Tag Archives: Cymru

Fimbulwinter by David Fitzjohn at Cardiff MADE

I popped into Cardiff MADE this week to have a look at the exhibition/installation they are currently hosting called Fimbulwinter which has been created by artist David Fitzjohn.

The blurb that I had read ahead of visiting the exhibition space was as follows:

In recent work Fitzjohn has used imagery of wilderness and woodland as a metaphor for both a lost ideal (Elysium) and a hoped for future, in order to explore his concerns regarding climate issues and economic imperialism. Fimbulwinter has extended and developed these themes.

This installation has evolved over five years. While its essence remains intact its physical state, like the changing landscape, has morphed with every site-specific experience. Initially conceived as a response to landscape generally, since his relocation to Wales Fitzjohn has become more particularly concerned with the mythic and timeless character of the Welsh landscape. This experience has reinforced his environmental concerns, but also awakened a deeper feeling for the ancient rhythms of nature that remind us of the fluid and changeable state of our reality and the cyclical order of destruction and rebirth embedded in our landscape.

The title Fimbulwinter is taken from Norse mythology, a period of three successive winters without any intervening summer, an environmental disaster that is the prelude to Ragnarok, the end of the world. While the world may not be ending, it is changing and Fitzjohn’s paper-cut is a response to this; his imagining of the end of things as they are, the mutability and adaptability of nature and the hope embedded in possible futures.

Grand eh?

I was all set to get myself a feel for the ancient rhythms of life and to get all worked up about climate change and economic imperialism.

Unfortunately all I encountered was paper-cut trees.

Just paper-cut trees.

Cute paper cut trees.

Fitzjohn’s paper-cut may be his response to the Norse mythological idea of Fimbulwinter, and those mythical tales might well be relatable to ideas about climate change and the end of the world, but unfortunately this paper-cut doesn’t communicate anything whatsoever about these themes.

It’s just paper-cut trees.

I understand that each presentation of the work sees the structure of this paper-cut woodland change to fill a different space and in doing so this might be read as a reflection of our changing world, but you would have to be a Fimbulwinter groupie, following the work from one venue to the next to appreciate this. Instead what is presented at Cardiff MADE is a static installation of aesthetically pleasing paper-cut trees

Ideas about climate change, economic imperialism, environmental disasters, or the hope embedded in possible futures might have inspired Fitzjohn in creating this work but to describe the work as being about these things requires a real stretch of the imagination.

It’s all well and good telling us what themes this work addresses, but if the work itself doesn’t communicate these ideas then it’s a failure in this regard. Isn’t it?

I struggled somewhat trying to figure out what the work was really all about but then I started to wonder if it was actually about the artist himself or aspects thereof…

The installation is not immersive; it is in fact clumps of white paper thin silhouettes of trees that we’re excluded from, forced to navigate our way around them peering through gaps in the entangled branches. We’re required only to observe, not interact with, the work from the outside, peering in, trying to catch a glimpse at what, if anything, might be at the heart of this faux woodland.

I know a few people that could be described by such metaphors, and so it wouldn’t be too much of a leap to wonder whether this is in fact a self-portrait masquerading as something more pretentious.

All said, I actually rather enjoyed walking around the installation. It’s really quite beautiful.


PS: The coffee at Cardiff MADE is not bad.

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Beyond the Border Donation Box Commission

I’ve been sent details of an ‘opportunity’ this morning from Beyond the Border story telling festival.

They have issued a brief and an open call to artists for the creation of a donation box ahead of this year’s festival as follows:

Beyond the Border would like to commission a sculptor to make us a beautiful donation box. The sculpture must:

  • the words Beyond the Border Storytelling Festival on it
  • Be robust enough to be kept outdoors during the festival and to last at least four years
  • Be transportable to our other events, but also be sturdy/large enough not to just be picked up/stolen
  • Be made of recyclable, sustainable or found materials
  • Be interesting and interactive to use, for example a coin would make a noise, set off moving parts, go on an interesting journey and somehow reflect the theme of stories and storytelling

I opened up the full details of the brief that I was sent eager to find out more as it sounded like an interesting project and one that I thought some friends of mine might be interested in; particularly with regard to the interactive aspects of the project.

