Albany Gallery: Celebrating 50 Years With Something New

You could be forgiven for missing the gallery when walking down Albany Road. On the high street and nestled between bustling shops, The Albany Gallery blends in and requires a security buzzer to gain access to the first and second floor location. Yet don’t let that put you off.

Exhibition inspired by David's 2012 visit to India
Exhibition inspired by Bill’s 2012 visit to India

Clearly the gallery has a winning formula, given it was established in 1965 and recently concluded a ’50th Anniversary Christmas Exhibition’ – somewhat timely in the festive season for a private, commercial operation.

I was astonished to hear that Albany owner, Mary Yapp, is still in charge at eighty seven years young. Unfortunately Mary was in North Wales when I visited but her presence is felt throughout the gallery. Bill Swann, also from North Wales, is an artist she admires and he agreed to take the not necessarily glamorous ‘January slot’ to showcase his glass and sculpture work. By the seem of things, it is far from impacting sales.

Riverscape Orchha (Madhya Pradesh state)
Riverscape Orchha (Madhya Pradesh state)

Swann’s collection has been nomadic, shifting around the country before landing in The Albany. Needless to say, the dynamism of India is captured throughout his work: “the sculptural work conveys how the burden and weight of life contrasts harmoniously with the joy and colour of living.” Talk about adding a bit of spice to the January slot.

Such contemporary work is not a staple of the gallery. Despite being a fan of Swann’s work, the gallery is consciously expanding horizons. For example, you could enter the gallery and make a purchase with a few hundred pounds – not so long ago, the top end work went for closer to sixty thousand.

How could art explore the psyche of India without an  elephant?
How could art explore the psyche of India without an elephant?

If you do go, make sure you spend plenty of time exploring Bill’s personal book, ‘studio work, development of ideas, sketches and source information’. The exhibit has so much energy and movement that it really helps to see how Swann’s ideas progressed and resulted in the cathartic glass work.

As Bill has written on the opposite page of his 'ideas' book, "art is a spiritual language"
As Bill has written on the opposite page of his ‘ideas’ book, “art is a spiritual language”

Like so many stories of travelling in India, Bill shares one of a train journey in which he met a transvestite dancer, a government official (keen to talk about social welfare), a young psychology student and a host of goats and monkeys. Although not having been to India myself, I have read a lot of great fiction from the country (from Midnight’s Children to The Inheritance Of Loss) and could see and feel clear parallels.

Again, this was an unexpected treat and even if you are not in the market for something, I would encourage you to drop by for a browse. Who knows, it may encourage you to pack your bags…

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g39: UNIT(e)2015 kicks off next week

g39’s Unit project doesn’t begin until next week but I purposefully wanted to drop by during the build up.

I had read of g39’s move from the city centre in previous years and it certainly has a unique outer appearance.

g39 Oxford St., Cardiff
g39 Oxford St., Cardiff

The warehouse exterior almost looks more like the home of a hip microbrewery than contemporary art gallery, but that’s a strength rather than weakness. The gallery has big ambitions and they’ve found a place to match.

g39 was a key venue during Cardiff Contemporary 2014 and hosted the official launch with Carwyn Evan’s exhibition UDO.

Now it’s preparing for an extension of a successful pilot scheme from last year, where twelve artists, groups and curators occupy the ‘modular Unit spaces’ for production, presentation and development.

Genuine preparation for next week - this is not an exhibition...
Genuine preparation for next week – this is not an exhibition…

g39’s current artists focus is on dialogue and production. Given the gallery is an artist-run space – which accepts submissions from throughout the year – expect plenty of visual art which communicates along these thematic lines.

modular Unit no. 1 awaits Mr Pinder
modular Unit no. 1 awaits Mr Pinder

For example, Jason Pinder’s work is concerned with material experience but the g39 website shares the rundown of all who are involved. John-Michael Parry’s objects (which are known for ‘skewing logic or making little sense’) are also part of the programme and run from January 15 to March 14.

With 6,700 square foot of open plan exhibition space, I cannot wait to see the transformation over the coming weeks.

The main reason I have heard such favourable comments about g39 seems to be because it is as much a resource and community as it is a gallery. I look forward to going back and discovering the latest offering from this contemporary outlet.

What To Do On Christmas Eve in Cardiff

1. If you enjoyed New Art Cardiff’s review of gallery/ten, then their winter exhibition continues today. It includes new work by gallery artists such as Carwyn Evans, John Abell and Seren Morgan Jones. If finances permit, this could be the ultimate blend of late minute Christmas shopping and contemporary art browsing.

2.  If you’re feeling more like an arm chair and Blue Nun afternoon, then good news – Art Wales’ Visual Arts Daily has just come out! Their stories have come from as wide a source of people as ever.

3. Get on the blower if you fancy attending the Artes Mundi ‘Straight From The Horse’s Mouth’ talks in the New Year. There are a series of scheduled conversations with all the top competing artists – from Carlos Bunga to Karen Mirza – and tickets are said to be limited. Spoil yourself this Christmas.

4. Back to the armchair and fireplace – Wales’ very own Jack Latham has been tweeting today about his latest photographic adventures with VICE in wintry Iceland. It’s lovely and artsy with a very serious undertone. Postpone this option if there are children in the room.

