I work predominately with film and installation, often filming in isolated and secluded places or places perceived to be so by the viewer. My work aims to raise a flux of visceral emotions relating to identity and basic human emotions and concerns.
Gemma Copp is a Welsh artist, who currently resides in Swansea, her city of birth. Graduating with a BA in Fine Art from Swansea Metropolitan University in 2006, Copp went on to complete an MA in Contemporary Dialogues in 2009 at the same University. Copp has recently taken part in the Glynn Vivian’s Artist in Residence program. Copp has shown work nationally and internationally and has recently exhibited work at the Talbot Rice Gallery in Edinburgh, and at the Mannheim Film Festival in Germany, where she received a special commendation from the judges. She was awarded Welsh Artist of the Year in 2012.
Film, 40 mins.
With its continuous body of salt water covering most of the earth’s surface, the sea is seen as a geophysical body with the tidal rhythms acting as its lungs. The sea is a constant reminder of life, where its continuous tidal motions breathe existence into nature’s habitat and fuel the cycle of regeneration. But what if that were to stop? Life is given value because of its transient and impermanent nature, and the coastline can be just as fragile and ephemeral. What if the rhythm were to be damaged and the cycle broken? Would nature’s balance disappear with the low tide, never to return? Within the piece you see a melancholic, motionless figure, dressed in black, with her back to the viewer. It appears that she is stood, balancing on top of the sea, as the waves repeatedly roll around her. The sea appears to be in balance at this point but as the once high tide turns to low tide and disburses around the figure, it gives the impression that something menacing is about to happen. The colour and focus of the horizon, that once was clear and inspiring, creating feelings of happiness and limitless possibilities, instead now offers the viewer visceral feelings of concern and desolation.
Fern Thomas is based out of Swansea, Wales, UK. Rooted in the processes and principles of Social Sculpture, her work explores the potency and transformational capacities of the image in its broadest sense and interrogates her relationship with the ecological, archetypal, and mythological world. Manifesting in action – live or documented – her process-led and intuitive explorations often take the form of a physical interaction or ‘meeting’ between herself and a place, a dream, a history or another being.
Thomas is the winner of Mostyn Open (2011), was a recipient of the Arts and Humanities Research Council Award (2011/2012), was awarded the Interdisciplinary Arts Prize (2013) at Oxford Brookes University for her work during her Masters in Social Sculpture, and received a Creative Wales Award in 2014 to support her ongoing research into participatory forms and their relationship with sustainability. Thomasreceived her MA in Social Sculpture from Oxford Brookes University, working with Shelley Sacks, where she developed the post-apocalyptic research unit Institute for Imagined Futures & Unknown Lands.
She co-initiated the collaborative and pedagogical groups Art’s Birthday Wales and Forever Academy, works closely with her key collaborator Owen Griffiths, and is a member of the Social Sculpture Research Unit based in Oxford, UK.
From the Watchtower
The Sea and We;
A love affair
From the Watchtower will see the transformation of citizen into learner/observer into active participant. Expanding on a woman’s daily practice of watching the sea from her top floor flat overlooking Swansea Bay, the Watchtower will be activated by the use of a high stool by the window to sit on and the day-long focus and observation (sometimes with binoculars, sometimes without) of the sea.
Across several weeks full days will be dedicated to the act of observing the sea. This act of considered mindfulness will attempt to focus on the sea only, without distraction, holding the image of, and also ‘being with’, the sea. This will provide the space to notice the shifting tides, the changing colours of the sea and also things about the sea which the woman does not yet understand.
At the end of each day observations and thoughts will be transformed into a spoken word / sonic interpretation of the day which will then be made available on the online From the Watchtower Radio Station.
Although in essence a lonely process, with connotations of a future world where a person sits looking at the sea for something yet unknown, this research will extend to include other women who live on the same hill. They will be invited to contribute their thoughts and experiences of having a daily relationship with this body of water visible from their homes. Pre-established contact with others who have a relationship with the sea such as academics working with climatic change and oceanography at Swansea University will form a bank of expertise to call upon at appropriate times during the process (forms of contact and evidence of dialogue to be confirmed).
There will be a resulting sound archive available online as part of the radio station and a small publication will also act a document of the process. This will be printed by Like Lichen a small handmade publishing press and will be the first publication by this press.
I am interested in the savagery of the natural world, misremembered episodes from political history, the three-minute single and not knowing the way. My work, whilst taking a range of forms from film to installation, drawing to performance, is unified by an intellectual and aesthetic rigour. I approach the act of making work with an interest in the process itself and will sometimes invent ornate, often ridiculous systems or methodologies as a mode of production. My work is at once darkly melancholic and blackly comedic.
