Snapshot of outdoor arts in Wales 2022 - through the personal lens of Annie Grundy (Articulture-Wales)
The first edition of the Dive event took place as part of the Circostrada Body/ies project, from 3 to 4 March 2022 in Staylittle (Wales, UK). Co-organised with Articulture during the Outdoor Arts Wales Gathering 2022, the event was the perfect opportunity to collectively dive into the theme of the year "Living body/ies" carried by the network and connect with Welsh artists and cultural players.
This article, written by the co-director of Articulture Wales, is a testimony of this first Dive edition, as well as a snapshot of the dynamism of Welsh outdoor arts.
Despite the bright blue skies and puffy white clouds this weekend in Wales, there is a loud whisper of autumn and as if by stealth, the sunset has crept forward to early evening. Not so long ago, end of summer might have been the perfect moment for a snapshot of outdoor arts in Wales, but these days the reach of festivals and events is extending out into autumn and winter and with site-specific pieces too there seems a growing understanding that the beauty and idiosyncrasies of Welsh landscapes and communities can hold their own any time of year.Through my personal lens, early 2022 could not have been worse, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine added its weight to my catalogue of nightmares that were Brexit, Covid and the Climate Crisis.
So it came as a guilty but welcome surprise that spring and summer 2022 in Wales afforded some much-needed energy, relief and joy through their bright spectrum of outdoor arts in their various and often overlapping shapes across festivals, art in the public space, circus, art activism, carnival and street arts. Hot on the heels of an end to the lockdown in Wales, Articulture held a ‘Gathering’ in March at the Lodge, Staylittle, in the Cambrian Mountains. This was a space for outdoor creatives to stretch their bodies and minds, to share experiences, fears, ideas and opportunities and to reconnect after two years of enforced physical separation.
The Circostrada team joined us. As the European network for contemporary circus and outdoor arts, they brought international guests and most importantly kick-started their ‘Living Body/ies’ themed year with the first of their ‘Dive’ events, with direct input from Stéphane Segreto-Aguilar and Heba el-Cheikh, alongside Welsh artists. We shared cups of tea in the mountain mist around AndNow’s giant samovar, Marc Rees curated Cheryl Beer’s exploration of Ogham’s ancient Celtic Tree Alphabet and Karine Décorne opened the door to the fascinating work of biologist Merlin Sheldrake, and the role of fungi play in our survival. Through the conversations about the climate crisis’ impact, it was clear that culture and nature are intimately entwined here in Wales and that whether through art activism or community engagement, outdoor arts creatives have a strong drive and determination to push for a better future.
This fits well with the innovative ‘Welfare of Future Generations’ act in Wales which is slowly but surely enabling arts and culture to take their rightful place alongside every aspect of our lives from health to housing, from education to environment. Its impact is evidenced by projects such as ‘The Future Wales Fellowship’ launched this year by the Arts Council of Wales and NRW (Natural Resources Wales).* The project connects 8 artist fellows with leading scientists and thinkers in the field of environmental issues and sustainable practices who are working to tackle climate change. The artists will focus on the impact of climate change on everyday life, whilst seeking to challenge the way people connect to nature and therefore think about climate change.
Meanwhile, from Easter to just last week, No Fit State Circus’ new show ‘Sabotage’, directed by Firenza Guidi, toured 4 locations in Wales, bringing a timely subversive edge to large scale contemporary circus. The spectacle’s narrative acknowledges that in this world our struggles and privileges have an impact on the shape of our journeys, it explores our sense of separation and our belonging and it reminds us that sometimes, in order to be heard, we need to stand up and challenge the establishment.
The voices of circus in Wales – both Welsh and English – seem to be getting stronger and more connected. Many current innovative projects in Wales have been sparked by the Arts Council of Wales’ ‘Connect and Flourish’ programme that enabled arts organisations to build relationships with both communities and non-arts organisations, and one such project has been Circus Village. Although held in 2021 it is still making its presence felt with raised levels of ambition and aspirations in the sector, with a follow-up event planned for 2023. Although primarily conceived and hosted by NoFit State Circus, Circus Village has a steering group of partners who collectively represent the entire circus sector in Wales. If funding applications go well for Scotland and England, then they will also take part. The 2023 Circus Village post-covid will allow increased networking and be able to invite some of the extraordinary individuals and companies from Europe and beyond, making a big impact on the pool of knowledge and expertise available to participants. Despite (or in defiance of?) Brexit, it feels like the links between outdoor arts in Wales and Europe are growing, supported by Wales Arts International and a range of international partners who vary from project to project.
Articulture for instance has worked this year to enable ‘Toolbox International’. This producer-development opportunity (evolved by 101 OUTDOOR ARTS and Bettina Linstrum, Arts Agenda) focusses on outdoor arts / arts in public space. Two creative producers from Wales – Iwan Glyn Williams (Ffiwsar) and Kama Roberts – are taking part alongside creatives from Scotland, Portugal, Denmark and Catalonia, taking time to invest in their professional development with the help of other European producers and expert leaders. We look forward to hearing more as the project concludes later this year!
Meanwhile, last weekend was the final leg of the Four Nations Outdoor Arts development project which enabled a group of artists from Scotland, England, Wales and Éire to create new outdoor arts pieces which then toured to festivals in all four nations: Surge Festival in Scotland, Spraoi in Ireland, Green Man in Wales and Out There in England. The collaboration included a 3-day residency for the artists with professional mentoring around creation, producing, marketing and guerrilla filmmaking from representatives of the festivals and of Articulation Scotland, Articulture Wales, ISACS Ireland, Outdoor Arts UK. The two works made by Welsh artists were ‘Tidal’ by Ofelia Omoyele Balogun and Kim Noble - a dance theatre show that underlines the importance of creating bridges and connection through ancient knowledge - and ‘Sound Foraging’ by Ardal Bicnic who, on walkabout, invite their audience to join them in a foraging of samples and soundscapes that surround our everyday lives, using mics, hydrophones and sound-loops attached to their portable back-packs.