However, as I scanned through the document I clocked the fee for this job which totals £200.00.

Maybe I’ve missed something, or maybe the visions of donation boxes that I was imagining having read the brief were a far too fanciful, but £200 for a project of this scale seems ludicrous. I’d actually go so far as to say I felt disgusted at reading this.

The donation box that they are asking for is essentially a one off handmade piece of sculpture with interactive components, whether that be digital or mechanical, and must be of a size that it can’t be stolen – which in my mind is a sizeable object.

Now I could rabbit on about the amount of funding that the festival receives, or the price of their tickets, or even the fees that they pay to festival staff or storytelling performers, but the fact of the matter is that regardless of all of those other counterpoints £200.00 is a pitiful amount of money for this brief.

I think I would be less offended if the the Beyond the Borders festival organisers had leant heavily on their charitable status crutch and simply come out and said that they are strapped for cash and would like to find an artist / maker who would work for free.

The briefing document states that the £200 offered is divided in half with £100 allocated for materials and £100 as the artists fee. It is stated that the box should be made from “recyclable, sustainable or found materials” so I’m sure a thrifty maker could scrape by with £100 materials budget.

The current UK minimum wage is apparently £6.31 per hour and £100 at this rate would allow for 15 hours of work by the appointed artist which equates to two full days work. However, I’m assuming that Beyond the Border storytelling festival are seeking a skilled individual to create their donation box. After all they refer to it as a ‘Sculpture‘ (see above). With this in mind a basic minimum wage would seem to be far too low a rate of pay which would mean that the fee that they are offering would barely cover a days work.

It’s oft been said that you get what you pay for and there is a little part of me that hopes Beyond the Border will end up with not a lot more than a cardboard box and a tin whistle. But the sad thing is that for every artist who looks at this brief and agrees that the fee offered doesn’t come close to work being asked for, there will be another who will jump at this opportunity because they will make and do regardless of whether they’re paid (fairly) for their creative endeavours or not, and of course this perpetuates the cycle of poor pay for visual artists.

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National Eisteddfod of Wales’ Visual Arts Exhibition

The application form for the National Eisteddfod of Wales’ Visual Arts Exhibition (competition) 2013 landed on my desk this week.

I’m gob-smacked that there is still no online application process for the open submission exhibition. To apply artists must:

“send their £20.00 fee, a completed application form, the Jpeg images or DVD works, together with a clear statement concerning the work to the visual arts officer at the following address: Eisteddfod Office, 40 Parc Ty Glas, Llanishen, Cardiff CF14 5DU”

I’m not suggesting they completely replace this real world process with a digital process. There are plenty of ancient artists across this country who would no doubt have a heart attack at the prospect of having to complete an online form. But, I’m a millennial. I don’t have a chequebook, I don’t have a writable CD drive on my computer in order to burn jpeg images to a disk, and a certainly can’t remember the last time I sent anything by snail mail.

The thing is, this postal application process is typical of Wales’ national art events. The Welsh Artist of the Year organisers offered no digital submission process either this year, instead opting for their usual expensive hard copy application forms.

I do wonder if it’s an age thing. I know the key organisers behind both of these events and they are not exactly young whippersnappers! I get the impression that these open submission events in Wales are organised in this way because that’s the way they’ve always done things. For example, I never get an invite to the Welsh Artist of the Year exhibition via email. It always arrives through my letterbox.

The expense of continuing to issue hard copy only literature must be phenomenal. There’s the cost of having the fancy leaflets and application forms printed, and then there’s cost of posting these papers out. In addition to this there is of course the man hours needed to stuff and label hundreds of envelopes.

Using a digital submission process alongside the traditional postal method would not only make these open submission exhibitions more widely accessible, but also help to reduce the administrative costs.

Of course I’d like to think that any costs that are made would be passed on to the artists and the organisers would reduce their submission fees.

This years Eisteddfod is charging a £20.00 submission fee for their Visual Arts Exhibition and that doesn’t guarantee you anything but a quick glance across photographs of your work by the judges.

That in itself is enough to put me off. I occasionally pay £1.00 for a lottery ticket with ambitions of winning a million pounds or two, or a large fraction thereof. Why would I pay £20.00 for the chance to win five thousand pounds and risk the feeling of dejection that comes with not winning the Eisteddfod’s grand prize – or worse still not being selected for the exhibition?

