The Scent Of Fresh Mountain Dew…

Curator and Producer, Melissa Hinkin, responds to Rebecca Chesney’s PEAK residency in the Black Mountains.

Let the scent of fresh mountain dew and white floral blossoms transport you to the striking hills of the Brecon Beacons’ – Air Wick

How will Rebecca Chesney PEAK’s first Artist-in-Residence respond to the red sandstone landscape which dominates the Black Mountains? Her approach she explains, is like any of her other commissions: to grab a collection of maps and a pair of well-worn hiking boots. Over the 6-week residency (split in intervals between November 2015 and January & March 2016) walking became her central research tool, from traversing the topography of the well-trodden mountain trails to the routine journeys taken to meet with local residents.

Chesney fondly recounts speaking to writer and lecturer Rosemary Shirley (who’s research focuses on visual culture and rural contexts) about The National Park collection, Air Wick’s range of specially blended fragrances inspired by ‘the spirit’ of a collection of National Parks including the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, Peak District and the Brecon Beacons. The collection was especially designed to ‘capture, celebrate and promote Britain’s breathing spaces’, its Brecon Beacon scent encouraging consumers to ‘Let the scent of fresh mountain dew and white floral blossoms transport you to the striking hills’. Our sense of smell is strongly linked to memory yet it is questionable whether this scent alone could truly evoke the spirit of the soft slopes of South Wales’ dramatic mountain range. As the writer Lucy Lippard notes ‘All places exist somewhere between the inside and outside views of them’ [1] (Lippard 1997: 33).

The act of surveying and mapping is central to Chesney’s practice; for one of her earlier residencies at Grizedale Arts, Cumbria in 2005/06 Chesney created map. volume 1, coniston’, a series of abstract linear maps where she painstakingly researched, plotted and mapped the ownership and classification boundaries of 45 organisations, associations and authorities, each revealing the invisible boundaries delineating areas around Coniston in the Lake District. Whereas the static contours on topographical maps remain fixed Chesney’s maps provide a snapshot of various complications that exist beneath the façade of the landscape – revealing social deprivation, habitat loss and land ownership. In a later work ‘I’m blue, you’re yellow’, Chesney together with a team of volunteers, sewed two acres of meadows on Everton Park in Liverpool: one entirely made of blue flowering species and the other yellow. Each summer the meadows erupted in striking primary hues, the perennials attracting an assortment of wildlife including local bumble and honey bee species. Chesney’s practice is underlined by the journeys and collaborations she develops with experts, professionals and members of the public. In this respect her ‘systems-orientated aesthetic’ aligns itself with the environmental lineage of Agnes Denes – best known for Wheatfield – A Confrontation, 1982  – and the artist duo Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison with their Survival Pieces series of 1970-2, including Portable Fish Farm and Portable Orchard.

During her residency Chesney systematically documented her immediate environment: taking photographs of lichen, silage bags, craggy peaks, elements of the sky, rotting sheep carcasses, half buried and partly rusted farm machinery; and also includes images of the rare Ley’s Whitebeam tree (which can only be found in the wild on one hillside in the Brecon Beacons) and the lesser horseshoe bat. After some time it became clear that these recorded observations were also samples: a collection of abstract and distinct images developed under precise environmental and historical conditions, creating a colour pallet which in its entirety can only be matched to the Brecon Beacons. Over the next few weeks Chesney will carefully select one hundred colours to feature on a printed colour chart. Adventurous homeowners can choose from the warm hues of ‘Hedgerow Bunting’, cool shades of ‘Frosty Bracken’ and ‘Packamac’ and the stark tones of ‘Shot Fox’ and ‘Joyride’. Lucy Lippard comments that ‘A sense of place is a virtual immersion that depends on lived experience and a topographical intimacy ’[2]. Whilst Air Wick’s aim is to preserve the ‘spirit’ of the Brecon Beacons by transporting people from their homes to picturesque and untouched landscapes, Chesney subtly confronts and challenges the complexities of the social, cultural, and environmental perceptions of this rural environment by bringing these realities into the home.