In 2012, when Articulture started the network for outdoor arts in Wales it seemed the wonderful, but seemingly few outdoor arts events were mostly clustered around the coastal cities, or all too often we only heard about amazing events or performances after they had happened. A decade on, times have changed.
Last weekend alone, I enjoyed three fabulous shows all within a stone’s throw of where I live in mid-Wales: – A Welsh Language piece ‘Ceri Ann Arian’ by Kitsch n Sync (and one of Articulture’s 2022 WOAC Wales Outdoor Arts Consortium commissions) that takes a comic swipe at consumerism; a performance of Osian Meilir’s ‘Qwerin’ – (also Welsh Language)- a joyful contemporary dance performance that celebrates Queerness and Welshness, that is an expansion of their 2021 WOAC commission - and then from dusk to dark I was in Borth to experience a preview of the dark and foreboding outdoor, immersive sound installation ‘Listening for the Warning Notes’ by Mark Anderson and Liam Walsh, which, work-in-progress or not, was extraordinary. I have seen so many outdoor performances in Wales these last 6 months, yet missed even more. Some I know I will catch soon – eg: Wheelabout’s ‘Aileen the Alien’ for example, but some are gone, such as festivals or site specifics I couldn’t get to – like Tin Shed and Cadw’s Heuldro on Ynys Mon, Taliesin Dance Days in Swansea, the Wye Valley River Festival on the borders, - and so on. One performance of 2022 that I am glad I didn’t miss however, and the highlight of my summer, was the spectacular ‘Dadeni’ at Wales’ National Eisteddfod. One of the biggest cultural festivals in Europe that tours each year to a different part of Wales, the Eisteddfod was cancelled in 2020 and was virtual only in 2021. Produced by Zoe Munn, ‘Dadeni’ translates as ‘renaissance’ and really, for the opening weekend of Wales’ iconic cultural festival, there could not have been a more poignant show. The circus spectacular was a collaboration with UK’s Gorilla Circus. Ezra Trigg co-created the piece with singer-songwriter Casi Wyn, who is currently Bardd Plant Cymru (Welsh-Language Poet Laureate for Children); circus performers from North Wales’ Cimera were integrated in the cast, Assistant Director Nikki Hill is from North Wales and the incredible spectacle featured the world famous Welsh tight-rope walker, Ellis Grover. From the minute performers from Syrcas Byd Bychan started the procession to lead audience to the opening event’s secret location, there was a buzz of excitement, a sense of the new and unknown. Through my lens, this was a landmark event for Wales – beautiful in its own right for sure, but loaded with the immediate sense of ‘Wow! The connections are growing! I wonder what they will do next?!’ For Wales, there is so much exciting work on the horizon. The Big Splash this year in Newport brought the town to life, and we hope to work with Newport Live and the Riverfront to demonstrate to other town centres around Wales how outdoor arts and regeneration go hand in hand.
I’m looking forward to the outcomes of two more ‘Connect and Flourish’ projects – Dyffryn Dyfodol (Future Valley) which has been collaborating with communities in rural Conwy, using the arts as a catalyst to explore people’s experiences, thoughts and ideas; and tomorrow I’ll be at the performance finale of AberGêm in Aberystwyth – that will transform the streets of Aberystwyth into a real-life reality game. Articulture has worked on the project with Abersystwyth Arts Centre, Boomtown Fair, Aberystwyth MIND* and Ceredigion County Council. And of course there is more! - I’m particularly excited about the project ‘Finding Houdini’ that Tin Shed Theatre Company are working on - a partnership between Transporter Bridges across Europe that will take them this month to La Rochefort in Charente Maritime to work with Compagnie Pyramid and local group L’Attroupanou. Definitely a case of ‘Watch this Space!’. Ultimately though, although I am not a gardener in the horticultural sense, what really brings me joy and gives me hope is the planting of seeds, nurturing as best we can and watching what grows from them; making connections and watching them flourish. There is much to celebrate in outdoors arts in Wales 2022. The events and creations are multiple, the pool of creatives and therefore the dreams becoming more diverse, the connections and collaborations deeper and productive, the ambition greater. Wales may be a small nation, but it has a strong, increasingly connected voice and is fertile ground for outdoor arts creatives to significantly contribute to the stunning and diverse map of world culture. I’m mostly looking forward therefore to meeting emerging artists from across Wales this autumn and exploring with them how they can grow, and where they might go. Of course, I love a good sunset, but alongside a cup of tea, it’s the sunrise and the sense of possibility that gets me out of bed in the morning.
* NRW is the Welsh Government Sponsored Body responsible for the environment in Wales.
* MIND is a national mental health charity
This article was financed by our partner Wales Arts International.
Annie Grundy is a co-founder of Articulture: a Community Interest Company dedicated to the development of outdoor arts in Wales. Pre-Articulture, her background was in international relations and events for a London Authority, later moving into outdoor festivals and events as a freelancer. Her role within Articulture is primarily focused on developing partnerships to enable the company’s vision for everyone in Wales to have an equal opportunity to experience high quality outdoor arts and enjoy the benefits that they bring to people and communities.
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