At the end of last month Joanna Bond completed a performance walk which revolved around the concept of human connection and mobility. Focussing this on the very physical connections made by railway lines, she travelled from Carmarthen to Swansea, through Cardiff and finally walked to her childhood home in Abercarn.
Along the way, Joanna installed several site specific installations, spoke to people she met and participated in elysium gallery’s The End Is Yur. Alice Salter spoke to the artist about her motivations behind this piece, A Meditation on Connection and Mobility, and what is next for her.
Part of the inspiration behind this project was tied up with the closed train line between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen. Why is this an issue you wanted to address?
Thanks to the Arts Council Wales, in 2015 artists were brought together to create a multidisciplinary performance called Singing The Line Into Existence and present work inspired by the landscape and history of the Carmarthen to Aberystwyth railway line. Both projects, Singing The Line Into Existence and A Meditation on Connection and Mobility are rooted in the question: “What is connection?” They both run in parallel to the ongoing Traws Link Cymru campaign to reinstate the line, of which I have been a member of since the group started in 2014. Traws Link Cymru highlights the benefits, economic, social and environmental, of the line re-opening. The group has support from MPs and county councilors, has gathered 14,000 signatures in support and the Welsh government have invested £30,000 in a initial feasibility study.
I see my role within the campaign as artist support. It is my hope that by creating art that is socially engaging, it helps to raise awareness and reach a wider audience by igniting people's imagination and exploring deeper questions relating to the human spiritual journey, just as train travel invites us to ask about mobility.
How did you connect with the people you met over the course of the performance?
I was catching trains, walking around city streets wearing a headdress that looked like an Arriva train, my ‘train head’ as I and a few friends have been affectionately been calling it. I performed a few different scenarios in public spaces. I walked, I danced, I waved, I called out: “When did people stop waving at trains?” I also installed temporary tiny protest installations to a song, which I had written and recorded, playing on a small speaker. I handed out little replicas of vintage train tickets and flyers.
I was always delighted when people waved back at me, at these times I feel I was connecting with a human need that is friendly and excepting. When I danced on the stations, in open spaces, and by the Welsh National Assembly I drew a crowd that watched me while I performed. I found it amusing that some people didn’t bat an eyelid as if it were an everyday occurrence.
When people wanted to interact with me directly, it was difficult for me to be heard from inside my train head and it was also difficult to come out of the zone of performance into normal conversation so ultimately communication was limited and I didn’t get a lot of audio recordings about what connection meant to the audience.
What was the purpose of your tiny site specific installations in this project?
The project was inspired by a conversation between my partner Stu Hampton and myself about connection on all levels both physical and spiritual. The little placards were made at home by myself with quotes and ideas about spirituality and connection. Once made, the placards and tiny people were installed on-site at two sites in Swansea, two sites in Aberystwyth, one site in Cardiff and one on the train itself. I also created a permanent installation in the exhibition at elysium gallery. I had acquired a train model the size of a small table, depicting Tregaron railway station, one of the disused stations. Then I altered it by placing the tiny figures holding placards that read, “awareness to everything”, “meditation”, “observer consciousness”, “act mindfully”, “music transports you”, and so on.
How do you feel your piece fit in with the wider exhibition taking place at elysium which confronted the notion of the afterlife?
I feel my work attempted to look into why connection is important and what happens when we experience disconnection fitted well into the larger show at elysium. The walking performance asked questions about mobility and the human journey. Also I was four months pregnant with a considerable bump, so I was literally was transporting a passenger on their journey into life.
The tiny protest installations were all about transporting the human consciousness away from suffering to an awareness of peace and stillness. I wanted to express my journey, and ultimately the human journey, to look for solutions to suffering, loss and disconnection. The disused train line is, in my opinion, an excellent a metaphor for connection and disconnection, similar emotions someone might experience with the death of a family member. With my train performance you could look at it as an ending when the line was closed 50 years ago and a rebirth if the line is to be reopened, hopefully by 2020 - almost like an after life in some respects, another dimension or some astral plane that may or may not exist .
What is next for this project, and for you?
Following the solo walk and train performances and the performance at The End is Yur the various elements will seed the work to develop a new performance for touring in 2018. This will be an immersive performance art piece, incorporating dance and movement with songs, projections and text. However I do still feel there is a lot of ground work to be done. On the walk I felt it was difficult to connect with people as I had this huge train headdress covering my face. I need to create a dialogue where people can express what it means for them to be connected and disconnected and what solutions they have to help on this human journey.
These spiritual questions are ultimately bigger than bringing back a railway line but I feel that I can use the railway line idea as a visual aid to explore these deeper questions. I am still seeking funding and the performance will not be possible without it.
In July I am due to give birth, so I will be busy with the joys of motherhood and all it will bring. I am also part of a community project in Ceredigion West Wales called Freeriver, working to create a place for people to visit. We aim to provide events and classes with a focus on creativity, health and spiritual growth.
Writer and interviewer Alice recently did her Cardiff University Journalism MA placement with CCQ