Emma Geliot's picture

 

 

 

 

Ben Lloyd at Penquoit Centre for Popty 2015 Ben Lloyd at Penquoit Centre for Popty 2015

 

 

On the Western tip of Wales, just as Autumn began to bluster, a group of artists, some from the UK, some from South Africa, converged to make work together for Popty 2015. Petra Aydin Barberini visits a lively collaboration

 

 

What an earth possessed anyone to artificially transplant artists from Southern African countries to wet rural Wales? Not only was the autumn climate becoming increasingly uninviting, the financial climate within Wales was testing. I arrange to meet the organiser of Popty, Victoria Malcolm, at the Penquoit Centre in Pembrokeshire, to find out more about a project named after the Welsh word foroven .

 

 

Oriel Q Gallery, in Narberth, and Oriel Myrddin Gallery, in Carmarthen have hosted presentations of the artists work, but the bulk, of the fortnight would be spent at the Penquoit Centre, Llawrenny, a rural hostel based in historic Pembrokeshire longhouses. I bet there will be a sweat hut and at some point someone will howl at the moon I thought grumpily as I meandered down the tight country lanes.

 

 

 

 

The workshop marquee The workshop marquee

 

 

The courtyard is dominated by a white marquee and a buzz of materials and artists in wellies and overalls. Igshaan Adams called over to greet me with a big smile and handed me over to Victoria Malcolm.

 

 

Over tea and bara brith Victoria filled me in on the roots and aspirations of the project. I m slightly distracted by the cornrows in her white hair at odds with her stateswoman-like bearing, I felt reassured that Victoria was definitely not going to put up with any howling at the moon shenanigans. She self-consciously tells me the African artists have been at work on her hair.

 

 

Malcolm, an established artist, had been cooking up (pardon the pun) the Popty project since the 2010. Whilst on a residency in Cape Town, South Africa, Malcolm heard of the New York based Triangle projects and its 33 years history of assembling diverse groups of artists, ranging from emerging to mid-career artists, with national and international profiles, without any expectation whatsoever of the outcome. The ambition to bring international artists to West Wales was strengthened during her work on the 2011 Venice Biennale and time at the Thupelo 2012, international artists' workshop at Triangle Network's Bag Factory studios in Johannesburg.

 

 

The Arts Council of Wales gave its blessing for her international core team, Igshaan Adams, Clifford Zulu, Witty Nyide, Peter Barker and Louise Bird, running a pilot Popty project in 2013 to bring African artists to Wales.

 

 

It s all about sharing of skills. Using new media. Process over product. The results are a show of process not a presentation. New lines of enquiries to take further at another time , Malcolm explains,It s crucial to choose nice people. Highly socialised people. After all we re living in dormitories cheek by jowl for two weeks .

 

 

 

 

Rose Seymour and Victor Mutelekesha Rose Seymour and Victor Mutelekesha

 

 

Malcolm and the core Popty team have scouted for and selected emerging and mid career artists that fit this sharing cooperative dynamic. Out in the courtyard I meet Rose Seymour, ceramist and jeweller, who is showing students from Carmarthen School of Art around. Seymour has been given time off from her residency at the art school to attend the workshop.It s been an amazing experience", she enthuses. Seymour has found that a natural collaboration has formed with Victor Mutelekesha, a well-respected mid-career artist from Zambia, who now lives in Norway.

 

 

Mutelekesha says,The beauty of Popty is the collaboration, I see the way one of the younger artists work and I see myself in them, things I ve forgotten. I find answers that I ve been looking for years.

 

 

Rose and Victor playfully rush off to bring a huge driftwood tree stump into the yard.I saw this and thought,Rose is going to love this , I couldn t wait to show her. They have lovingly cleaned the piece and burnished it until the natural grain of the wood shows through. Victor is almost parental in the enjoyment he hasin finding the perfect piece of wood, encouraging Rose to move away from small jewellery pieces onto large sculptural work.

 

 

 

 

Rebecca Glover and Igshaan Adams Rebecca Glover and Igshaan Adams

 

 

Not all thought they would find collaboration easy. Rebecca Glover, from London, and Igshaan Adams, from South Africa, both admitted collaboration was not normally their thing. Now they are working intensely together, binding fabric ticking onto branches. Their collaboration began by accidentas they both had eyed up the same materials and, rather than fight over it, worked together. They described the joy of working with Joseph Coetzee and Francois Knoetze and how influential viewing their video work had been, Coetzee and Knoetze were in turn in awe of being able to work with respected South African painter Ndikhumbule Ngqinambi.

 

 

Sculptor Lyndon Mably described the artists as all,Moving in and out of each others work . He was also touched by the work of Coetzee and Knoetze and described working with Lauren Heckler as,Incredibly still and peaceful almost spiritual .

 

 

Living and working together has brought hilarious moments and great friendships were being formed across cultures, age and gender, just as Malcolm had hoped.

 

 

Malcolm s goal to bringoutside eyes into Wales is certainly evident. The artists have been discussing the 2012 Marikana platinum mine massacre, and the rising tensions on campuses across South Africa as the students protest against University tuition fees. Having spent her formative years in South Africa, Malcolm particularly sees parallels in the mining communities of South Africa and Wales: There is potential for interesting conversations, exposure to a spectrum of post colonial politics .

 

 

Ben Lloyd, from St. Davids, has taken the Aberfan disaster as his starting point, working textile rolls into a black engulfing tide.The workshop here is more than the sum of the parts. It s all the best bits that have been lost from art school , Lloyd explains. The other artists say that working with Lloyd s constructions forced them to draw collaboratively.

 

 

As we are called into the communal dinner, I get a chance to speak to a few of the other artists. Louise Bird, one of the core pilot team, smiles at my observations of the harmonious living and working on show here.There have been a few creative tears , she reflects,but there has not been a cross word. I can t stop hugging them all .

 

 

 

 

Popty dinner time Popty dinner time

 

 

Over dinner, painter Ivy Cheutai Ng ok explains that the workshop with Joseph Coetzee and Francois Knoetze is encouraging her to experiment with 3D sculptural reliefs and video. She also mentions how influenced she has been by Lauren Heckler s work. Heckler, one of the youngest artists, seems to have made quite an impression on the older artists with her site-based projection work.

 

 

I briefly witness part of the evening routine with Alice Forward and Louise Short presenting their work, the light is gone and now and I m disappointed not to be able to experience the mysterious space they have honed out of the earth in the far field. The clay from their work has been used by Heckler to create pots in which water from the spring is taken to the lake and the clay dissolves back into the earth, and so it all comes full circle.

 

 

My time amongst the artists is over only too soon. There are so many artists who I haven t spoken to yet. They warmly invite me to stay and I m sorely tempted to take up their offer. Malcolm and her team have succeeded in bringing people together for what Mably calls,Play, food, play, food, talk, laugh . As Malcolm succinctly sums it up,Popty is all about the alchemy of baking .

 

 

 

 

 

Find out more about Popty www.popty.org.uk