Documentation has played an important role in my artistic process. I need to witness, reflect both visually and contextually alongside my more practical experiential approach.
This project ‘Merched Chwarel ’has given much to reflect on personally and even more within its collaborative context. It was interesting to see how differently the four of us engaged with these journeys and although we interacted and discussed throughout we remained, in most cases true to our own processes.
In order to digest the conceptual content of these quarry visits I have to relive aspects of the journey, maybe it’s the storyteller in me.
A sunny January day and an opportunity created by Jwls to have a guided tour of Penmaen mawr quarry, the only working one in our choice of quarries(hence being guided) and a granite not a slate quarry. Penmaenmawr translates as ‘The Head of the Great Stone’ and its location on what was once one of the largest Iron Age hill forts in Europe lies high up but right next to the sea. A very masculine environment, we were shown all the old working sheds, abandoned rusty machinery, alongside the prehistoric stone axe factory site of 5,000 years ago.
The working quarry at the top of the ridge looked like a stepped crater, a process which to my eye appeared foreign and so different from the slate quarries .Most of the granite is crushed and mixed with various materials to create concrete and tar for road surfaces and so a very different end product also. As a working quarryman ‘Saj’, who took us around was very focused on the quality of the material and had a sense of pride to be working there. Putting aside the metal fences, the top of the plateau had a strong atmosphere of its own and this yellow marker sign had a shrine like quality.
However, its placement, which is so close to ancient sites such as ‘Meini Hirion’, the Druids Circle of standing stones, burial mounds and cairns, brought conflicting feelings which I would like to explore with the others.
Our last quarry walk was hosted by Lisa in Bethesda which she described as an ‘urban quarry’. It was really interesting to explore areas that are familiar to and by someone who has lived there for a time and also to focus on walking around the edge of the massive Penrhyn quarry .Walking through the lanes of the town and being given the history of the houses and their relationship to the changing landscape was a great introduction. We stopped at Tanysgafell cemetery which has been long abandoned and spent some time looking at the Memorial stones which told a story of struggle and despair. There were many graves that housed whole families, dying within a year of each other. The majority of graves were of young people, children and women, cholera it is rumored between the 1800’s and 1850, all families of the quarry workers.
Our next exploration was of the quarry hospital, now a ruin. It treated the quarry men but not their families which made me wonder if that was why there were so many women and children buried in the cemetery.
Wherever we walked trees seem to be growing against all odds reclaiming the once industrial landscape.
Crossing to the other side of town, we explore the smaller quarries dotted along the sides of Moel Faban with its enclosures and settlements. The cliffs of these quarries are the colour of the heather and I find when I return that there is indeed a slate called Penrhyn Heather grey. There are streaks and spots of light green in much of this red slate which is very appealing to the artistic eye but possibly not to its quality .
So, the quarry visits that we had intended to do have been completed, we decided to return to one, to explore a collaborative sound piece using the echo quality of the quarried ‘twll’ and declaring our’ presence’ within the quarries. It was interesting that in most of the quarry landscapes we visited there was an instinctive response by voice by one or the other of us .I felt very drawn to singing.
The project is now entering the ‘sharing ‘phase with the collaborative process element coming to the forefront .There is much to reflect on and to discuss between ourselves and with others as we conclude the Research and Development phase of ‘Merched Chwarel’
We shall meet at the Llanberis Slate Museum on March 1st with an invited audience to share and discuss our ideas for the future.