Stefhan Caddick is a Wales-based artist who works in video, installation and performance. His practice is often a collaborative engagement that sources its materials from institutions, communities and individuals. With an interest in process itself, Caddick invents ornate systems of production that are both melancholic and comedic. He is the recent recipient of the Major Creative Wales Award from the Art Council of Wales (2013), and has been commissioned for various artistic projects including Pickle Lane (2013) at the Fourth Wall Festival, Ghost Parade (2012) at the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad Festival and The Magician’s Cat (2004) at the Welsh National Opera. Caddick is currently a visiting lecturer in Creative Sound and Music at the University of Wales College, where he also earned his MA in Documentary Photography.
“The low night sounds of the jungle drifted over the water; occasionally a marmoset gibbered or the iguanas shrieked distantly from their eyries in the distant office blocks. Myriads of insects festered along the water-line, momentarily disturbed as the swells rolled in … slapping at the canted sides of the pontoon” JG Ballard, ‘The Drowned World’, 1962
Taking its starting point Ballard’s novel of the same name, Drowned World comprises a functional, scaled down prototype of a junk rigged floating survival craft. The craft sits at the centre of a fictional, faceted environment, reminiscent of early video games.
Like Ballard’s 1962 novel, the installation asks questions about what happens to people when the edge is redrawn; and the enduring allure of natural catastrophe – ‘the-end-is-nigh’-ism – as evident in the biblical flood story as it is in contemporary debates about climate change. It also stumbles into issues about migration and whether there’s a survivalist thread hidden within the contemporary ‘maker’.
Ephemeral Coast is an international, 4-year curatorial research project curated by Celina Jeffery (University of Ottawa,Canada).
The primary focus of my research investigates the perceptions of and relationships between places, spaces and human habitation. My questions revolve around how these perceptions underpin our sense of self as well as howlandscape is cultural space – a space formed by and informing culture.
Julia Davis is a site-specific artist based out of Sydney, Australia. Over the past decade Davis’ work has been installed in salt lakes, deserts, coastal precincts, parklands, galleries and built environments. Her practice explores the perceptions and relationships between objects, places and spaces. More recently, Davis’ work has attended to the viewer’s experiential reading of space in terms of temporality and duration. She has exhibited in Australia, Germany, Italy and Spain, and is the recipient of numerous awards including the NAVA NSW artist grant (2011), the Helen Lempriere National Sculpture Award (2007), the Woollahra Sculpture Prize (2006) and the NGSW Director’s prize (2002). She currently teaches sculpture at TAFE and holds an MVA from Sydney College of Arts.
Consilience: as the world turns, 2013/14, Time-lapse HD video, stereo sound, 07:49 (loop).
Concept/performance: Julia Davis
Camera: Alex Cherney
Compositing: Matt Fezz
Sound: Paul Huntingford, Julia Davis Thanks to NASA for extracts of sound from Voyager 1 & 11’s first recording of interstellar space and encounter with Saturn 1980.
My work explores the effect of time on understandings of the body in relation to landscape and how this underpins our sense of self and place. I often work in ‘active‘ landscapes such as deserts, volcanic areas, coastal precincts and salt lakes and am interested in the idea that landscape is cultural space – a space informed by and informing culture.
In geological time, the landscape moves, pulses and crashes in processes of coming into and out of existence. The often, violent imagery of turbulent volcanic ash clouds used in recent works translates here in this vast Southern Hemisphere sky which elicits contradictory feelings of foreboding and rapture. Tension between anticipated loss and subsequent renewal, as well as the duality of processes that create and destroy, corrode and protect are ongoing interests in Davis’s art practice. The ‘active’ places she refers to mirror the fragile human experience of movement, instability, rhythm, reflection and change. In my work, geological time and human perception merge into a single spatial experience and take us closer to a sense of the world as our place.
Through this work, I explore what Elizabeth Grosz calls in her book, The Nick of Time, the “brute world of materiality, a world regulated by the exigencies, the forces of space and time.” I question how our immersion in time and place affects both our sense of embodiment and our perception of ourselves. Her installations, videos and prints evoke desire, vulnerability and anxiety; a sense of being poised at the edge of a world that is fraught with man made and natural disaster.
You can also view Julia’s work produced during an IASKA’s residency in Western Australia, SPACED: art out of place, 2010
One of the central intentions of Ephemeral Coast is to consider new ways of configuring culture and meaning into experiences of environmental change. As a university based curator, I’m interested in how alliances between the visual arts, academia and community can create such opportunities for us to consider this.
