Friday, 6 May 2016

Last Dance of the Avant Garde

Penarth Pier Pavilion is holding an art exhibition.  My companion Elinor Gotland and I circled the hall in opposite directions, examining each piece in silence.  Standing in front of what looked like a metal greenhouse workbench, I wondered if the thin grass growing on the tray was real or artificial. Oblong white blocks lay on top.  I read the card beside it.  'Untitled (lard)'.  Blimey.  I peered more closely.  Those blocks really did look like lard.  What would happen if the weather warmed up?  Light coming through high windows left the lower walls in shadow, maybe 'Untitled (lard)' would have been safer over there in the gloom, by my own picture, 'Last Dance'.
Seeing it hung among the other pieces was like meeting an old friend in a strange town.  A small shock, a reappraisal, a what are you doing here?  Elinor joined me, looked at Last Dance for a moment, then moved on without a word.  I busied myself looking through the viewfinder of a plywood version of one of those boxed binoculars you sometimes see at seaside resorts.  No need to feed coins into this one.  Inside, in stop motion animation, birds flapped on the beach, people dumped junk and finally, an oil platform blew up.

"This an art exhibition, is it?  Bloody rubbish, man."  
Three visitors had come in and one had a bell in every tooth.  They were approaching the small TV, where you could watch a film of someone changing her bra without taking her top off.  
"That's porn, that is."  
The South Wales accent does lend itself to expressing a forthright opinion.
Me, I was just bewildered.  

While I have been letting rip just lately blogging about making unlikely wool works, that was not quite as spontaneous an outburst of creativity as it might have seemed.  They were all geared toward The Makers Guild in Wales summer exhibition on the theme 'Weave'.  It was open to anyone to enter and I duly sent in photos of my 'Belles Dames sans Merci'.  All three were refused, which made it even more disorientating to have had Last Dance accepted in Penarth, after a submission made in haste a couple of months ago, on the strength of a chance conversation with a felt artist I was chatting to in the craft shop.  I don't think she anticipated anything like this show either.

"Come on, Beaut, let's go out the back way, through the cafe."  Elinor was at my elbow, steering me towards a pot of tea.  We sat down at a table outside and I piled sugar into my cup while my companion lit up.  The waitress came out and told us smoking wasn't allowed.  Moving to a bench further down the pier, we looked back at the seafront, where not so much as a crisp packet littered the beach, the buildings all looked freshly painted and the only dirty car parked on the esplanade was mine.  I wished I was twenty miles further west, back on the tideline of the Ogmore estuary, enjoying my smoke on a driftwood log amid the comfortable squalor of washed up shoes and plastic bottles.
 "I'm sorry, Elinor, I had no idea Penarth art exhibition was going to be like this, I've not a clue why they picked my work, I don't know what to make of any of them."
Elinor howled with laughter.
"If they'd wanted people to understand the art, they'd have put little explanations up.  Did you hear that woman saying 'Bloody rubbish!'?  Brilliant, Beaut, bloody brilliant."  
"Well, I don't speak the right language to say what is or isn't rubbish art and I'd have liked a bit of help understanding some of the other things in the exhibition.  I feel such a fraud.  Even the lady on the reception desk had an art degree."
"Better to be a selected artist than a rejected maker.  Drink up your tea and come, my Bohemian chum, we shall not be leaving a tip."  Stubbing out her fag in the saucer, my companion strode back toward the pavilion.  I gathered up the crockery and hurried behind.  Elinor swung round on her hoof for long enough to shout  "You do realise what this means, don't you, Beaut? You're going to have to wear a beret now you've joined the avant-garde!"

Making celtic type knots from the different flight patterns of bees when they are searching for or finding nectar seems to me more comprehensible than a recording of their buzzing.  If I tell you Last Dance celebrates the vitality of those who make the most of their season, that the bees still dance at the frayed edge of summer in the face of the autumn wind, does that make you see it differently?


  1. I entered a 'fiber arts' exhibit once. I had a crocheted piece made of wool I had spun and dyed. It was interesting, but when I saw the others pieces mine was pretty traditional. Helen

    1. Nothing wrong with traditional - very often, it is the apex of ancient eons of innovation and still in common use because it is so good. Thanks for the empathy, much appreciated.

  2. maybe the point of the lard art (nice rhyme:) was that it will vanish in the sunshine (or at least leave a nice mess...). I am not a fan of this kind of stuff either - though I don't feel the need to understand it, as long as it visually pleases me - like yours. I like the diffuse colours and the sense of movement on it - autumn gales on a beach maybe? it gave you a chance to be seen though - maybe people remember it as one of the pieces that did make sense to them?

    1. Well, I have to admit, that (lard) has made me think. I wondered if it was a view on obesity, or sunbathing, or both. Disappointing to read this on the facebook page 'Untitled (lard), Steel, soil, grass, lard, NFS. Lisa's work explores form; confronting the boundaries of material and object manipulation. A laboured and physical approach evokes sculptural components that are constructed within an installation context.' I am not much the wiser. And I do appreciate the chance to be seen, whatever the comments. Thanks for yours, yes, it is indeed onshore winds over the dunes.

  3. Love the mix of metal and fabric with an adorable bee.
    One saying I keep is,
    The woods would be very silent,
    If the only birds that sang there
    We'er those that sang best.

    Susan (Pembs).

    1. Thanks Susan. Good to see you at wonderwool. I find I have a considerable amount of scouring to do before I can dye my purchases :)

  4. Never mind the exhibition, you've made my day with "the bees still dance at the frayed edge of summer in the face of the autumn wind". Beautifully written!