On Wednesday last week, I went to “Sgyrsiau’r Caban”, the first of the debates in Y Caban on the slopes outside Pontio, facilitated by actress Morfudd Hughes. Pontio is Bangor’s new Arts and Innovation Centre. And Y Caban, Bangor’s first public art project is controversial. Created by a Dutch artist Joep Van Lieshout to re-interpret/respond to the traditional Caban that was a central part of the extraordinary cultural/ educational life in the slate quarries. Caban culture is still a fiercely guarded source of traditional pride here in North Wales. But this caban is not made of the traditional slate. And it is not even Caban shaped. It is possibly best described as a blob, not unlike something the Babapappas would have lived in.
I wanted to go to a debate in the Caban to see how a debate would work in the space (answer: really surprisingly well) and how people felt about the Caban as a piece of public art (answer: happier once they’d been in it), as well as checking it out as a 'venue' as it is going to be part of our Llif/Flow show on 3rd July. Morfudd was a great facilitator. Working bilingually with a translator, she built coversations from one:one chats to discussions within the whole group (even though you couldn’t see everyone , which was surprisingly fun).
The thing that really stuck in my mind though, was one of Morfudd’s topics for discussion: “Y ffordd mae’r celfyddiydau un medru newid ein ffordd of feddwl". “How the arts can change the way we think”. I am not sure whether art has ever changed my opinion about something, but it has certainly made me look at the world differently: be it the dominance of purple in the landscape after seeing David Hockney’s landscapes, or the toast sweat on my plate every morning. I just can’t remember who did that Toast Sweat piece – it was a photo, perhaps in the 90s? Perhaps a YBA?
And when I started chatting to the person next to me, I realised that I'd had three formative experiences of art, or of art thinking. And that these were very much at the heart of the show that I'm creating with Lisa Hudson and Dr Jonathan Malarkey for our show LLif/Flow in Pontio on 3rd July:
1. Art as investigation. My first formative experiece came when I started to develop my artistic practice, guided by my friend and tutor, Leanda Thomas . She talked of art as a way of noticing the world, exploring it, of having a line of enquiry that you are pursuing. This way of thinking now underpins all my work, with collaborative investigation as the method I use to create and ‘stage’ my shows.
2. Art as immersive and outside the ‘gallery’: This insight came from another friend and tutor, Jony Easterby. Jonny was as part of the team putting on The Weather Factory, a National Theatre Wales production in a derelict house in Penygroes, a village in North Wales. One dark evening in December 2010, my husband and I went to the local pub to get the front door key and directions to the Weather Factory. Having located the house, we were free to wander around, experiencing a different kind of weather in every room. It was beautiful, mesmerizing, and the deafening thunder sound in the kitchen, when pulling out a draw took me so much by surprise that I was rooted to the spot in shock. It changed the way I think about ‘exhibitions’ and ‘shows’, how they can be so much more ‘immersive’ than I’d realized. And in a round-about way, it started my relationship with National Theatre Wales (see Digging Down), as well as informing how to create the Llif show as an immersive fun experiment.
3. The seduction of sound: This third insight came from seeing Brontasaurus by Sam Taylor Wood, 15 or so years years ago. It was by far and away the most engaging and moving piece of work in Tate Modern that day. I was there with my parents, and when I mentioned it to them, they both thought it was the music that was mesmorising (Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings) rather than anything else. I disagree. I think the combination of the image (emaciated naked man dancing to techno music) and sound was genius. But the point is that it is the sound that ‘holds’ people, as it did at the Weather Factory.
So, that’s a (very) long way round of explaining why it is so exciting to be working with 4 experimental sound artists to explore flow with words and sound as part of our Llif/Flow project for Pontio. Rhys Trimble (poet), Katherine Betteridge (violin), Sioned Eleri Roberts (Clarinet) and David Hopewell (sound mixing) will be joining Lisa Hudson, Dr Jonathan Malarkey and I on the 3rd July. We had our first experimental session a couple of weekends ago in the barn. The sessions flowed beautifully, building spontaneously from an individual’s sounds to collective ‘piece’.
It doesn't do the session justice at all, but here is a paste together of very short clips from the session
So while I was in the debate in the Caban, I was thinking how the great the sounds will sound here in the Caban, and how much fun it would be if a marble suddenly careered through the caban on its way down the slopes to the main building, as part of our investigation into Llif/Flow. l was thinking that, because that is part of our plan for the immersive experience that will be the show on 3rd July.
People will surely say, but is it art? And we will say well yes, we think it is. And we hope it’ll help to reclaim the place –including the caban - reconnect with people outside the ‘theatre world’, opeing up the idea that it’s a place for investigation. And how great would it be, for example, if the Caban was turned into something like Anthony Gormley’s use of the 4th plinth in Trafalgar Square: open one hour slots that anyone can use, to share or create their own investigations…