South West Wales, which boasts stunning beaches on the Swansea peninsula that sit side by side with a significant industrial past and a commercial present, is an obvious choice for me to locate one of the Ephemeral Coast exhibitions. It offers potential for so many facets of the project’s goals: the gallery hosting the exhibition is situated in a maritime quarter and has the capacity to connect through geographic proximity and community to the cultures of the coast. Moreover, South Wales, along with the West of Wales and most regions in the South of England, have experienced startling and aggressive weather patterns – mostly attributed to climate change, with record storm surges and flooding remapping the physical and I would argue, emotional contours of the coastline with serious ramifications of how we conceptualize living on the coast.
I also grew up in one of the more industrial areas of South Wales and carry very vivid memories of the surprising and often sublime contrasts between this coastal region, the coal, steel and chemical works which dominated the coastal edge and the hills and valleys which envelop the habitats of the communities within. Major aspects of these industries and their associated cultures have now recessed, thwarted by lack of economic regeneration, while the long-term impact of such industries upon the environment have yet to be fully realized. The artists taking part in Ephemeral Coast, S. W. Wales were chosen for a number of reasons, but all have been concerned with the aesthetic problems and conditions that arise from coastal environmental changes occurring within their specific region.
The artists taking part in this exhibition currently employ ideas, themes and methods of exploration and mapping coastal culture and their related ecologies; and all are concerned with practices of site-specificity. Each of the artists produced new work based on the curatorial premise of the exhibition: Stefhan Caddick, (Abergavenny, Wales) will respond to the recent floods in the region with a diorama inspired by J.G. Ballard’s Drowned World, which alludes to nihilism, biblical floods as well as contemporary migrations; Fern Thomas’s (Swansea, Wales) From the Watchtower Radio Station will utilize sound recordings of her own performative practices of observing the sea as well as those of her community for ‘the […] space’ in Mission Gallery; while Julia Davis’ (NSW, Australia) video installation presents a comparative geography in which the artist positions herself ‘at the edge’ of an encounter – with nature’s wonder and imminent ecocide. Meanwhile, Gemma Copp, a Swansea based artist has produced a video for ‘the […] space’ in which she contemplates the breath of the sea and its figurative death.
Leaving Tide, Gemma Copp, 2014
There are always and inevitably gaps in the conceptualization of such projects and their specific realization. The cultural imaginings of coastal environmental changes in local and comparatively global contexts is magnanimous; the task of identifying the ethical and aesthetic potential of curating climate change is a difficult one; and the concept of using the exhibition as a forum for exchange between multiple but related disciplines in academia while also trying to create legitimate engagement with the public sphere is challenging. Yet, if viewed as an event that creates a series of propositions, Ephemeral Coast offers an interesting nexus of dialogue between art, ecology, and community.
Some of these questions fold back on identifying the aesthetic problem itself: the curatorial process offers for me, a unique opportunity to discover, analyze, re-imagine and re-frame the cultural and ethical discourses surrounding environmental change. It is therefore, the very ‘uniqueness’ of Caddick’s drowned world, of Davis’s numinous encounter with the coastal perimeter, of Thomas’s daily observations of the sea and Copp’s fusing of her breath with that of the tide, that present very particular and distinct takes on our relationship to the coast. Indeed, the ‘topic’ of climate change – a nebulous and indistinct phenomenon associated more with changing weather patterns than multifarious economic, political and cultural impacts on the environment, is not overtly or didactically apparent. It is not an exhibition ‘about’ climate change, so much as a series of individual, poetic and socially investigative aesthetic considerations which trace the coast as a liminal, transgressive and ‘ephemeral’ counter-narrative.
Ephemeral Coast is a long-term research project with exhibitions currently planned for Mauritius (2015) and Alaska (2016) with further sites being investigated. A catalogue of Ephemeral Coast – S. W. Wales, will be available, with contributions by Ian Buchanan, Director of the Institute of Social Transformation, University of Wollongong, NSW, Australia; Mary H. Gagen, Associate Professor of Geography and Climate Change, University of Swansea, Wales; and Celina Jeffery.
Local architect, Huw Griffiths’ initial idea, suggested to Amanda Roderick, Director of the Mission Gallery, was for an exhibition of a series of architectural models – proposals for the failing spaces of Swansea. Amanda spoke with me about this idea while I was producing Keeper(s), a collaborative and participatory exhibition at the Gallery and asked if I might want to curate* the project. We soon saw that the plan had to be developed further, and in particular directions, to work within the remit of the gallery and to create a valid and exciting response to the city.
