Monday, 19 December 2011

Silent Village tours - DOX Centre of Contemporary Art, Prague, Czech Republic. Jan 12 - 9 April 2012

'The Silent Village: Humphrey Jennings / Peter Finnemore / Rachel Trezise / Paolo Ventura, curated by Russell Roberts for DOX Centre for Contemporary Art, Prague: The exhibition opens on January 11 2012 and a symposium is planned to coincide with the exhibition for March 2012 to explore the roles of art and literature to reflect on historical memory. This exhibition coincides with the 70th anniversary of the Lidice atrocity which Humphrey Jenning's original film sought to evoke in his 1943 film of the same name; responses by leading artists Finnemore and Ventura along with the meomrable prose fiction of Trezise, introduce a number of strategies to examine the significance of the film as history and its contemporary relevance.'

                                                                                   Paulo Ventura

                                                                                    Peter Finnemore

On June 10th 1942, the Czechoslovakian village of Lidice, 20km north of Prague, was obliterated by the Nazis following the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich by the Czech resistance. Throughout the West, news of the atrocity was met with outrage that later inspired various acts of commemoration including poems, novels, symphonies and films. These memorials sought to come to terms with the total destruction of a village, a symbolic attempt to try to understand and remember what took place. However, a more immediate response came from within the British Government that turned to film as propaganda to reconstruct the horrific events as if they had taken place in mainland Britain.

Within weeks of the Lidice tragedy, work had begun on translating those events into a film supported by the Ministry of Information, London, that was subsequently made in South Wales. In September 1942, a Crown Film Unit crew arrived in the Upper Swansea Valley at the small village of Cwmgïedd, close to the town of Ystradgynlais. Under the supervision of the artist, poet and filmmaker Humphrey Jennings, they set out to make a short film that recreated the fate of Lidice. The Silent Village (1943) both memorialises a recent tragedy, and alludes to future scenarios involving loss of liberty and ultimately death. 
This exhibition and attendant publications reflect on the distinctive relations of time and place that defined Humphrey Jennings’ original film. The artists Paolo Ventura and Peter Finnemore and the writer Rachel Trezise offer their response to a film that is both a reconstruction of the Lidice atrocity and an account of Welsh life in the early 1940s. The artists’ attention to the power of fiction and generational memory through different modes of storytelling, offers an imaginary and emotionally complex bridge to historical events. In Jan and Krystyna Kaplan’s film The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich (1992), a similar strategy to The Silent Village’s initial dramatisation of history connects with increasing use of fiction as a way of ‘knowing’ the past when seen in relation to archival footage.

Jennings’ remarkable film that fused re-enactment and realism still retains a prominent place in the filmic imagination of Wales and remains an important example of a pioneering documentary practice in the service of the State. The performative and fictional devices used in the original film also have a relevance to expanded ideas of documentary within contemporary art. It is here between official and unofficial histories that new narratives can emerge to broaden the historical imagination, to offer ways that encourage of reflection on what it means to represent the past and to understand better the conditions under which ideas of history are both produced and consumed.
text by Russell Roberts
The Silent Village is a Ffotogallery commission in partnership with the University of Wales, Newport.
Curator: Russell Roberts, Reader in Photography at the European Centre for Photographic Research, University of Wales, Newport

                                                    Humphrey Jennings on set in Cwmgiedd

Saturday, 29 October 2011

I Cannot Escape this Place....

There is truth to the title of the National Galleries of Wales display I Cannot Escape This Place, the inaugural exhibition that opened last June, launching six brand new contemporary gallery spaces within the National Galleries of Wales building complex. This title brings to mind an idea that Wales is the worlds largest open air prison. Traditional escape routes - becoming a master of disguise, tunnelling, sea coracles, helium filled balloons, riding on the backs of wild boars are all doomed to fail. A possible means of escape would be locating a portal, maybe creative actions might map us and lead to that gateway..... ahhhh.. the nostalgia of escape, the attainment of freedom....

