Saturday, 27 June 2009

Time's flying

Can't believe June is almost over, this month has gone really quickly. I'm looking at what I planned to do this month and already I've got some catching up to do. I'd planned to spend this month collecting: images, sounds, stories etc. I think the sheer mass of information available to potentially gather, store and subsequently filter is quite astonishing - every week there seems to be a new aspect of the place that catches my attention, from the history, the present uses, the visitors, the architecture, the farming landscape, natural features, etc etc.

Inevitably, and although I told myself I wouldn't too soon into the project, there are places that I'm already attracted to work in/on. The fences are one, beautiful thin black iron fences that run the lengths of the fields. Then there are the visible but inaccessible spaces at the farm; roof spaces, stables and sties. Then there is the estate walk itself, or the garden, and that's before I've even gone near the castle itself...

Monday, 22 June 2009

Stories so far

The drive up to the castle, between the two imposing gate posts (more like small houses) and then the stiff ascent up the road; then two dead trees, the first on my right, close to behind the wobbly, wavy line of the fence running alongside, the second in the far distance on the left, on the estate walk. Sometimes there are people walking that last leg of the permissive path as it returns to the road. From there the road forks, one part leading up to the castle, the other down the hill again toward the car park (for us lesser mortals), taking me past the black sheep that graze the slopes below the castle and affording a bottom-of-the-moat's eye view of the castle walls, curved and generous and, depending on the weather, either an invitingly warm buff colour, or paving-slab grey.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

This world is your world

This is pretty much it - my environment, world, landscape, purview for the time being. I can feel the difference between the first impressions during the first few weeks (everything in a rush, so new, processing it, asking questions) and the now more settled familiarity I have with the place; a level of comfort and knowledge that allows new details and observations to emerge.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Changes afoot

Although there's an appearance of things being kept 'in aspic' it's soon belied by the real activities behind the scenes - like the updating of the castle's central heating system, or the numerous changes to the location of the shop and its layout. In both cases keeping the authentic past makes it difficult to 'do' the present - ie, to sell perfumed soap and books in an old cow barn. The solution might be to cover in the beams (over which many people exclaim) thereby forcing the building to conform to a new present rather than hang on to its old past.

This week I've been impressed by the lack of control we have over the place, by the sheer indifference of the buildings to all this activity. Lime wash falls from the ceiling, walls fade, dust hangs, animals roam - no control - the place breathes
and exhales its own life, indifferent to cleaning, product placement; 'image'.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

The guidebook tells all

Been reading the official guidebook to Chirk today, while sitting out in the warm sun watching the bustle and buzz of the place. I found myself drawn more to discussions of the history of the farm, the landscaping and the estate than the particularities of the castle, (eg the fact that the farm buildings were remodelled by Pugin, who also came to do some work on the castle in the late 19th century). I had to go out and look for the remains of a Victorian gas works at the back of the farm - only found pig sties so far, so more investigations needed!

Being involved in the place I'm starting to get a feel for the recent changes, the near history of the place as well as the established NT 'History' which is Chirk's selling point. This recent history, as things that used to be fade from memory (''that door used to be open, and people could go out and visit the pigs, or pet the horses as they came in to the courtyard'') is something that I'm drawn to - these stories from behind the scenes. An alternative guide book?

real, actual sun

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Behind closed doors

When I came in today there had been a massive plaster drop from the ceiling - the old lime wash on the beams is continuously flaking and dropping off. The place had been shut for two days after the weekend and it made me think of all the activity that must be going on in these old buildings when there's no one around - the building moving and living when we're not here, doing its own thing...

It's made me wonder about collecting some evidence of this somehow - thinking about Bruce Nauman's Mapping The Studio where he put video and sound recorders in his empty studio overnight.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Gloomy Sunday

In weather terms that is. Cold today, although not so rainy. Although I don't want this to become an endless weather report its already apparent that the atmosphere of this place is strongly affected by the weather, from the view of the castle and grounds as you drive in, to the demeanour of the sheep and cattle, to the ambience of the buildings.

As I left today, another reminder of the connection of this place to its wider environs. Trees dripping left over rain drops on the roof of the car, wet lambs picking at sodden grass, and the sweet smell of chocolate pervading all - from the Cadbury factory which is half a mile away at the bottom of the hill.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Rain, rain...

Wales in the rain, in June. It's pretty much rained constantly today. Stone glistens, foliage drips.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Then and now

It’s a bit disingenuous to talk about first impressions here – I’ve visited Chirk a number of times, wandered around the grounds, had the proper experience of the house and the garden. I live locally; it’s a familiar place to me. The challenge with this project (and the thrill, the excitement of it) is to look a bit deeper, a bit longer, a bit wider, or a bit more askance at this place; to take it all in and get under its skin.

It’s a beautiful place, perched high up, overlooking the surrounding area. The place is full of history. But I don’t want this project to be all about history, about the past. When I look through the images of Chirk (on the NT website, or the postcards in the shop) they are all about the things that direct us to the past – the castle, the gates, the preserved rooms, the elaborate topiary. All are presented in perfection, in the absence of humans, of any indications of the present. Of course I can understand that you might not want a distracting presence when you’re trying to illustrate a place, but does it say something – about preservation, appearance, what should and should not be shown? People are everywhere at Chirk, especially now as the main season begins. The place is alive, with people working and people at leisure, and it’s all happening now, at this moment.

So that’s one thing I want to explore – the ‘now’ of the place, as well as the ‘then’; the present as it juxtaposes, collides and intermingles with the past.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

All by myself

This solitary chicken gave me a chance to trial my phone camera today. I'm hoping to keep a photo-diary, so need something small and nippy to capture views and impressions as they arise.

There are lots of hen houses at Home Farm visitor centre, but this hen is all on her own seemingly. I've named her Ruffles, for her feathery legs. I'll have to find out if she already has a name.

She's a pretty amusing sight when she's on the run!

A beginning

And so to begin. I haven’t looked very hard to see how other people start their blogs (with a big fanfare maybe?) but I feel this needs a little explanation.

This blog will be about the research, development and day to day processes of a four month artist-in-residence project at Chirk Castle, North Wales, which I started this month.

Chirk Castle is a 700 year old castle set in park and farmland and owned and run by the National Trust. The goal of the residency is to reflect upon and create works in response to the situation of Chirk Castle: its visitors, employees, the location (gardens, park and farmland) and to explore its associations and connections with aspects of the surrounding locality.

Another, personal goal I’ve set myself with this project is to interrogate the nature of the ‘residency’ as form of artistic practice and to question who or what initiates the residency and on whose terms it is carried out. What I’m particularly keen to do is to explore the possibility of thinking and making creatively while being employed to carry out other work – and in so doing to explore the interstice between ‘work’ and ‘practice’ in terms of ‘residency’.