Coal Tree Salt Sea

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
rhysstudio.org

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.

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Little scraps of countryside

Two young writers from the Arts Alive WalesCaban Sgriblio project respond to Rebecca Chesney’s residency in the Brecon Beacons National Park.

I’m not sure where I was expecting Rebecca Chesney’s Snapshot: Colours of the Brecon Beacons exhibit to be held, but it wasn’t in a room painted with canal water!

Of course, it wasn’t literally canal water. It was a colour from Rebecca Chesney’s colour chart – number 21, Mon & Brec, “a cold colour from Monmouthshire and Brecon canal water.” Though I didn’t immediately realise it, that was the first colour I saw of Chesney’s amazing selection of 96 colours inspired by the Brecon Beacons.

To collect the colours she stayed for six weeks in the National Park, split into a week in November 2015 and two and a half weeks in January and March 2016. During this time, she went walking almost every day over the picturesque mountains, into abandoned quarries and through rolling, soft, green fields. Taking endless photographs and collecting samples, she slowly built up an enormous palette of colours she associated with her time in the Beacons.

Back to the celebration. In the centre of the room were displayed an array of photos Rebecca had taken of everything, from clear streams gleaming over dark, smooth stones, to the head of a shot fox with its tongue lolling out from between its teeth, and a sheep’s ribcage surrounded by coarse white wool. Some of the photographs were of things you wouldn’t usually think to take pictures of – things you would normally try and avoid – like rusted farm machinery, half buried in the green-cloaked ground, or a bloated sheep’s corpse caught on branches in a river, along with rubbish and plastic.

She had samples too – feathers, red-brown like rust; soft, grey fur; pressed flowers, moss, lichen, even pieces of plastic and silage wrap. All of these she had collected in the National Park, and all had contributed in some way to her final colours.

And at the end of the room, there it was. In a white frame, behind perfectly clear glass, a beautiful selection of 96 colours, culled from her experiences, ranging from the vivid “Intrepid” to “Bale twine blue” or the bright, eye-catching “Gorse flush”. Not every colour was quite so blinding – we mustn’t forget the soft grey of “Newborn lamb” or the delicate shade “Blossom of blackthorn”.

They weren’t just colours – every shade had a definition explaining where the colour came from and what it meant to Rebecca, sometimes accompanied by a fact about the Brecon Beacons. Rebecca told us that she hoped the definitions would give people a hint of the story behind each hue and that in using some of the colours, they might build up their own “snapshot”.

Rebecca Chesney made a speech once everybody was present and explained all about her residency. She thanked us all for coming and then thanked specific people for their efforts in relation to the project; we heard how a local artist guide supported her to take her to interesting places in the National Park, from farms to mine shafts.

Personally I found Rebecca’s approach fascinating and unusual. It was like she had taken a place, with all its features, wildlife, population and landscapes and boiled it down to its essence. I usually think of a place in terms of whole images, but this colour palette was something just as unique and in fact it was unique not only to the place, but to the person and time of year as well. It is a way of representing a location that I had never considered before but was just as effective and open to personal interpretation.

Rebecca Chesney’s project made me think about places and colours in an entirely new way, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Thank you Rebecca, Peak and Arts Alive Wales!

By Roxy
Age 13
Gwernyfed High School

 

When I went to Arts Alive Wales to attend the Peak launch of Rebecca Chesney’s “Snapshot”, I was expecting paintings of the views or maybe abstract takes on them. Perhaps photos of the landscape and scenery, hence the name “Snapshot”?

I walked in and there was not a painting in sight. Granted there were photos, but not the ones I’d been expecting. The first image that caught my eye was a decaying sheep carcass entangled in low tree branches in a small stream, quite contrasting my expectations. Another image which I wasn’t prepared for was a tree, in a field with black plastic snared around it. When I first thought about it, I was confused about why someone would want to capture such grim sides of the Brecon Beacons, as usually sights like that would be purposely avoided in photography.

Everyone was still setting up when I arrived at the Arts Alive Wales studio. My friend Roxy was with me the whole time, examining the exhibition too. I was introduced to the artist Rebecca Chesney and to the Creative Director, Rebecca Spooner. The similar names made it rather confusing, but I managed to gain a grasp. I also gained a grasp of a large quantity of really delicious welsh cakes, but I don’t think that they were a part of the exhibition!

I picked up a grey card leaflet entitled;

Snapshot
Colours of the Brecon Beacons
By Rebecca Chesney

The card was quite thick and had a bumpy texture, which made a satisfying whooshing sound when I ran my thumb across the front of it. The typeface on the front was plain and black. It had a simple and rather uniform look to it.

I opened it up to see an entire spectrum of coloured squares, each with a fascinating title underneath it. Some were quite normal sounding, like white being named “Fallen Snow”. Others however were really very strange and some, rather funny. A good example of this, and one of my personal favourite titles went with a brownish red and was called “Faint Echo.” Other entertaining names were “Jelly Ear”, “Shot Fox”, “Dog’s Breath” and “King Alfred’s Cakes”.

There were 96 colours on the leaflet in total each with an interesting description. Rebecca explained during her talk that colours were not just chosen to represent appearance, but to represent all of the things that she’d found out about the Beacons in her six weeks here. Using the views of all the people she’d met and everything she’d seen, she compiled a collection of hundreds of colours and narrowed it down to 150. Finally, she picked the 96 colours which featured in “Snapshot”.

