.
Interestingly, Arwel has been active in preserving the Lidice / Cwmgiedd link over the years and plans to import a pear tree graft taken from the sole surviving tree of the Lidice atrocities in WW2. The tree will be planted in Cwmgiedd.’
Copyright – Sarah Rhys.
Mamhilad, Monmouthshire, September 2016.