– Melissa Hinkin, curator and producer.
Exhibitions Officer, Artes Mundi.

April 2016

Notes
1. Lippard, L R. (1997) The Lure of The Local: Senses of place in a multicentered Society. New York: The New Press, 33.
2. Ibid.

Photo credit: Toril Brancher

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PEAK Artist in Residence – post no 3

Rebecca Chesney is our first Artist in Residence for the Black Mountains, as part of a collaboration between PEAK and the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority. Click here for more information about the residency

Blog Post no 3: March 2016

Compared to the dreary wet weather in January when I spent my time wading through mud in the rain, my final two weeks in the Brecon Beacons were fine and clear, sunny and dry. Splitting the residency up meant I saw the season changing from winter into spring and I began to really enjoy the walk between my cottage and studio down a quiet lane, through fields and along the canal. I allowed myself to dawdle on the way home to watch lambs playing in the sunshine and buzzards and kites drifting overhead.

I was invited to attend the Black Mountains Land Use Partnership meeting: a gathering of landowners, managers and graziers. It was fascinating listening to issues connected to the management of the land and commons and to gain a better understanding of the work involved in maintaining the landscape and relations between different parties. With other meetings, studio visits, a couple of trips to Cardiff, two workshops with art students at Coleg Gwent and Merthyr College, and an ‘in conversation’ event at the National Park Visitor Centre my final two weeks were really busy.

I continued to collect colours from the landscape for my Brecon Beacons paint range, but I was particular with what I wanted to see this time: rare whitebeam trees, lesser horseshoe bats and examples of heather management high on the mountains. I now have over 150 colours and have spent time naming and organising them into categories. The result of my project will be launched in June 2016.

I’ve really enjoyed my time in the Brecon Beacons National Park, gathering information and meeting people who live and work there, trying to better understand the complex relationships between everything connected to the place. The scenery, managed for hundreds of years by humans, is wonderful to explore and encounters with wildlife are frequent. The experiences and friendships I made will remain with me forever.

Rebecca Chesney
March 2016

www.rebeccachesney.com

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PEAK Artist in Residence – post no 2

Rebecca Chesney is our first Artist in Residence for the Black Mountains, as part of a collaboration between PEAK and the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority. Click here for more information about the residency

Blog Post no 2: February 2016

While I’m here in the Brecon Beacons National Park I’m collecting colours. I am developing a paint range to represent the Brecon Beacons that will reflect all the interests in the landscape: it’s ecology and geology, industry and tourism, policy and economics, culture and history.

I’ve been here nearly two weeks looking at the human impact on the landscape, and have been walking lots and exploring the area in all weathers. I had a great meeting on Friday with the Senior Ecologist of the National Park and he gave me loads of information on the relationship between all the interested parties in the landscape: how it’s managed, the impact of tourism and threats to ecology.

It’s coming to the end of this phase of my residency. I’ve tried to see as much of the landscape as I can: I’ve been in quarries and visited derelict lime kilns; walked stretches of the Monmouthshire & Brecon canal and the river Usk, and visited lakes and reservoirs; walked up Pen y Fan, Tor y Foel and Y Fal (Sugar Loaf); and had meetings with the National Park senior ecologist and also the  Fforest Fawr Geopark geologist.

Most of it was in the rain.

Rebecca Chesney
February 2016

www.rebeccachesney.com

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West Is Best (part 2)

Rebecca Spooner, Arts Development Manager reports on her ten-day research residency at Cove Park, on the Rosneath Peninsula, Argyll & Bute, Scottish west coast.

The residency was supported by the Arts Council of Wales.

PART 2 (of 2)

Friday 13th November 2015

Garelochhead to Arbroath

I wake to the first snow on the mountains this morning. The sun illuminates the varying colours and tones of the mountainside as purple-black clouds gather behind the summit. A pale rainbow cascades to the surface of the loch. The threatening clouds advance. Everything vanishes in mist.

