Amgueddfa Blog: Art

The recent Ivor Davies exhibition Silent Explosion at National Museum Cardiff sparked an explosive partnership project. The mMseum’s Learning Department and artist Claire Prosser worked with Albert Primary School in Penarth on an art project inspired by Ivor Davies's work. Ivor Davies grew up in Penarth and went to Albert Primary School as a child, where he witnessed the war and air raids on Cardiff. Some of his early work is based on these experiences.

The year 5 pupils visited the exhibition at the Museum, which reflects some of those childhood experiences, and made sketches and collages. One of the boys had re-drawn Ivor Davies’s drawing of enemy planes being caught in search lights, and added an additional plane. Ivor Davies himself came to visit the school at the end of the day of walks and signed this drawing and many others, much to the delight of the pupils.

On walks around Penarth the pupils discussed conservation, death and decay with Senior Preventive Conservator Christian Baars. It is not easy to conserve art that was created to be ephemeral. The pupils learned how organic objects, and even rock, are not everlasting, and instead part of a big circle of life, death and resurrection in new forms.

The role of any museum, in essence, is to preserve objects by halting that circle at a particular point. Whether this is in line with the artist's intentions, and how museums deal with this conundrum, was part of a "Conservation Conversation" at National Museum Cardiff a few weeks back. Curators, conservators and artists were involved in the discussion then. Bringing this theme closer to year 5 pupils proved entirely possible, as they enjoyed learning about how museums preserve objects while thinking about how it is really difficult to make anything last for centuries.

This interdisciplinary partnership project was also a joy to work on for staff, most of all the preventive conservator, as it brought together so many aspects of art and science.

Find out more about care of collections at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales here.

While I enjoy going to the Youth Forum very much, I have to say a once-in-a-lifetime experience was not what I was expecting when I turned up last week. But there we were, in the art conservation room, a few feet away from an original Van Gogh, out of its frame on the next table, having just come back from being loaned to an American museum. I could have actually touched it (and I was quite tempted, though of course I didn’t).

Now, I’m not exactly an art aficionado, as you can properly tell by the way I haven’t included the name of the painting because I don’t know it, but I have to say it was pretty amazing. 

However, the focus of the meeting was actually the imposing The Welsh at Mametz Wood by war artist Christopher Williams, which is going to be part of a new exhibition focusing on the First World War battle at Mametz in a few months time.

This is a battle where hundreds of men from the Welsh Division were killed in July 1916, and thousands more were injured, something that the painting certainly doesn’t shy away from. It’s big, bloody, and quite brutal. While war sketches of poppies blooming among the trenches and beleaguered soldiers limping through mud evoke the tragedy of the slaughter that took place, they arguably don’t capture the fighting itself, but the aftermath, the few moments of calm in a four-year storm.

Christopher Williams (1873-1934), The Welsh Division at Mametz Wood, 1916 © National Museum of Wales

Williams’ painting does the opposite. The desperate struggle of the hand-to-hand slaughter was immediately obvious. It felt almost claustrophobic, the way the soldiers were almost piling on top of each other, climbing over their fallen comrades to try and take out the machine gunner. It was certainly a world away, as we discussed, from the posters bearing Lord Kitchener encouraging young men to enlist. We also talked about the way the painting is quite beautifully composed, almost in a Renaissance style.

It was hard to look at, but at the same time it was something you wanted to look at. 

After this, we went to the archives to look at some sketches made by Williams and other artists while at the trenches. I was about to get goosebumps for the second time that evening - one of them still had mud from the trenches staining the edges!

In any other context, 100-year-old mud probably wouldn’t have been very exciting, but this mud is so strongly linked in people’s minds with images of the First World War.

Think of the trenches, and you think of mud. People slept, ate and died surrounded by this mud; it seems to be inextricably bound up with the nightmare of having to live and fight in that environment, and made looking at the sketches even more powerful.

Another document we looked at was a sort of manual given to recruits of the Royal Welsh Division, containing poems, stories and pictures that the soldiers would have submitted themselves. It was touching to see one of the ways they would have injected moments of humour into their lives as soldiers, and also their own perspectives on their experiences. All in all, I’m really looking forward to seeing how this exhibition comes together, and learning more about Mametz, a part of the war I hadn’t even heard of until a couple of weeks ago. 

 

Holly Morgan Davies, 

National Museum Cardiff Youth Forum

 

 

While Nils, Fern and Imogen get stuck into searching archives and stores, looking at the Museum's collections and working with visitors and groups to get their ideas, how about we think about what play areas we like? what local ones have you played in or taken children to and they loved? what ones have you been to that you didn't like? have you seen play areas that just look amazing? What makes a playground good? what do want from a playground? does it have to look nice? does it have to look like a playground? I'd be really interested in hearing your thoughts and ideas.

Meanwhile, I have been collecting images of play areas which I think are good design, look fun, are imaginative, look exciting... i'm not suggesting we have a play area exactly like these in St Fagans, but it wouldn't it be great to have something different and unexpected?

Here are some images of the work of Nils Norman who is designing our new play area in St Fagans. For more information about his work and other projects, please check out his website

The two artists we are lucky enough to have assisting Nils Norman on the playground project are Fern Thomas and Imogen Higgins. Fern will be investigating the archives and collections at St Fagans in order to find inspiration and stories for the new play area. Fern's own practice is based in research and she has previously had a solo show investigating the history of the Mission Gallery in Swansea, entitled When the moon fell out of orbit: from the Institute for Imagined Futures & Unknown Lands

Imogen is a recent graduate from the ceramics course in Cardiff Metropolitan although her work has since developed to be more community focused and inspired more by land art. Imogen will be working with community groups and visitors to collect ideas and suggestions to feed into the design.

We hope both supporting artists will be able to share their work, discoveries and experiences as the project progresses.