 ...well anyways... The debate about the need for a dedicated space to Welsh visual culture at the National Gallery of Wales in Cardiff has been evolving since Peter Lord published his essay 'The Aesthetics of Relevance' (Gomer 1992). These new spaces are a welcomed addition to the arts scene in Wales and will show the range of artwork produced in Wales since the 50's and how they relate to a larger international artistic context. Hence in this new exhibition artworks by Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Richard Long, Keith Arnatt are seen alongside Shani Rhys James, Ivor Davies, Common Culture, Carwyn Evans, Tim Davies, Myself, and Awst & Walther.

All the artworks in this exhibition come from the National Galleries permanent art collection. My contribution to this exhibition contains a series of colour images from the series Lesson 56 Wales and Base Camp, a single screen monitor version of my three daylight screen installation of 31 short films exhibited at the 51st Venice Biennial in 2005.

Radio 4's Today programme did a feature on the opening of the new galleries and the exhibition and I got a mention... Hey ! waking up on a Saturday morning and hearing your name and soundtrack on a national radio station, I just cant escape from this place..... here is a link to the radio feature.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

House That Balthus Lived

My contribution to the exhibition the House That Balthus Lived contains an installation of a single framed photograph and a brand new film entitled 'Stray', 3 mins on a loop. This film has been over a year in the making / thinking / production process and is very bleak !

Moist: The House That Balthus Lived
Opening Event Friday 14th October 7-9pm
Milgi's will be MOIST from Fri 14th Oct 7pm till Wed 19th

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Evan Walters- Blackened Face with Reclining Nude - full essay

here is a link to my complete essay which is fully illustrated, discussing Evan Walters picture Blackened Face with Reclining Nude (1945) which was published in the recent book Evan Walters - Moments of Vision, edited by Barry Plummer.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Water Knows No Frontiers - Tryweryn, the story of a valley

here is a link to the film Water Knows No Frontiers, this is an expressionistic and non linear re-edit of the 38 min film Tryweryn, the story of a valley, made by the staff and pupils at Friars School in Bangor during 1963 - 65, which documented the events surrounding the flooding of the village Capel Celyn and its surrounding farm area. The re-edit includes inserts of the photographs of Geoff Charles who documented the same events for the newspaper Y Cymro. Geoff Charles' son John. was a pupil at the school and also worked on the film. The title for the re-edit is a direct quote from the original film. Water Knows No Frontiers was screened at the Geoff Charles - Heb Eiriau / Without Words exhibition at this years Eisteddfod in Wrexham. It is hoped that it will get further screenings in the near future such as the Drwm Theatre at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.

Dafydd Roberts, Caefadog
chairman of the Capel Celyn defence committee
farmer, postman, councillor and deacon

buried in Llanycil Cemetery on Oct 15 1965

On the stones of this cemetery are names
Renowned for their bravery,
of those names, your name will be
Alluring in its glory

                                                                          Geraint Bowen

here is a further link to a set of chapters of original film produced by Friars School, this is on the Casglu'r Tlysau / Gathering of the Jewels - the website for Welsh cultural history

Friday, 12 August 2011

Geoff Charles 'Without Words / Heb Eiriau' installation - Wrexham Eisteddfod 2011

link from National Library of Wales on the opening of the exhibition
Press release 


A major exhibition celebrating the work of Wrexham photographer, Geoff Charles, will be showcased at the forthcoming National Eisteddfod of Wales, to be held in the town. Curated by artist Peter Finnemore and Curator / Writer, Russell Roberts, Without Words aims to to make the richness and extent of the Geoff Charles archive at the National Library of Wales better known and understood.

For nearly 50 years, Geoff Charles (1909-2002), a press photographer from Brymbo, quietly recorded daily life in Wales - a country transformed by post-war mechanisation of farming and industry, the acquisition of land for nuclear power and reservoirs and subsequent rise of nationalist politics. He  covered the mundane, the prosaic, the remarkable and the exotic that made up daily life in the countryside, villages, towns and cities. School portraits, civic ceremonies, festivals, accidents, new consumer goods and fashions, all formed the staple diet of newspaper content.