I take an early train heading to the east coast to visit Hospitalfield, Arbroath, a former hospital, which was remodeled in 1843 by artist Patrick Allan and his wife Elizabeth Fraser to create an early Arts & Crafts building. The Allan-Frasers’ left their estates and collections in trust to support artists and arts education. In the 1900s Hospitalfield opened as a residential art school and became a place of study for Scotland’s modernist painters including James Cowie, Robert Colquhoun, Robert MacBryde and Joan Eardley.

Hospitalfield now curates a contemporary programme of events and artist residencies supporting practitioners to develop new work. The site includes a dark room and etching workshop and purpose built studios. The building feels very alive, the resident artists are coming and going, working in the Victorian library and drawing room as well as the studios.  The gallery’s current exhibition Continuum is a selection of twentieth century and contemporary work from artists who have lived and studied at Hospitalfield.

I meet some of the resident artists in their studios, who all express an appreciation of the time and space available to them to reflect on their practice and in some cases to improvise and rely on their own resources beyond their usual surroundings. The current self-funded residency programme is ‘interdisciplinary’ so practitioners with various backgrounds and interests are working at Hospitalfield together. Although the residencies are self-funded they’re selected so it feels like a real opportunity for the artists to be here. There is a communal feeling to the place with meals eaten together in the dining room.

There seems to be a healthy connection to local art students and colleges and links to Dundee’s lively arts scene, a thirty minute drive away (apparently a ‘hidden gem’ that will have to be included in a future jaunt to Scotland).

Arbroath to Edinburgh

I make the hour’s journey to Edinburgh and attend the preview of Another Minimalism: Art After California Light and Space at the Fruitmarket Gallery. It is a cold, wet night. Everyone is drinking the free gin on offer and we gather together, instinctively attracted to the luminescent pastel and candy colours of the light installations.

I meet senior curators, Lucy Askew and Julie-Ann Delaney from the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. The chat ranges in topics from northern soul all-nighters to the pros and cons of co-habitation, as well as some art stuff.

Julie-Ann coincidently introduces me to artist Bobby Niven, co-instigator of The Bothy Project, a brilliant initiative which I’ve been researching over the last month.

TBP is a network of small-scale, off-grid artist residency spaces in distinct locations around Scotland, including the Cairngorms National Park and the Isle of Eigg. The bothies are purpose built structures made in collaboration with artists, designers and architects to create a network of unique dwellings. TBP uses sustainable materials and building techniques to create designs that are purpose built for their locations. TBP was initiated by Bobby and architect Iain MacLeod, introducing the first residency bothy in 2011 with support from the Royal Scottish Academy. TBP now offers residencies through a supported and a self-funded programme.

I was unable to get to Sweeney’s Bothy on the Isle of Eigg because of the rough weather but Julie-Ann and Bobby suggest I visit the Pig Rock Bothy, situated in the grounds of Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh. The gallery is supporting the project as a way of extending their activity beyond the formal exhibition spaces to develop more experimental and participatory work with artists and students.

After a sociable evening I cue up in the rain for a taxi to my hotel and make a call home.

——–

Saturday 14th November

Edinburgh to Garelochhead

I wake to the news of the Paris terrorist attacks and swop breakfast for fresh air. I become contentedly lost among the lanes and crescents of the west end.

Visit the Pig Rock Bothy and the Modern Scottish Women exhibition at National Gallery.

Cannons blasting from Edinburgh’s castle walls.

The return journey west to Cove Park is fraught. Three of the most dreaded words in the English language have to be ‘Replacement Bus Service’. My connecting train is late. A kind driver takes pity on me and holds the bus. I do the ‘run of shame’ up the street and scramble aboard; either that or a three-hour wait in Dumbarton. I reflect on the practical difficulties of living/working rurally and again put myself in the place of any future artist-in-residence with PEAK.

