Inspired by the ancient Japanese art of Kintsukuroi, participants of the creative wellbeing groups worked with the metaphor that wounds and imperfections make us stronger: we become more beautiful for having been broken.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
-Leonard Cohen, from Anthem
Dod yn ôl at fynghoed: this is the title of the latest Creative Schools project I am working on in Tonypandy. In Welsh, it translates as “to return to my trees”, or “to return to a balanced state of mind”. The aim is to bring the children back into contact with nature through outings, stories, and creativity: collecting and printing leaves, working with clay, and willow weaving. There is a small area in the school yard that is to be transformed into a nature portal, a magical area the children can retreat to.
On an outing to a local forestry area, the children collected natural items to form a gateway into the woods where stories would be shared. Some had never been walking in a forest before. They jumped through the gateway in turn reciting the password: I mewn i’r goedwig hudol! (Into the magical forest!)
Discovering a fairy stone, and puffball mushrooms.
Doing leaf rubbings using wax crayons.
Working with clay.
Clay sculptures inspired by the woods and stories.
As part of the Lead Creative Schools scheme – a joint Arts Council of Wales and Welsh Government initiative – Year 3 children at Beaufort Hill Primary School in Ebbw Vale have been collaborating on a storytelling project. They have brought together a small group of creative practitioners to help them create their own stories based on The Greedy Zebra and The Crafty Chameleon by Mylene Hadithi, making masks, creating performances and dance. I have helped them to create four banners of their stories using a combination of cyanotype and monoprint.
For the first workshop, I asked the children to draw their impression of the stories onto acetate. I then printed the drawings onto the material back at the workshop. For the second workshop, the children created borders around the prints using a selection of leaves to print impressions in different colours onto a yellow background.
I was impressed how quickly the children picked up the stages of the printmaking: squeezing and rolling out the inks, placing their leaf carefully onto the inked plate, covering it with paper and rolling again until the ink had saturated the leaf enough to get a strong print, peeling the leaf carefully from the plate, transferring it to the banner, and rolling it again to create the impression. They worked in small teams, experimenting with colour combinations and enjoying the chance to get messy!
Vishniac is best known for having created one of the most widely recognised and reproduced photographic records of Jewish life in Eastern Europe between the two World Wars. This exhibition features iconic works from his career spanning the 1920s to the late 1970s. Vishniac’s work reflects the influence of European modernism using sharp angles and dramatic use of light and shade to inform his subject matter. Raised in Moscow, he immigrated to Berlin in 1920 following the Bolshevik Revolution.
Many of his images document Berlin changing from an open, intellectual society to one where militarism and fascism were closing in. In 1935, he was commissioned to photograph impoverished Jewish communities in Eastern Europe to support relief efforts.
The accompanying briefs help to put the work in context, and this exhibition is endlessly thought-provoking and poignant.
In 1955, Edward Steichen described the importance of Vishniac’s work. ”[He]…gives a last- minute look at the human beings he photographed just before the fury of Nazi brutality exterminated them. The resulting photographs are among photography’s finest documents of a time and place.”
For Guido Guidi, contemplating begins with avoiding clichés, rather than composing. After various early experiments with black-and-white photography at the end of the 1960s, he began using colour negatives in a large-format camera. The exhibition at Large Glass Gallery features 27 prints to coincide with the publication ‘Per Strada’.
The road runs from Milan to Rimini, via Bologna, through Guido Guidi’s home city Cesena. It is also the road that Guidi has travelled along since he was fifteen and is the thread that joins the 285 photographs, taken between 1980 and 1994, illustrated in the three-volume book.
Guidi closely observes ordinary things and in between, liminal spaces on and around the via Emilia.
“It is a way of bowing down before things. And that is the religious aspect, a respect for things, for the blade of grass and wanting to give back by means of a precise photograph, where the execution of the detail is perfect, absolute, with no grain. The photograph must be absolute, transparent and cannot be corrected and reviewed later. As Didi-Huberman says, for the ancient painters of the 1400s, the act of imitagere or copying nature was in itself an act of devotion. Not necessarily mastery or technical virtuosity but an act of devotion towards things, the “things which are nothing” as Pasolini says.” – Guido Guidi
This still life of a bowl of cherries sitting on a copy of the newspaper La Repubblica was particularly striking: the cherries have long ago rotted away; the events in the paper are long out of date.
There is something zen-like and refreshing in the way each shot is carefully set up and unedited. It brings to mind John Cage’s ‘Silence 4.33’, that reduces music to nothing in order to focus on the surrounding noises.
Sometimes, you will catch a glimpse of the photographer himself in the shot, or the edge of the lens itself. For him, this is part of the process, drawing attention to the fact that a photograph is a frame, not the whole world.
Guidi is opposed to the the idea of the “decisive moment” made popular by Henri Cartier-Bresson. According to Guidi: “All moments are decisive – and none.” His work is not about the decisive moment but the “provisional moment” – the idea that this moment is one of a procession of many.
“All photographs are monuments. If you photograph this cup on the table, for example, it gives it importance. And over time, photographs become more and more like monuments.”
United Welsh Housing invited me to run some printmaking sessions centred around the theme of reconnecting with loved ones through card-making. Libraries in Llanrumney and Ely are transforming into multi-purpose hubs, with a view to connecting and supporting the local community, and we were able to encourage service users of all ages who were there to access other services, to give the printmaking a try.
Participants reported that they found the process of creating their own card designs, inking them up and printing them, very satisfying.
Some of the cards, created using styrofoam pizza bases, etched into and cut out.