After all it is just pot luck. The organisers will receive hundreds of submissions no doubt from across length and breadth of the country. Whether or not one gets selected is ultimately going to come down the mood of the judges on the day of selection and possibly whether or not they recognise your work.

Between the expensive submission fee and hassle of having to prepare a hard copy submission there is no way I’ll be submitting anything for this year’s National Eisteddfod of Wales Visual Arts Exhibition, and in my humble opinion that’s their loss.

I always have the feeling that these exhibitions are incestuous, introverted; constantly looking inward on our country ignoring the bigger picture. Open submission events such as the Eisteddfod and the Welsh Artist of the Year need shaking up from top to bottom.

Lets get some new blood in and bring them all kicking and screaming into the twenty first century. The country needs some national exhibitions by Welsh artists that we can shout about and be proud of.

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The Cardiff Open

So I missed out on the opportunity to submit something for the Cardiff Open exhibition. Unfortunately I didn’t find out about it until the submission deadline had passed. It’s a little bit of a shame because it’s not often that geographically restricted shows include the Vale of Glamorgan within their boundaries.

However, hindsight is not a bad thing at all and after a little further inspection I’m not really that bothered to have missed out since the project seems to be lacking in intellectual rigour.

The remit of the Cardiff Open is as follows:

Cardiff Open will act as a platform for showcasing the best contemporary art practice from an open call of submissions.

Whilst the submission guidelines were as follows:

  • max. 3 images [jpeg 72 dpi or pdf. no more than 5mb in total]
  • details of all images [title, medium, size [cm], wall price]
  • current CV including contact details

How can the selectors for an exhibition that purports to act as a showcase for the best contemporary art in the region make their choices from nothing more than a handful of low resolution digital images without any context?

You’ll notice that instead of asking for an artist statement which contextualises the work the Cardiff Arts Collective asked artists to submit their CV.

I can only conclude that the selectors have chosen work by artists with a good track record (based upon the request for a CV) and/or artists whose work makes for a pretty picture at 72 dots per inch. Of course a pretty picture makes for a potential sale which is no doubt why artists were also asked to submit a wall price.

It’s a sad state of affairs but unfortunately symptomatic of many open call ‘art’ exhibitions that I’ve come across lately.

What really irritates me though is that this project has the support of the Arts Council of Wales. At least this is the assumption I making since the ACW logo is plastered all over the Cardiff Arts Collective website.

The Arts Council of Wales exists to “support the creation of the best in great art”.

I would argue that ill considered projects like this Cardiff Open exhibition do not present the best in great art. Instead we will be presented with a selection of works that are linked only by geography and by the fact that they satisfy the aesthetic tastes of the selection panel (who I assume were the Cardiff Arts Collective committee members).

It’s exhibitions like this that give the visual arts a bad name. They give the general public the idea that visual art is simply the creation of an image by relegating the intellectual values of the work

Without context visual art exhibitions are meaningless collections of images.

I’m all for regional exhibitions to highlight the strength and depth of work that is being produced but curators need to put more thought into these projects. Simply grouping all of the work together under one roof just because artists all live within the same county boundary is lazy at best.

Organisers of exhibitions like this should take the time to get to know the artists in their region and develop and understanding of the work produced. By doing so they’ll better place themselves in a position to produce an exhibition which works with the artist and their work to produce an exhibition that shows all involved in the best light.

Whilst I must applaud the organisers of the Cardiff Open for not charging a submission fee I fear that they will present us with a jumble of un-curated work.

I’ve no doubt that some, if not all of the work on display will be of a high calibre but it will be difficult to fully appreciate such work if careful consideration is not given to the presentation of the work in the context of the exhibition as a whole.

I suppose part of the responsibility should lie with the artists in as much as they should give some thought to the exhibitions they want to take part in and not exhibit for the sake of exhibiting.

Having said that I can understand that artists just want to see their art out there in the world.

Although I have concerns about the Cardiff Open exhibition I’ll reserve my final judgment until the show opens for us all to see.