“Geoff Charles’ dedication and understanding of people and their surroundings allowed him to access situations and capture them in a unprecedented way,” said the curators. “

Peter Finnemore and Russell Roberts’ research involved trawling through the vast archive of some 120,000 prints and negatives held at the National Library of Wales
 “It has been a rollercoaster journey through a fascinating social and cultural period in Welsh history that is still part of national living memory that is always guaranteed to produce differences of opinion,” they said. “Never destined to be shown in a gallery environment, Geoff Charles’ photographs, in some cases, when isolated from the words and captions that once framed them, take on another life.”

“In re-presenting a selection of his pictures as new prints, projections and interspersing his images into archival film footage, we alter how these pictures were originally seen in terms of scale and make them perform differently. “

The exhibition also features a film produced by the boys of Friars School, Bangor during the early 1960s. Shot in vivid colour, it portrays the eviction of the village of Capel Celyn and its surrounding farms to build a new reservoir primarily for residents and businesses of Liverpool. 'The Story Tryweryn', involved Geoff Charles' son a pupil at the school who worked as a cameraman. Since 1956, Geoff Charles had covered the events and ramifications of the flooding of the Tryweryn valley in some detail.

“Combining the photographs with the film, produces some interesting social, cultural and political differences. The collision of the still and moving image, of garish Kodachrome colour with monochrome, of amateur cinematography and newspaper coverage of events, conveys something of the deep tensions of the period.”

Without Words : The Photographs of Geoff Charles is exhibited at Y Lle Celf, National Eisteddfod of Wales, Wrexham & District, 30 July – 6 August 2011.

Without Words : The Photographs of Geoff Charles was commissioned by the National Eisteddfod of Wales with the assistance of the National Library of Wales and the Univesity of Wales, Newport and Swansea Metropolitan University. The exhibition is supported by a grant from Arts Council of Wales.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Evan Walters - moments of vision

Last Week, Seren Books published their new art publication Evan Walters - moments of vision. This was launched at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery in Swansea which was appropriate as the Gallery holds a substantial archive on the paintings of Evan Walters.

Evan Walters (1893 - 1951) was born in Llangyfelach, Wales. He painted a variety of subject matter and styles including, portraits and landscapes, he explored perception and its representation through a style which evoked 'double vision'. His career is bookended by extremities of the treatment of painting and subject matter. His early paintings of miners are exceptional, they are grounded in observation and fact, while his last painting style are free-floating products of the imagination.

This book was edited by the wonderful Barry Plummer and contains around 70 written responses to a single painting / drawing by Walters. Contributors include, artists, cultural commentators, authors, curators, politicians, musicians , etc. This book becomes a valuable introduction to this overlooked painter. This book can be purchased at Seren Books and all royalties go to Noah's Ark appeal to a children's hospital.

My contribution to this book is a 1500 word essay which explores my introduction to the Walters' paintings and discusses a painting called 'Blackened Face with Reclining Nude', which made a strong impression on me while I explored the Walters archive.
As a taster to the essay, here is a short edit ................

...his has been an interesting artistic journey about moving away from the social and industrial reality and the harsh facts of the industrial world and ending in a vision of pure fantasy, subjectivity and the unconscious. Resembling a combination of Munch, Magritte (his vache period) and outsider art. Notions of perception move from the science and truth of looking into emotional truths. The art mirrors this journey and become signposts. I guess the destination of this journey is something that Walters would not have planned or even wished for. Art is ultimately a portrait of the artist at a given time. Everything changes, and the world often disappoints. Art becomes a way to manage disappointment. Then, as now, artistic ambition, creative freshness, intellectual clarity, physical vitality gives way to the realism of entropy. With these works one should not be quick to judge but quick to empathize...

