Amgueddfa Blog: Fforwm Ieuenctid

A few months ago, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime. I was invited to work at Amgueddfa Cymru as an artist in residence and asked to organise a project to celebrate 10 years of the volunteer programme. The project has consisted of a series of creative workshops with volunteers at sites across the country, which have fed into the creation of a celebratory artwork.

My name’s Robin Bonar-Law, I’m a self-taught artist and graphic design graduate of Falmouth University. From the time of my graduation up until my residency, I have been working in the catering industry so my artistic outlet has been primarily restricted to latte art. The creative industries are incredibly competitive and coming from a low-income family I have often felt stifled by a lack of social mobility. I take portrait commissions and enter competitions when I can but over the coming years, I would like to make the rewarding leap into self-employment by becoming a freelance mural artist.

Early this year I applied to an artist opportunity based at St Fagan’s. After a thoroughly exciting interview process, I was asked to join the team and given an open brief, ‘Create an artwork that is inspired by the volunteers and showcases the amazing contribution they have given to the museum. The process should also include a series of creative workshops with volunteers.’ With over 900 volunteers this year alone this was no small task, nonetheless, overflowing with unbounded enthusiasm and a sense of freedom (from the coffee shop) I got to work planning.

The project is split into two main components; the workshops and the final artwork. I love drawing and wanted to run a series of ‘mark-making’ workshops that help re-introduce the volunteers to the idea of drawing as something that’s fun and relaxing. By normalising and simplifying drawing through a series of games and activities, I hoped to make it less daunting and something relaxing that they may enjoy doing brief moments of spare time.

Blog gwirfoddoli

As well as allowing me to teach the volunteers new drawing techniques the workshops served as a time for the volunteers to teach me about their roles and experiences at the museum. From the beginning of the project, I have wanted to create an authentic artwork that represents the true collaborative spirit of the volunteer workforce and the best way to do that is to meet them and get their personal input. Visiting the sites and talking to members of staff was another valuable resource.

I have met such a large number of enthusiastic and happy volunteers, they are all equally passionate and have truly enriched my experience. The workshops have been far more rewarding than I could ever have expected, I hope the volunteers enjoyed them as much as I did.

My favourite part of any project like this is the final, hands-on crafting of a design, but there’s no point rushing into it without a strong design process as a foundation. Alongside the workshops, I started amassing a large pool of research to help shape the direction of the artwork. I gathered inspiration from celebratory imagery such as friendly society banners, religious artworks, Flags, political/social murals etc. I also furthered my knowledge of Welsh craft and traditions by meeting with curators, visiting volunteers outside of workshops and making use of the information on display to the public. I wanted to create a final piece with mulitple layers of complexity; representing the wildly diverse range of roles, having that celebratory feel and being reminiscent of the traditional craft that imbues each site.

I am in the final stages of the design process and putting the finishing touches to my artwork. Once complete, the modular, hanging banner inspired artwork will be transformed into a majestic, megalithic and meaningful mural adorning the walls of Tŷ Gwyrdd (the new volunteer hub) and made into a digital print for each of the 7 museums around Wales. It will also be made into tote bags and given to each of the volunteers. From the very beginning, I have wanted to create a purposeful artwork that rejuvenates and enriches the volunteer spaces, fostering an environment that helps individuals find a sense of well-being, pride and identity. I can’t wait to show you all the finished product.

I am incredibly grateful for the museum and all the staff that have given me this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.


Robin's placement was funded by the Hands on Heritage youth project at Amgueddfa Cymru, which is supported through the National Lottery Heritage Funds ‘Kick the Dust’

 

Hi, I’m Thea, a sixth form student from Shropshire who decided to create this short video as part of my work experience at the National Museum Cardiff.

I had heard about Who Decides? before I became involved in the exhibition, so I was very eager to find out more. After working with the public opinion cards, speaking to the people involved in the museum and doing some short interviews, I created an animation that I thought would best reflect the aims of exhibition and the feedback it had received.

I am passionate about art and against the idea that art and museums are ‘elitist’ or should be for the ‘privileged’ rather than the majority, so I wanted to focus on this issue in the video.

