Ephemeral Coast Curator’s Perspective: Celina Jeffery

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

The Mission Gansey | Angela Maddock

Fisherman’s ganseys (or guernseys) are knitted garments usually produced by the wives, sisters, mothers and daughters of fishermen. Common to fishing ports throughout the British Isles, they were most prolific on the east coast, but also indigenous to the Netherlands.

Angela knitting the gallery
Angela teaching a contributor how to knit in Mission Gallery

Ganseys are knit in the round on circular or double pointed needles and are transferred to two needles when the body reaches the arm, at which point the back and front are knit separately. Arms are also knit in the round. Ganseys are essentially seamless, though many will include a mock seam at either side of the body and along the inside of the arms. Gansey patterns are vernacular and there are many. Whilst each gansey has its own distinct pattern for example The Filey or The Flamborough, patterns often share similar motifs, including marriage lines, cables, diamonds, anchors, hearts and pennants.Ganseys often include the initials of the wearer above the front welt and popular myth holds that the patterning of the gansey could identify the bodies of fishermen drowned at sea.

Mission Gallery was formerly a Seaman’s Mission and Swansea has a strong seafaring tradition. Interestingly ganseys are absent from Welsh cultural heritage. What this discovery enabled was the opportunity to create a gansey and I choose to do this for the gallery to acknowledge its past and to celebrate the gallery’s on-going contribution to Swansea’s contemporary culture.

A beginner learning how to knit and adding a few stitches to the gansey
A beginner learning how to knit and adding a few stitches to the gansey

Mission Gansey is concerned as much with communicating the language of knitting as it is with fostering a sense of locale. It seems that some craft traditions, like knit, have the vernacular materially embedded within them and thus potentially contribute to a sense of place or belonging. Within the Mission Gansey project is an attempt to explore how I might articulate the idea of belonging through the design and fabrication of a garment, a long-term ambition is to create a Swansea Gansey in collaboration with the City’s fishing community.

Lasercut Knitting Pattern
Lasercut Knitting Pattern, ‘Co-respondents’ exhibition in Mission Gallery, March 2014

The whole process meant I needed to learn how to chart a knitting pattern, essential to the design of a gansey with its rich and complex combinations of knit and purl. I cannot measure with any accuracy how long it took me to develop a design that was true to the gallery and also ‘worked’. The process was overwhelmingly characterized by a troublesome engagement with maths, which was never my favorite occupation.

If we identify a pattern we assume it has some significance and make an effort to decode it. This is true for gansey designs particularly and explains some of my internal negotiation over the patterns in the Mission Gansey, should they relate to the fabric of the building, or what it stood for? In the end, it features both. Code breakers will spot the three windows of the apse, but also the signs of celebration with which the gallery is also associated. I am hopeful that gallery staff and visitors will contribute to the knitting of the gansey, that you will add your loops and turns to its fabric and contribute to its making.

Angela Maddock designed the gansey pattern for the Co-respondents exhibition at Mission Gallery in March and now you are invited to help Angela knit it up. She needs help with reading the pattern and is also keen for you to share your tales of the sea… bring along objects and photographs to contribute to her on going project and even knit a few stitches into our gansey.

Angela will be in the gallery at certain dates throughout the year following her successful knitting day on Bank Holiday Monday in May. These dates are yet to be confirmed so please check Mission Gallery’s Events page for details in the coming weeks.