This theme of identity is taken up again and my personal favorites in these naïve series are a few paintings that take a backwards glance and readdresses the industrial themes of his earlier work. They are given a treatment that is wholly fresh and untypical of the industrial genre and include ‘Blackened Face with Reclining Nude’. This is a painting of cinematic arrangement; set within an ambiguous outdoor landscape, the foreground is dominated with a brooding male head, with blackened face of a collier, a full-bodied reclining female nude occupies the background. This is a complex and contemporary image, which transgresses on a number of levels. Here, Walters plays with our expectations of the stereotype of the macho, rugged, hard collier brutalized by their work, their faces blackened and made anonymous by coal dust. It is not only artists who stereotype miners but miners themselves are complicit in this identity construction through their own projection of self and self image. This is role-playing and social based theatre.

Blackened Face with Reclining Nude is a rare example of transgression occurring within mid 20th Century Welsh art practice, here is an industrial / sexual narrative of role-playing and fantasy. This is a very risky image. Tragic / comic and sinister stereotypes amalgamate here, that of the collier, black and white minstrel and Gimp-like S & M character, creating an unsettling, strange and uncanny image that is untypical of the industrial genre. Coal dust covers the face, transforming it into a sinister and solid black mask concealing identity (Evans was a painter of camouflage during the first world war so he knew the value of disguise). The dark sooty mask becomes a negative image of the self, a psychological shadow of darkness enveloping the skin and manifestating itself on the outside like a dark curse. The viewer is teased to create a possible narrative between the relationship of the inviting female nude figure in the background and the ‘Collier’, whose turned away head reveals downcast eyes full of melancholic guilt, sexual fantasy and longing. Clues to the identity of the individual underneath the mask is hinted within the facial areas not blackened, around the eyes and mouth. Revealing a vulnerable, sensitive young man, whose sensuality is emphasized by his ruby red lips. 

Cover: Paperback
Date: 1st July 2011
IBSN: 9871854115423

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Lost in Translation - the photographs of Geoff Charles

Over the past few months myself and Russell Roberts, Reader in Photography at UWN and former Head of Photography at the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, have been collaborating on a curatorial project on the photographic work of Geoff Charles. Commissioned by the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth and National Eisteddfod of Wales we are assembling a mixed media installation of photographs, slide show projections and film that opens up a new understanding of the imagery of Geoff Charles in relation to both cultural and photographic art contexts. The exhibition will be displayed at this August at the National Eisteddfod in Wrexham.

Geoff Charles was a press photographer whose career spanned five decades, his images record the lives and moments of ordinary people in Wales. He worked for a number of magazines and newspapers including; The Wrexham Star, Montgomeryshire Express, Y Cymro and Farmers Weekly. Working as a press photographer allowed him access to photograph a wide range of daily Welsh experiences.  As a body of work; which the National Library of Wales holds his archive of around 120,000 negatives, his images are mostly typical generic press images. But within this vast archive are a number of fresh and starling imagery which are astonishing !

His best known iconic image is that of Carneddog and his wife leaving home in the Carneddau Mountains for the last time (1945). Geoff Charles' work has been exhibited before and a number of volumes of his work is published by Y Lolfa. These contexts have located his work within cultural nostalgia. Our roles as curators is to draw out new and alternative possibilities of interpreting this archive and to enjoy the sheer visual verve of his best imagery which defies an easy cultural reading.

Our working title Lost in Translation, refers to the fact that when Charles' photographs are published in newspapers and books, their visual quality are ill served and diminished through cropping, montage and through poor reproduction quality.

Some of Charles' best known imagery records the events leading to the drowning of Capel Celyn and Tryweryn Valley in 1963. We have also come across a film made by Geoff Charles' son, who as a schoolboy made a film about these events. It seems that father and son worked side by side, recording through photography and 16 mm film one of the most culturally significant events in late 20th century Welsh history. We will be showing an edit of this film inter-spread with Charles' photographs.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Project Object - Disco Groove

Here are some installation imagery of the groove exhibition at Oriel Myrddin's project object exhibition.