——–

Monday 16th November

My colleague, artist Morag Colquhoun visits CP while she is staying in Glasgow for the Engage conference. It’s such a pleasure to share notes (over a bottle of red wine) with a friend and peer about the residency experience. Morag has recently been involved in a residency in the Elan Valley, Powys, facilitated by a partnership between Arts Council of Wales and Dŵr Cyrmu Welsh Water. Working in a rural and/or isolated location can at times feel slightly threatening, physically draining and lonesome. Basic comforts need to be met but not necessarily the expected conveniences of modern life (wi-fi, tv, mobile) as these can be as much of a distraction as cold and damp. The requirements of a visiting artist working in a rural place may differ from an urban setting but that balance between a desire for connection with the need for solitude to make new work remains the same wherever an artist is located.

——–

Tuesday 16th November 

Garelochhead to Abergavenny

The chap that’s been watching me out the corner of his eye since Garelochhead helps me with my suitcase at Glasgow Queen St and confidently escorts me to my connecting train at Central, dragging the weighty load of laundry and muddy boots behind him. George is a writer, previously for a left-wing political website, now children’s books. Most often he describes himself as unemployed, ‘you get asked fewer questions that way’.

Travelling again through the Scottish borders. Lake District covered in thick mist. A heron. A rabbit. Flooded fields beyond Carlisle.

I won’t miss the dark or the wind or the rain but I’ll miss waking up to that view across Loch Long and (unexpectedly) I will miss the deep silence.

——–

Rebecca Spooner
November 2015

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PEAK Artist in Residence – post no1

Rebecca Chesney is our first Artist in Residence for the Black Mountains, as part of a collaboration between PEAK and the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority. Click here for more information about the residency

Blog Post no 1: November 2015

My research week with PEAK in the Brecon Beacons National Park started crisp and clear with the Black Mountains white with snow and the sky blue. My accommodation for the duration of the residency, in a valley above Llangynidr, is nestled in a farming landscape of stone walls, hedges, livestock, tractors and muddy lanes. My first night was dark and starry with only the sound of running water outside the cottage; and I spent the following morning strolling down overgrown paths beside a fast flowing stream with dippers bobbing and the sound of farm dogs howling.

Chesney 1 Chesney 2

 

 

 

 

Meeting and chatting about the work of the Brecon Beacons National Park with the Sustainable Development Officers and the Senior Ecologist of the Park gave me lots to think about, and another of my days was spent walking up Table Mountain with the Arts Alive Wales staff then spending the afternoon discovering what downtown Crickhowell has to offer.

I’ve been allocated two guides during the residency, artist Penny Hallas and poet Lyndon Davies, to provide help and local information and we spent Black Friday on Black Bog, explored caves with old graffiti, walked along disused tramlines and talked about art and landscape.

Chesney 3

Chesney 4

 

 

 

 

In between busy days of meetings, conversations and connecting to others I had time alone to read and reflect. I took long walks and tested my map reading skills in finding unmarked, infrequently used footpaths, got chased by mean looking dogs in shitty farmyards and shared the hilltops with nobody, only red kites and buzzards overhead.

Chesney 5Chesney 6

 

 

 

 

On the last evening Arts Alive Wales organised a small gathering of staff, board members and artists for a shared meal: a generous and lovely way to end my week.

My visit was a balanced combination of making connections and meeting others with being alone and given time to concentrate and contemplate ideas for the coming 5 weeks in spring. I left feeling inspired and excited for my return in January.

Rebecca Chesney
November 2015

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West Is Best (part 1)

Rebecca Spooner, Arts Development Manager reports on her ten-day research residency at Cove Park, on the Rosneath Peninsula, Argyll & Bute, Scottish west coast.

The residency was supported by the Arts Council of Wales.

PART 1 (of 2)

Thursday  5th November 2015

Abergavenny to London

The ticket inspector said there was a bull on the railway line, the biggest he’d ever seen (naturally). It took four network rail engineers and a farmer with a stick to shift the beast for the train to pass, resulting in a half hour delay to all services on the Hereford line.