Working with the Wallich

The exhibition itself was incredibly eye opening for me; the museum had decided to work with the charity The Wallich to involve people with experience of homlessness in the process of designing and creating the exhibit and gives the public the chance to choose some of the artwork on display. I haven't seen an exhibition that has ever taken this kind of approach, so I found it intriguing to see how others reacted to the idea.

I hope this refreshing approach to curation will be an archetype for future exhibits and museums because it challenges what we usually connote with galleries and exhibits and hopefully encourages more people to visit exhibitions and museums.

Who Decides? is on show at National Museum Cardiff until 2 September 2018. You can also contribute to Who Decides? by voting for your favourite work to be ‘released’ from the store and placed on public display.

This week’s Youth Forum again made me think about museums and what they can do, and how they should be, in a different way.

While looking at art from the First World War had at times been a sensory overload, this time we were trying to understand what it would be like to come to a museum without one specific sense fully intact. How to make museum exhibits more accessible for the partially sighted?

Having always gone to museums with my sight in (near enough) tip top condition, I and probably others tended to presume it was a pretty necessary requirement. If I had trouble seeing the paintings/sculptures/artefacts, then I don’t think I’d want to go. Because if seeing is believing, and I couldn’t see what I was supposed to be learning about, then surely I wouldn’t learn very much and would end up feeling quite left out, even though this obviously shouldn’t be the case.

And it doesn’t have to be! The paintings and sculptures that we looked up were a bit of a mix, ones that more well-known and some that were completely new. Among the ideas that we came up with, for example, involved the painting Bad News, by James Tissot, incorporating the playing of military marching music alongside the painting to evoke the solemnity and sorrow of leaving your family to go off and fight in another corner of the world.

Similarly, for Entrance to Cardiff Docks by Lionel Walden, lighting effects could imitate the lights of the port and the surrounding buildings, with sound effects of ships coming into port, water slapping against the quay, sailors shouting to each other. We could have smells to add to the experience (although maybe not the fish!). Instead of rough sailors accompanying Manet’s San Maggiore by Twilight, it would be the gentle, joyful peel of Italian church bells.

In front of a painting of Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, Thomas Apperly and Edward Hamilton by Pompeo Batoni there could be a table with the objects and chairs laid out exactly as they are in the picture, as if the subjects had just finished the sitting and left only a few moments ago. David Nash’s intriguing sculpture Multi-Cut Column could have smaller imitations made of it, that people could actually pass around and touch, something rarely allowed in any exhibit. 

I realise there would be some technical issues in making sure it wasn’t distracting or taking away from the other exhibits, and that maybe not all these ideas will actually become a finished product, but I hope that at least some of them do work out. Because who wouldn’t want to experience this? It might be a bit like theatre, the art being brought to life, stepping into the painting. While I’m definitely thankful I’m not visually impaired in any way, I’m also thankful I took the time to try and understand the experience of those who are. 
 

  • Our next Audio Description Tour will take place on 8 December and will be of our Natural History collections.

Wrth wneud gwaith gyda’r Fforwm Ieuenctid, darganfyddais fod yna glytwaith i orchuddio cist o ddroriau (‘patchwork chest of drawers cover’) yng nghasgliad Sain Ffagan a gafodd ei greu gan fy hen hen ewythr, Richard Evans o Lanbrynmair, yn ystod ei amser yn gwasanaethu fel milwr yn India. Mae wedi ei greu o ddefnydd gwlanog trwchus coch a du ac felly tybiwyd ei fod wedi ei bwytho o ddillad milwr, ac yn ôl yr hyn sydd wedi ei arysgrifio ar ei gefn, roedd yn ‘Rhodd i fy Mam Sarah Evans 1883.’ Fe wnaeth y rhoddwr (Miss Ceridwen E Lloyd), sef nith i Richard Evans, ysgrifennu llythyr gyda’r gwrthrych a ymunodd â’r casgliad yn 1962, yn nodi “roedd ganddo fwy o amynedd na llawer ohonom heddiw.” 