Although i'm familiar with the gallery, it was still quite a shock to see that when the gallery is emptied of art it is a much larger space than it looks (time to go back and get another 70 records I thought). As well as being spacious, it has high walls and beautiful soft daylight. The exhibition ended up with around 200+ records, a film on a monitor, some archival images of the original production of these Welsh language records, a coal covered record by Jonathan Anderson, a dansette record player (kindly lent by JakeWhittaker); on which the staff and public played any records they wanted to listen to.... and finally the coup d'état — a rotating disco ball.

On Friday, May 13th we held an event at the gallery in the form of a disco — playing a 3 hour set of these records with some audio samples taken from my collection of snippets from films / tv etc. To give the event a contemporary musical presence we invited Matt who is a DJ and owner of the wonderful independent record shop in Carmarthen the Tangled Parrot, and his friend Iwan, a great sound engineer to put together a 45 min set which gave their own interpretation of what this genre of music means to them. This contemporary mix helped to offset any retro nostalgia of my own playlist. It was a fun evening, with lots of goodwill and warmth with around 60 people of all ages and backgrounds turning up, including David Alston, the Head of the Arts Council of Wales. The records / installation and music became a focal point, a source of communal gathering to celebrate music and community.

here is a link to Matt and Iwan's mix - check it out...

here is a link to expressionist video footage shot by Joehari Lee of the event

oriel myrddin link to the event

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Project Object - Oriel Myrddin; May 4 - 14th

From April 19th to June 18th Oriel Myrddin in Carmarthen are embarking on an exhibition entitled Project Object. Over this period 4 artists - Carwyn Evans, myself, Becky Adams and Jools Johnson each have the gallery for 2 week sections where we will be individually exploring stories, history, memory and culture through objects and their association.

From May 4th until May 14th I will be exhibiting my collection of 7" vinyl collection of records that have associations with Wales, particularly Welsh language music from the 60's until the early 70's. I consider these artefacts as expressions of authentic folk art. This is an archive of kitsch imagery, popular song, democratic and inclusive all musical styles from that period. These packaged artefacts are cultural relics of modernism in a specific and marginal context.

This interaction with the gallery will take the form of an installation where alongside a grid of vinyl records, I will be showing a video I made entitled Awenau, which refers to the culture of Welsh pop, music, the muse, dance and courtship.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

"... a profound visual intelligence"

Photography and Culture, published by Berg, is an international refereed journal that publishes research papers, discursive critiques and reviews. The current issue - volume 4 no.1, March 2011 contains a review by Paul Gough of the Silent Village exhibition which was shown at Oriel Mostyn in Llandudno and Turner House in Penarth. He responds very positively to the show and kindly comments with generosity upon my own photographic artwork.

Here is a section of his review...…

"....Finnemore's work, by comparison, appears to offer only a very oblique take on the Lidice incident, but like much of his corpus of work addressing memory retrieval, his photographs benefit from close and slow scrutiny. Typically mournful, accidental, and occasional, they approach their subject indirectly; tucked away amongst the stacked pile of shabby video-cassettes and tapes in one photograph, for example, is a copy of Jennings film; in another an old tin for a roll of Agfa film is stamped "Made in Germany," its contents unknown and more ominous for that fact. More obvious references to the doomed village are represented through images of commemorative stamps and souvenirs such as fridge magnets and ornaments. 

There is a profound intelligence here, but also as Robert's comments in a penetrating catalog essay, an impish humour is at work. It sits uneasily alongside images of decay and dustiness, caught in a tense dynamic of unwanted occupation, colonial dominance and contested histories.

Along with Ventura's discomforting portraits, Treszie's necessarily awkward story, and Roberts's insightful analysis, this show adds immensely to Finnemore's standing and to his continuing engagement with familiarity and obscurity, a gentle mapping of personal circumstance bought into sharp relief by the grim events at Lidice and it's lingering aftermath"

Paul Gough is Deputy Vice Chancellor at UWE, Bristol. He was Chair for art and design at the RAE panel in 2008. He is also a painter, broadcaster and writer. His research interests include commemoration of the cultural geographies of battlefields, and the representations of peace and conflict in the 20th and 21st century.