5. If you are a fan of Carwyn Evans (see 1) and fancy a little more, then g39 have recently uploaded their annual round-up of 2014, where Evans receives very warm appreciation.

6. If you’re totally bonkers and none of that appeals, then enjoy the back catalogue of New Art Cardiff. MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Wales’ First Mental Health Arts Festival Is Closer Than Ever

Wales is the only Home Nation not to have an arts festival dedicated to the theme of mental health.

Anxiety Arts Festival has successfully taken off in London and Scotland’s Mental Health Arts & Film Festival is now in its eighth year. The latter just published their 2014 festival report, where a record twenty thousand took part across the country.

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Wales abundantly has a thriving arts scene. Events such as Cardiff Contemporary are a huge success. And various studies have shown that mental health and creativity have a symbiotic relationship.

So why the silence in Wales?

Change

Rather than a lack of need there seems a lack of unifying voice.

This could be about to change, thanks in large part to Mark Smith.

Little over two years ago, Mark established Making Minds, a community organisation based in South Wales that seeks to promote the role of art and creativity in mental health.

I went along to find out more at their informal AGM late last month and had difficulty keeping up with all they have achieved over the past year. From involvement with the music festival Cardiff Mind FEST to open mic nights Giving Voices, the organisation is on a mission.

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                                                    Art from a Living Rooms workshop led by artist Natalie Jones

Run by a team of volunteers – many of whom have their own mental health issues to contend with, let alone day jobs – Making Minds is garnering a lot of attention.

Why Now?

A key relationship has been made with Disability Arts Cymru and Operational Director Sara Mackay says they were “not quite prepared” for the level of support and interest received, including from potential funders.

Last month – in conjunction with Representing North Merthyr – they held two open meetings to discuss initial plans. The latter of the two was held at Chapter Arts, Cardiff and brought together people and organisations in the arts sector, mental health sector, community development sector and others.

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The overarching vision is to have a festival which not only celebrates the work created by artists who have experience of mental health issues, but to tackle the deeply embedded stigma of mental health in society.

At a time when the two separate sectors of mental health and arts are facing considerable cuts in public funding, I asked Mark why The Arts Council For Wales – an obvious pillar stone to key funding – could have their head turned by a mental health arts festival.

His answer was concise: “It would offer multiple benefits.”

It’s not exactly letting a cat out of the bag to say that mental health services are under increasing pressure in Wales. At worst they simply “cannot cope”.  The festival would play into this narrative whilst also being an artistic outlet.

Yet a possible festival “would not necessarily be about art therapy” Mark added.

The Role Of Contemporary Art

Earlier in the year, Julia Thomas co-founded ATTIC, a contemporary art project and gallery space. Located in the third floor of an unmarked building in Roath, the project was “dedicated to exploring personal, cultural and scientific understandings of the mind”.

It played into a lot of the key themes which the potential festival is aiming to highlight.

Over a series of Q&As, Julia made it clear why contemporary art could play a key part.

1: It helps us understand the relationship of ‘the biological, social and psychological.’

2: It relates to challenges people have today.

3: It facilitates conversation.

4: This means being more concerned with questions than answers.

5: There’s lots of ways to have this conversation – and contemporary art is just one of them.

Opportunity

Dr Ria Poole of DECIPHer agrees with Julia and says that getting everybody involved is key.

Beyond considering the stigma surrounding mental health and representations of mental illness, there’s a tremendous array of mental health perspectives to take into consideration, from patients’ families to carers to mental health professionals.

“Look at the Turner Prize – the relevance and meaning of art is so dependent upon the observer… so if the representation of art is as wide as it can be there is the best possible chance of reaching out to all people. To facilitate dialogue everyone should be given the opportunity to contribute – using a range of media to facilitate expression.”

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   Art from a Living Rooms workshop led by artist Natalie Jones

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mark is pulling together a relatively disparate group of people.

“The main challenge in achieving this is ensuring people and organisations see the value in the festival, from their own perspective at first to the point where they want to be involved”, he added.

Other Challenges

There are other challenges too, namely in terms of geography. The north and south of Wales are very strong in terms of activity, with only pockets in between.

Should the festival start out regionally or aim to be national? In contemplating the arguable disconnect, Julia Thomas amusingly pointed out that the drive from north to south passes through England.

These are exactly the sort of logistical debates that are ongoing. A current idea is to artists from all over Wales be involved but in a smaller geographical location.

Significantly however, Making Mind’s told New Art Cardiff of their “positive” meeting earlier this week with the Arts Council For Wales.

Expectations

Cardiff artist Natalie Jones has been running art workshops in conjunction with Making Mind’s and The Living Room.

She got involved as preparation for her art psychotherapy studies next year and says “I didn’t really know what to expect from the workshops but have met some amazing people through them and hope they get ‘something’ from the sessions too.”

It seems a great analogy for the festival itself – it’s more about meeting people and conversation than knowing what to expect.

The goal is to raise the necessary funds and hold a Mental Health Arts Festival within the next two years. The hope is that it becomes a permanent fixture in the Welsh arts calendar.