Roedd yr amynedd angenrheidiol i wneud gwniadwaith yn un o’r rhesymau pam ddaeth y grefft yn rhan o fywyd i rai mewn gwersylloedd milwrol. Yn ogystal â bod yn sgil ymarferol er mwyn gallu trwsio eu lifrau, roedd milwyr yn cael eu hannog i ddechrau gwnïo fel ffordd o ymlacio. Cefnogwyd y syniad gan fudiadau dirwest yn y bedwaredd ganrif ar bymtheg wrth iddynt weld gwnïo fel ffordd o gadw’r milwyr rhag demtasiynau yfed a gamblo, yn enwedig yng ngwres India. Roedd y grefft hefyd yn cael ei hybu fel rhan o therapi milwr mewn ysbyty er mwyn lleddfu diflastod. Mae yna enghraifft o waith tebyg yn y casgliad yn Sain Ffagan – gemwaith a gafodd ei greu gan y Corporal Walter Stinson pan roedd yn glaf yn Ysbyty VAD Sain Ffagan yn 1917-18.

Roedd gogwydd fwy emosiynol ar y math yma o waith hefyd. Weithiau, crewyd cwiltiau allan o lifrau cyd-filwyr a fu farw ar faes y gad i ddangos ffyddlondeb a gwladgarwch. Roedd gan y grefft bwrpas tu hwnt i’r cyfnod o ryfela hefyd, gan fod dysgu i wnïo yn gallu cael ei gysylltu ag ennill arian ar ôl gadael y fyddin. Yn y casgliad, mae yna ddarlun gwlân a oedd wedi ei brynu gan hen dad-cu y rhoddwr gan gyn-filwr oedd wedi colli ei goes wrth ymladd.

Mae llu o resymau felly i esbonio pam ddaeth gwniadwaith yn grefft fwy poblogaidd i filwyr. Daeth buddion y grefft i ddisgyblaeth a gwellhad milwyr â’r grefft oedd wedi ei hystyried yn un fenywaidd ar hyd y blynyddoedd yn rhan o hunaniaeth milwyr yn ystod y cyfnod hwn – ac ysbrydoli fy hen hen ewythr, yn bictiwr o wrywdod milwr gyda’i getyn a’i fwstash (trydydd o’r chwith yn y rhes gefn) i greu clytwaith fel anrheg i’w fam.

I actually visited the Mametz Wood exhibition twice. The first time was the official opening, but as I didn’t see anyone that I knew, I spent most of the time hovering at the back during the speeches and the opera recital (which sounded beautiful, but as I know nothing about opera it went over my head a bit), while feeling spectacularly under-dressed next to all the soldiers in their shiny, smart uniforms.

I enjoyed the exhibition itself very much. The work we had done in youth forum had provided helpful context which meant I could appreciate what I was seeing a whole lot more; the Christopher Williams painting was of course a highlight, as was the World War One stretcher and a pistol owned by Siegfried Sassoon, who had fought at the battle.

It was also great to see the work of the very talented Margaret Williams, who I hadn’t heard of before I joined the youth forum, showcased alongside her male counterparts. However, due to the fact that it was an opening, it was very crowded, and being too British to ask people to move slightly aside I missed some of the exhibits. 

I decided to go back a few days later, and this turned out to be a very good idea. This time, there were old music hall and war songs playing quietly in the background. Combined with the ghostly sketches of soldiers, surrounded by their old possessions, it really made you feel as though you had stepped back in time, which surely is a sign a museum has done its job.

It also seems to enhance the sense of the futility of it all. I was surrounded by images and descriptions communicating the brutality, violence and bloodshed, the enormous sacrifice, and in the end, this was all that was left. A pipe, some faded documents, the stretcher rather than the people it had carried, a few old songs, and a collective national sense of loss. It was hard not to feel emotional. All this suffering may have created beautiful art, but the suffering itself hadn’t been worth it at all. 

There was also a video screen showing an actor reading a section of In Parenthesis, originally by David Jones, now adapted for a new opera. Whether it was because of the skill of the actor (whose name escapes me) or all the things I’d just seen and felt, I found I didn’t need to put the headphones on to understand what he was trying to say. 

So, to conclude. War’s Hell: The Battle of Mametz Wood in Art is well worth a visit. And next time I get invited to an exhibition opening, go with a friend and make more of an effort than just jeans and a jumper.