Discussion revealed that ‘the problem’ was that we had to locate or identify ‘the problem’ – and that if there was a problem, or problems, they probably didn’t have an answer – but there might be a hope for many answers. And that while some of these might be in the form of practical ‘problem-solving’ – structures and rearrangements of space and objects – other possibilities, such as changes of vision, viewpoint or policy were emerging – ideas that were both broader and less tangible than the comfort of specific project proposals for a particular sites.
We started to understand that wider philosophical or political views might clash with some of the current directions within urban design and planning, such as a focus on simply encouraging business – ‘shopping’ – back into the centre of the city, and the evident intention to eliminate ‘trouble’ by removing the possibility of public use of much of the public space in the centre of Swansea. (A complaint reiterated in initial conversations with possible exhibitors had been that many open areas have now become car parks or are blankly paved and devoid of seating – and that, cold and wet, they had become not ‘indefensible spaces’, but deserts, ‘defended’ from use, or ‘misuse’ by sheer bleakness.)
Huw Griffiths had introduced his proposal by saying ‘Swansea is s**t’.
So are cities a problem? Is Swansea a problem? Whose problem? Artists and architects are often required to provide ‘solutions’ or to fill the gap between the broader issues of urban planning, economic pressures and ‘the public’. It seemed as if this exhibition could provide the space for debate away from the direct pressure of the ‘project’ and the need for ‘results’.
What happened next?
Amanda Roderick and I approached local artists and architects and found four architects/architectural practices interested in exhibiting, 4 artists – two a collaborative pair – and a writer.
We walked and talked the city together and discovered that walking and talking was a productive method – when we are physically active we think in a different way and find turning left one day instead of right might take us around a corner to a place we had forgotten or never seen.
So – how does change happen? What do we want to change? One idea that emerged as we planned the work for this show is that we change ourselves and others, or change ‘rules’ and perceptions, rather than the fabric of the city. That through creative thinking, through narrative, through drawing, making and asking questions we can change the way we see and use Swansea.
The work started to ask that we consider time, scale and duration – the short span against the permanent, the ephemeral in relation to concrete, brick and stone, cell change in place of the larger project – and that history, often ‘plagiarised’ for the heritage industry, might be considered with the present – that we might see the past emerging in small artefacts, memories and anecdotes to inhabit the same space as the imagined and the now.
The practitioner pairings produced a variety of models for how architects and artists might work together and how their methods and processes diverge and overlap.
Jason and Becky have extended sensory understanding through sound walks and investigated with Niall Maxwell how collaboration might be achieved through social media. Niall Maxwell’s responses through drawing return to the basic common language of artist and architects.
Huw Griffiths and Anna Barratt have met in the most complained of space in Swansea – The Kingsway – to charm and challenge with possibility and poetry.
Owen Griffiths and Andrew Nixon started with the shared concerns of the greening of the city and the re-use of lost spaces and have taken separate but complementary paths to the potential of flat rooftops, guerilla gardening and skateboarding the city.
Lindsey Halton and Catriona Ryan will encourage us to be active participants, to look from our windows and to change how we see what we see, and make poets of us all.
The possibilities that have emerged may dismay, excite, please or bore those who encounter or engage with them.
Could Swansea be a ‘theme park’ devoted to experience not shopping?
Could we remove the traffic from the Kingsway, leaving it to trams and bicycles?
Can we look out of our windows and see the city differently?
Can we all be poets and fill the streets of Dylan Thomas’ city with poetry?
How could we report on Swansea and how might it exist through anecdote, social media or drawing?
Who is already using this city and other cities creatively – what can we learn from them?
Can we find the lost or hidden spaces and use them well?
These ideas are starting points for discussion and permission to dream about what we might want here and to see what we have here already.
‘Table-talks’ across the city will make further discussion visible as panels including the artist and architects meet to talk about the work and the issues around it.
I have now let go of the project a little – let it lift and grow – working with the Mission Gallery staff and volunteers – especially Deirdre Finnerty, Emma Cartwright and Karen Tobin – to make it happen and gently pat the work into being.
The skill of the designers involved in the project has moved the exhibition to completion.
Jason&Becky’s Civic logo has provided a unifying and ongoing identity for the project. While their exhibition design, utilizing the distinctive C, has given eloquent shape to the idea of flexible exhibition space, formed to hold the work, to adapt to and with it, and to accommodate and to encourage the collaborative and discursive activity across the seductively tactile central concrete table. Eifion Porter has made the exhibition furniture with a craftsmanship pleasing to both hand and eye.