Rebecca Chesney wanted a dynamic palette of different interests, so she tried to meet as many people as possible connected to the Park. Another aspect of the exhibition was the Light Box. It was, as the name suggests a box full of light. It had a translucent top where the light glowed through. On the top were little pieces of paper with little scraps of countryside on them. There was a snip of pony hair, a clump of lichen and a yellow, pressed flower. There were also, little bits of black plastic and green litter.

It was when looking at this that I realised why such ugly parts of the country-side were being presented in “Snapshot”. It was because everything, the rusting agricultural equipment, the plastic litter and even the rotting corpses were all now part of the landscape and as revealed in the colour chart, Rebecca wanted to show everything.

The exhibition, I think gave me a new perspective on the countryside. I think that it is very original to portray the landscape in such an unusual way and it works beautifully. The final result of Rebecca Chesney’s work, I think really sums up the Beacons terrifically well and the name “Snapshot” fits perfectly.

By Amelie Williams
Age 13
Gwernyfed High School

With thanks to Gwernyfed High School

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SNAPSHOT Colours of the Brecon Beacons

12. Selenium Lick 
A cheerful blue from the bucket containing this livestock supplement 

Rebecca Chesney is the first Artist-in-Residence for the Black Mountains, in partnership with Peak and the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority. Rebecca completed a six-week residency during winter 2015/16.

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18. Joyride
Obligatory burned out car at the bottom of a disused quarry. 

Rebecca, based in Preston, Lancashire, was selected from over 120 applications received from artists across the UK and Europe following an open call. 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 was 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. www.rebeccachesney.com

29. Shot Fox
A luscious and mesmerising red from a freshly killed fox.

During the residency Rebecca met with the Black Mountains Land Use Partnership, Bradley Welch, Senior Ecologist BBNPA, Alan Bowring, Geopark Development Officer BBNPA (who both contributed greatly to development of the final artwork), Helen Roderick and Ceri Bevan Sustainable Development Officers BBNPA, and many local artists, farmers and wardens. Rebecca walked and photographed the landscape extensively, building a collection of hundreds of images.

Rebecca’s residency resulted in SNAPSHOT Colours of the Brecon Beacons, a unique colour chart that visualises the many layers of the Brecon Beacons environment during winter. The chart represents the complex and unique relationships between agriculture, tourism, industry, ecology, culture and economy; some of the colours complement each other whilst others clash. A different season and location would result in a radically different palette. Snapshot is an attempt to reflect the realities of living and working in the Brecon Beacons; the stuff that goes on behind the observed veneer of landscape.

The SNAPSHOT paint chart was professionally designed and printed in a limited edition of 400. The charts were given away during a celebratory event on Saturday 11th June 2016 at the Arts Alive Wales studio in Crickhowell. 100 of the charts were posted to arts and educational colleagues across Wales and the UK. The celebratory event was followed by an informative guided walk by geologist Alan Bowring on the Llangattock Escarpement.

The remaining charts were sold at £10 each and income supported Arts Alive Wales charitable projects in the local community. The paint charts are now sold out.  

53. Bale Wrap Green
A contemporary synthetic shade developed to blend with natural green tones

Arts Alive Wales supported Rebecca to deliver a programme of artist talks and cyanotype workshops for 68 local young people in response to the residency.


Ty Mawr, an ecological building products company situated on the banks of Langorse Lake developed paint shade no ‘21. Mon & Brec’ (A cold colour from Monmouthshire and Brecon canal water. Opened in 1799 it was used to transport coal, lime, iron ore and agricultural products) which was used to redecorate the Arts Alive Wales studio.

Click here to read more about Rebecca Chesney’s residency.

22. Passing Shower
Reminiscent of the lightweight waterproofs available to the rural day-tripper.

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With thanks to:
Brecon Beacons National Park Authority staff especially Helen Roderick, Ceri Bevan, Bradley Welch, Alan Bowring
Practitioners: Pip Woolf, Kirsty Claxton, Jane Bennett, Penny Hallas, Lyndon Davies, Melissa Hinkin, Emma Geliot
Blaenau Gwent Learning Zone, Merthyr Tydfil College, Gwernyfed High School. 

& the many local individuals, organisations and businesses who contributed to the residency. 

Photo credits: Toril Brancher / Film & Photo credits: Nic Finch

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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EVENT: Rebecca Chesney artist talk

Artist-in-Residence, Rebecca Chesney in conversation with Emma Geliot, Editor CCQ magazine

Saturday 19th March, 11am-1pm

National Park Visitor Centre, Brecon Beacons
Libanus, Brecon, Powys, LD3 8ER
www.breconbeacons.org

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Rebecca Chesney, based in Preston, Lancashire is the first Artist-in-Residence for the Black Mountains, in partnership with PEAK and the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority. 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. 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 is living and working in the Black Mountains from Jan-March 2016, responding to the distinct environment – its history, ecology and culture – to produce new work.

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. www.rebeccachesney.com

11am-11:30am. Arrival. Refreshments can be purchased from the Visitor Centre tea rooms.

11:30 – 1pm. Rebecca will give a presentation about her work followed by an interview with Emma Geliot and Q&A with the audience.

Places are limited! To book a place contact:
Rebecca Spooner, Arts Development Manager

E: rebecca@artsalivewales.org.uk  / T: 01873 811579

Directions. National Park Visitor Centre is signposted from Libanus on the A470, approximately 4 miles south west of Brecon. The pay and display car park at the Visitor Centre is £2 for 2hrs or more. If you are interested in car-sharing please make this known when booking your place.


CCQ

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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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