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Wales Blog Awards

The search is on for Wales’ Best Blogger… amateur blogger that is. Yes, the Wales Blog Awards are back. The categories this year include:

  • Best Blog (people’s choice – voted for by the public)
  • Best Writing on a Blog
  • Best Political Blog
  • Best Community Blog
  • Best Lifestyle Blog
  • Best Technology Blog
  • Best Sports Blog
  • Best Multimedia Blog (New category for 2012)
  • Best New Blog (New category for 2012)
  • Best Music and Entertainment Blog
  • Best Food & Drink Blog

That’s right, there’s no arts category as was spotted by @WeAreCardiff. Apparently arts blogs might be eligible for the Multimedia or Lifestyle categories. Having read the remit of the multimedia category I find myself rather disgusted by this suggestion. It would indicate that the organisers of the Wales Blog Awards think that an arts blog would be nothing more than a stream of pictures.

*deep breath*

There is a glimmer of hope though in that there is a possibility that an Arts category might be included in future if enough entries are received. However, with there being no clear category for the Arts I can’t imagine that many entries will be received at all. The current format doesn’t exactly encourage participation from those interested or involved in the arts now does it? Even a Miscellaneous category would have been better than none at all. I’m sure there are many other bloggers writing outside the remit of this list that will feel that they have been excluded.

It’s shocking really given the reach of the arts in Wales.We have renowned galleries dotted up the length of the country (G39, Oriel Davies, Mostyn, et al) and our capital city hosts the largest contemporary art prize in the UK; Artes Mundi. And that’s Just the visual arts.

The interest and participation in the arts in Wales is huge.

Having said all that it will not stop me entering this blog into the awards. I think ‘Best New Blog‘ might be the category for me.

Of course there’s not a kittens chance in hell of me getting a look in as the Wales Blog Awards are organised by Media Wales and their PR company friends. It’s just wouldn’t be good PR to support such a negative and vitriolic blog like this.

But, if you don’t ask you don’t get and so it is into the mouth of hell I march.

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Simon Fenoulhet

I attended a presentation by artist Simon Fenoulhet a couple of months ago. For those of you who don’t know “Simon Fenoulhet is an artist who plays with our preconceptions of the material world by skilfully manipulating everyday objects with unexpected outcomes”.* Those are his words not mine.

Simon was talking about the installation entitled Curtain (2010) he created for Newport Museum and Gallery. He spent some time talking us through the series of events that led to his mind expanding discovery that plastic drinking straws look pretty when light shines through them. He spent even more time talking us through the technical aspects of the project and explaining how much equipment and technical know how was needed to light enough plastic drinking straws to create his installation.

It wasn’t the most enthralling artist’s presentation I have ever sat through but it was vaguely interesting nonetheless. My opinion of this artist and his work came crashing down however when someone asked him what the point of it all was. Well that’s not exactly how they phrased it. It was more along the lines of “that’s fascinating Simon but could you expand a little upon the concepts that drive the production of your work?”

Having given us a lengthy insight into the technical aspects of the installation Simon gave us brief response to this enquiry explaining that he was driven to make work that presented everyday objects in a different light (pardon the pun there).

That’s it!?

After outlining the months of work that this piece took to create and the considerable cost of it’s production (funded in no small part by a chunk of public money) that was all he had to give us about the rationale for producing the work.

Really? That’s it?

Now I could give him the benefit of the doubt and suggest that after having given his presentation he was being selfless in giving such a little response to such a big question and making way for the next speaker. Even so, as an artist one should do their best to contextualise their work in the clearest possible manner. After all, in these austere times surely we can’t be seen to be peddling art for art’s sake?

Such a brief response like this is, in my mind, not all that far far removed from Big Brother contestant Helen Adams’ infamous I like Blinking comment.

I like illuminating plastic drinking straws I do

Even Simon’s website does nothing to support the work in any intellectually rigorous manner. Although of another work archived on the same page he does offer that “the idea is to make passers by curious about what’s going on in there.”

How did this man secure funding from the Arts Council for this work which appears to be all fur coat and no knickers? Surely they should be funding projects that have something more to them than aesthetic appeal or am I mistaken?

Is that where we’re at now?

Have we succumbed to the dull blade of popular culture.

Are projects which titillate rather than challenge gallery goers all we are brave enough to support now?


*via http://www.simonfenoulhet.co.uk/about.html (10 July 2012)

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