Rhôd – A Real Conversation Piece
All artists need a space and place to show their work or to realise the ideas that are buzzing around in their brains like angry but creative bees. The labyrinthine voyage from brain to material reality might take a detour via a studio, but this isn’t the end point and, for artists who need a context to respond to/in then the terminus can often seem a frustratingly long way away.
By the same token no artist starts to make work thinking: “This will look great in a nice white cube space”. But once the work is done most artists have to relinquish their control over the context in which their work is seen. Many are fortunate and get to work with sympathetic curators, who do their best to make one work converse with another, or give up an entire space to give it room to sing on its own. Others watch as their precious darlings are triple hung or plopped in a dark corner to be tripped over or overlooked entirely.
So imagine with what joy Rhôd was embraced by the arts community in 2009. Here was a place, in a beautiful location, with infinite possibilities for presentation, intervention, curatorial experimentation and, most importantly of all, conversation.
Of course there’s chatting and camaraderie during the installation and opening period. But there’s also another kind of conversation – the rural dialogue referred to in Rhôd’s manifesto – the artist’s internal discourse as s/he wonders: “How will this look with the light on it, or with rain running down it, or looming out of the dusk, or against that stonework, or in that pond? How will it change as sun beats down on it (one can only be optimistic when faced with a new opportunity), or as the shadows lengthen? What if I burn it? Or film it, or record the wind across the reeds and the birds at dawn? What was that lump of residual machinery for? What does this place actually mean? How can I tease out that meaning? What am I bringing here?
All things are possible in this place nestling against the slope of fields, wooded, watered, wild and yet highly organised by the artists who set it up and pass on a curatorial baton each year (this will be the fifth exhibition at Rhôd).
And what is Rhôd, if not a place for possibilities. Roger Lougher and Mari Beynon Owen saw some kind of potential in the redundant corn mill (rhôd is the Welsh for waterwheel, but has a wider meaning too – the wheel of the heavens and the wheel of fortune) in the little village of Drefelin when they first saw and then bought it in 2006.
As Lougher’s MA in documentary photography developed, so did his inquiries into the relationship between people and landscapes. As he says: “The idea of the rural/urban was an integral part of the nascence of Rhôd. My work for my MA was about landscape and landscape and language continue to be at the root of my work. I am interested in how the landscape genre began as an urban response to the countryside. As world populations have migrated to cities art has increasingly become a metropolitan phenomenon: the countryside is seen as a resource for the raw materials of art; whether that be the materials used in its construction, or its topography informing landscape genre. From the beginning I wanted the exhibitions to be a way of encouraging artists to enter into a real relationship with the rural and for the exhibitions to be a way for artists to enter into a dialogue with each other and the site. Often the rural/urban is a subtext to the shows but it is always present. We have also always made sure that the exhibitions include artists with connections to West Wales and hopefully with the Welsh language.”
And as that idea took hold so a group of artist coalesced around the project. The Rhôd Artists Group was founded in 2008 and consisted of Roger Lougher, Mike Murray, Dave Shepherd and Elizabeth Waterhouse. The first show was curated by Mike Murray and Roger Lougher. From there the idea has grown and new members have joined the core group as they have exhibited and wanted to become more involved in the exhibition. After the second exhibition in 2010 three artists from West Wales were recruited into the Rhôd Artist Group – Kathryn Campbell Dodd, Penny Jones and Jacob Whittaker. Sam Aldridge and Lauren Elizabeth Jury also joined after the show in 2010 and Jason Pinder joined the committee in 2011 (but has since resigned to concentrate on other projects).
But the Rhôd collective of artists is more than an exhibition committee. Fired up and egged on by each other they seem to be constantly looking for new ways to extend the conversation beyond the old mill in the Carmarthenshire village of Drefelin. They have roamed up to Machynlleth to explore the new Tannery space; to Venice where Rhodio (a nice Italian sounding name that plays with the misconception that all Welsh verbs end in “io”) and over to Taunton. This latter a result of a symposium in Cardiff that brought together artists from rural Wales and the South West of England, where getting about is perpetually challenging, to share problems and challenges and also to look at how to overcome the former and rise to the latter.
For the Rhôd group the physical manifestation of an annual exhibition (during Whit week each May) and series of residencies, interventions, responses and performances is only part of the story. The dialogue continues via a platform on Culture Colonyi, an enthusiastic partner of the Rhôd project since its first exhibition. The rural transport nightmare is circumvented by technology – skyping, bloggingii, online galleries, videos and more
However, it is the experience of being at the mill at Melin Glonc, on a (sometimes) sunny bank holiday weekend, that is at the heart of Rhôd. And the journey that all participants have undertaken – be it physical travel or conceptual realisation, that feeds the conversation.
Roger Logher feels that the current exhibition is: “Possibly the most metropolitan with its focus on concerns around ecology, climate change and population growth.” Curated by Sara Rees, a previous exhibitor at in 2009, Future Nature Culture “Addresses the critical need for us to respond to the challenges we face as a result of our impact upon the natural world”.
Bring on the conversation.