Stop over in London. Artist Film conference at Whitechapel Gallery.

——–

Saturday 7th November

Euston to Glasgow

6am train. Very dark. Rain streaming across the windows. Milton Keynes, Stafford, Warrington, Wigan, Preston, Lancaster, Penrith, Carlisle. Glasgow still another hour away from the border.

I haven’t been to Glasgow for over ten years. There’s an energy and confidence to the city. So different from London, which never satisfies – a promise that doesn’t deliver. I wait for my connecting train. Smart, stylish people, skilled in dressing appropriately for the weather. Tartan scarves, corduroy, tweed caps, tailored wool coats.

Glasgow to Garelochhead

Sheep, cattle, wading birds. Dark green fir trees. Tower blocks. Tenements of brown stone. Ferns. Water everywhere.

My taxi driver, on the 10 minute journey from Garelochhead to Cove Park is a Bristolian who’s lived on the peninsula for 30 years. This is where the Trident submarines are stationed. If I keep a look out I may see one in the loch, a hump backed whale shape flanked by military RIBs. There is a peace camp on the peninsula, people from all over the world join it to protest against Trident. My driver doesn’t think much of the camp, the protesters cause a lot of problems for the residents, his children missed exams because of a road block and once, a fire engine was unable to get through to a house fire. The protesters maintain their position but weren’t so gracious when the residents held a protest against the protesters.

Sound Artist, Cathy Lane welcomes me to Cove Park, she’s heading home tomorrow after a period working in the Highlands and a few days at Cove. I’ll be on my own until Monday when the staff arrive.

I unlock the door to my ‘cube’, an adapted metal shipping container, which blends perfectly into the site.

Heavy rain clouds at night rolling in from the west, dim light reflected in the pond and the loch.

——–

Sunday 8th November

Sleep for 12 hours, 8pm – 8am. Get electric heaters on. Cup of tea in bed looking out across Loch Long. Grey still mist on the tops of the mountains. Occasional headlamp in the village across the water; a red break light.

Any reservations I may have had quickly fade and I start to enjoy the cube. My eye continually returns to the views beyond. There is a merging of inside and outside.

I try to relax into the silence. I’m reading Raymond Williams’ The Country and The City and reading becomes more intense, as if Williams is there with me, a trusted voice, ‘the signalman’.

The calm weather of the morning shifts dramatically and I’m confronted by energetic sound and movement all afternoon. Heavy rain clouds sweep through. Wind in the bare trees, waves on the loch, the sound of water dripping all around and the background roar of the streams tumbling downhill, new rivulets of mountain water birthed over the grasses, the wind knocking wood against metal and metal against metal, a horse neighing long and loud and a donkey braying in response.

The cube becomes a personal study space. I use this solitude for research, writing funding applications, reading guidelines, writing project proposals, rough drafts, timelines.

The days are short. Dark creeps in by 4pm and Sunday has dissolved.

——–

Monday 9th November

After a rough night of heavy rain and gales I wander over to the main ‘Oak Pod’ and office to meet Assistant Director, Catrin Kemp for coffee.

The staff team is busily fundraising to secure Cove Park’s new building development on the hill above us. A scaffolding structure grows steadily each day and the new site is due to be completed in Spring 2016. Catrin shows me the architectural plans, which include a large communal space with wood burning stove, floor to ceiling windows, substantial kitchen and dinning areas, studios, office and residency accommodation. The new site will provide a flexible space, particularly for theatre and production companies. The team is developing a new public-facing programme of regular events and is consulting with local people about replanting woodland in the grounds. This week the staff are making a research visit to a community poly-tunnel scheme at Kilfinan Community Forest.

The main CP site is 13 years old and was built in phases as funding allowed. The Oak Pod featured in the BBC Castaway 2000 series and was relocated from the Scottish island of Taransay. It takes considerable finance and staff time to keep on top of maintaining the site, in places the cubes are showing their age, they’re basic but warm and comfortable. This seems appropriate, CP is a place of work and it’s situated in a practical landscape of mainly agricultural and military uses.