J&B’s Civic logo has been developed by Matthew Otten and Rhiannon Pepper into laser-cut building tiles – ‘Civic lego’ – for the Play Build Learn space which occupies the upstairs education area of the gallery. The P B L space is a manifestation within the exhibition of open-ended play as an educational possibility – or imperative – for participants of all ages. Terri Saunders’ Civic sandbags and a variety of building materials, gathered in discussion with Kath Clewett and Ian Cook, permit visitors to explore the idea of free construction as way of thinking and learning – to focus on questions about building and the city – or to ‘de-focus’ and work intuitively with 3D forms, structures and compositions. Learning through making and discussion are central to the exhibition’s intentions and the overall remit of the Mission Gallery.
Matthew Otten’s design for the online/printed material accompanying the exhibition has accommodated the collaborative, improvised approach with a ‘zine –like collection of loose-leaf A4s. A short run has been photocopier printed and clipped together for display and distribution in the gallery, while the online version can be downloaded and printed by individuals. Through online expression the space of the gallery is extended beyond the city, encouraging engagement with a wider audience and development of the project into the future – watch this space…
*What’s a curator to do?
Why does this exhibition have a curator – what does a curator do?
To make what? – an ‘exhibition of ideas’, an essay, or anthology of art works?
But what of form – design – space – the visitor?
I’m looking for the bridge between some kind of accessibility and current practice – between the art language of social engagement and engagement itself – somewhere within the haptic, conceptual, physical, participatory, interactive spectacle – where something that can be said – be made – a communication and an experience(s).
For those of us who have graduated and gone through the process of finding our feet after University, we understand the importance of events such as New Designers. Degree shows can highlight our work yet depending on which university attended, it is a challenge to be seen – to get noticed. Shows such as New Designers cater to a wider audience and allow us to view Graduates work from further afield, to see what we are up against on the start of our creative careers.
I have been fortunate enough to experience this show on all three levels – as an exhibitor, visitor and as part of my role as Retail Supervisor. New Designers is an experience in itself – highly enjoyable, tiring, satisfying and sometimes (nearing the end of the day) frustrating.
As an exhibitor, this event was highly beneficial. Having graduated from a small course, the final degree show consisted mainly of family, friends and past students. It was more of a social affair than a professional one and so having New Designers as something to work towards drove us to work harder, and to consider our work within the wider art world. It is easy to feel safe with those that have seen the work develop and change, there comes a point where an explanation isn’t necessarily needed – the absolute fear of having to explain my work to strangers, pushed me into thinking how best to describe the work clearly and concisely and what to include within the handout information. With such vast numbers of graduates and work, visitors tended to view work quickly, so peaking interest in that short amount of time was important – making sure to allow enough time for visitors to view work before introduction (without either scaring them away or awkwardly hovering), and to treat every visitor equally – as you never knew who you were talking to.
As a visitor, it was a far more relaxing experience – I could freely browse and chat with makers without worrying about getting back to the stand by a specific time. It allowed me to view graduate trends and see if current practice had moved on and developed.
As a returning visitor (with an aim) this year, research conducted beforehand was of utmost importance (an online presence, whether it be a blog, website or some information on the New Designers page is essential; it is very disappointing when you have liked a piece yet cannot find any information on the maker or work, or very limited information – such as only the final degree work, which by this point you may already have seen). With a short amount of time to view as much work as possible, it allowed me to pin point makers of interest right from the start. These starred names became the first point of call at the event, allowing me to either extend interest or to cross them off the list.
It is a very daunting experience exhibiting yet the ability to talk confidently about you and your work transfers confidence to those who are interested in it. PLEASE allow enough time for visitors to view work, there is nothing worse than being set upon before being able to take note of the work itself! A few minutes is enough, introduce yourself and the work (but don’t give everything away all at once) if the person in question is interested they will question you further.
Once the list was exhausted, it was time for a long and detailed sweep of the exhibition; navigating, collecting, chatting, moving on, returning, debating, writing. This was immediately followed by a nice cup of tea whilst delving though the information gathered (which consisted of a few names you may well see within our Craft Space in the near future). A final sweep of the event consisted of anything that immediately caught my eye; original and unique displays and the layout of individual makers and collective stands aid this.
So all in all a long but very satisfying day!
A few notes for future exhibitors:
Be confident in discussing you and your work
Treat every visitor with equal importance
Allow visitors enough time to view work before introduction!
Handout information – is there a way of condencing information as visitors will be collecting information from not only you. This WILL be appreciated!
Online presence – either a blog or website which includes more than just your degree work
Display – with so much to see and so little time, displays which catch the eye on first glance will attract more attention
Rhian Wyn Stone is the Retail Supervisor at Mission Gallery