Sunday, 20 March 2011 - My New Home Website is launched

Around 1992, when I was a graduate student at the University of Michigan, I first encountered digital technology. Upon matriculation the University provided us with an e mail account, and something called voice mail, two aspects of technology I did not use in my entire three years there. I did however find use for the 24 hour access three large media labs dotted around the huge campus. These open plan, fluorescent lit labs had hundreds and hundreds of word processing computers. After the Grad library and Pinball Pete's these labs were my favourite Uni hang out places, where late into the night I would write essays, surf what little of the net was out there and play endless games of Tetris and Space Wars.

In my final year there, I was a Teaching assistant for a beginners photography course - Photo 101. As it going to be my final teaching session there, I decided to push the anarchy button and set the children free.  Following Joseph Beuys' ideas of inclusivity, I accepted on to the course anybody who was not an art major, but wanted to study photography, it was a rainbow nation, a whole international and social spectrum from models, golf scholars, punks, hedonists, tennis gigolos, Detroit hard cases, weirdos, Christians and a bunch of Austrian architects. It was the best art class dynamic ever. In the spirit of creative anarchy, and for the sheer fun of it, were mixing coca cola with film developer.... the fizz however tends to make the tank lid shoot off. One of the students who signed up was an electrical engineering graduate student called Nelson M; who designed computer code and databases, a mature student from Porto Rico who apparently signed up for  photo class, not to learn about photography but in order to meet up with art chicks. These were exactly the kind of people I was looking for.

About this time Nelson told me about the possibilities of cyber space, that I, as a photographer could create an electronic page and put images in a virtual space and they would be available to a potential global audience. Hey! this sounds like a good idea, using new technologies to broaden audience possibilities, creating random connections and allowing new unexpected opportunities. At this point in time, the web was new and fresh and there were not many artists pages in cyberspace, it was an opportunity to be at the vanguard of a new medium One could basically be anywhere and communicate to a global audience, one did not have to located in a metropolis centre to reach a mass audience. The centre now potentially everywhere (even Llanelli) as long as you had a computer. However a good idea this seemed, I like to leave ideas was to be another 15 years before I finally got around to organising my web site. Im comfortable with slow time. Being unavailable also does have its uses, it gives freedom for reinvention, it creates a fog of uncertainty around an individual. Through easy accessibility and familiarity with the artworks and artist, people can tie them down with their thoughts and may become an affair that is taken for granted. When nothing is assured we remain alert. In the experience of art, the viewers / audience's effort, emotional and intellectual alertness completes the artistic contract. When ones main point of contact through artworks is through direct gallery experience it becomes an act of ritual, a pilgrimage. However I am open to possibilities of creating an architectural space, a virtual interactive gallery, where the virtual audience has to walk, catch a train bus or plane to get to a cyber gallery. Discussions with architects and software designers are in progress, but thats for the future.

Taking time in creating my new home-site has allowed me to accumulate a number of substantial projects since my days in Michigan. This site has evolved organically, designed as an archive, to allow greater accessibility to a broad range of images and projects that I have been pursuing throughout my artistic career. It has been a challenge to organise the chapters, images and statements into a coherent cohesive whole, which is also clear to navigate. The site aims to be comprehensive but not complete, there are some projects, and many more images belonging to the web chapters which are not put online. Its important that a bank of images are not subject to audience overfamiliarity and overexposure. The internet can become a means to consume and devour images quickly. As I wish a degree of image contemplation, the site has been designed with no forward image button; which may be frustrating, this however, slows the process of viewing images down, in order that one cannot click through 25 years of projects in one sitting.

The site was built by Brett Aggersberg (Media Lecturer at University of Wales Trinity St David's, in Carmarthen) and designed by myself and Brett.