From May-Sept CP hosts a well-established programme of funded residencies for practitioners of any discipline. The organisation receives 700 applications from across the world. The summer months provide long days, more predictable weather and ferry services. The residencies bring together practitioners with diverse backgrounds, interests and nationalities. Catrin feels people come to CP for the tranquility (there is only intermittent mobile reception) and the concentrated focus and reflection that this offers. Catrin makes an important point that nothing is imposed on practitioners at CP. The organisation has no curatorial ideology and individuals direct the content of their residencies. In autumn and winter CP opens out the programme to allow self-funded residencies.

I’m interested to know if there are any artists in the area? Ross Sinclair, Christine Borland, Ross Burell (who teach at Glasgow School of Art) and photographer Ruth Clark live nearby. One thing I hadn’t anticipated is my personal need for contact with other practitioners. I’m on my own the majority of the time and while this is extremely productive, I realise that I may need the company of my peers more than I first thought.

——–

11th November

Patches of blue sky when I wake this morning. After three days sheltering indoors I take my chance for a walk to Kilcreggan on the south of the peninsula. A three hour walk in all. I step out on to the Barbour Road.

Mud and water, metal and rotten wood, broken fences, dumped transit van, fungus. There’s no point photographing this stuff, it needs to be drawn by hand to pull the energy through – raw, muscular, physical, sensual. Something that pixels don’t understand.

I consider the differences of PEAK’s location in a national park, in which the landscape is heavily managed, protected and promoted. The land here is less regulated, the farms and houses are sensible and economical. Derelict buildings, tin shacks, workshops, make shift garages, containers. At times I’m reminded of the windswept commons on the heads of the South Wales Valleys.

Two military planes fly low overhead. Bungalows, lodges, neat wood stores in gardens, septic tanks.

The sheet rain arrives earlier than forecast as I hit the tarmac on my return journey.

More project and funding research this afternoon.

Gnat. Leech. Wren. Singing in the gorse bush beyond the round window.

——–

To be continued…

Rebecca Spooner
November 2015

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Rebecca Chesney selected for PEAK Artist Residency

PEAK and the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority are delighted to announce that artist Rebecca Chesney has been selected as the first Artist in Residence for the Black Mountains, from over 120 applications.

Rebecca, based near Preston, Lancashire responded ‘I’m absolutely delighted to have been selected for the PEAK residency. It’s such an exciting opportunity to be a part of and I and can’t wait to get started.’

Rebecca’s projects are specific to the locations she works in and take the form of installations, interventions, drawings, maps and walks and are underpinned by research into the protection of the environment.Her work is ‘concerned with how we perceive the land: how we romanticise, translate and define urban and rural spaces.’ In relation to the residency Rebecca is particularly interested in ‘the economic value of attracting visitors to the National Park and how that is balanced with the protection of its ecology.’ 

Rebecca has worked extensively across the UK, including residencies at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the Bronte Parsonage Museum in Haworth and the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere, as well as projects in India, South Africa and the Netherlands.

Rebecca Spooner, Arts Development Manager said: ‘We were overwhelmed by the response to the first PEAK residency and really appreciate the time and energy that artists commit when applying for an opportunity like this. Rebecca’s work was a natural fit with the interests of PEAK and the Brecon Beacons National Park, particularly her concern with the perception of rural environments and communities. We also feel that Rebecca’s approach will question us and really encourage us to think about what we want to achieve through a residency programme.’

Rebecca will complete a week of research in the Black Mountains in autumn 2015 and then a five week residency, based near Llangynidr between Jan-March 2016. Rebecca will contribute to the PEAK blog and post news of public events and talks. PEAK will also deliver a series of creative sessions for local young people in response to the residency.

www.rebeccachesney.com

The PEAK & BBNPA Artist Residency is funded by:

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The Morel Trust

With thanks to :
Artists Pip Woolf & Kirsty Claxton
Artist Jane Bennett
The Eco Travel Network