Y Dyffryn Byw / The Living Valley


Peak/Copa at Abergavenny Food Festival

Photographer Jon Pountney, based near Cardiff, was selected for our Horsebox Studio Commission at this year’s Abergavenny Food Festival.

Using archive photography as a starting point Jon discovered more about the smallholdings and farms, past and present, of rural Monmouthshire.

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With a particular focus on the Llanthony Valley, Jon created an exhibition of new photographic work alongside archive images from the personal collection of Edith James of Treveddw Farm and from the Llanthony History Society.

The exhibition was displayed in the Horsebox Studio, situated in the grounds of Abergavenny Castle during the festival weekend on Saturday 16th & Sunday 17th September 2017. Writer Emma Beynon and poet Jonathan Edwards, delivered creative writing workshops for all ages, inspired by the The Living Valley.

‘My discovery of the Llanthony Valley began as an exploration in the imagination, as well as in reality. An area illuminated by many artists and writers, the valley is very much a working space, crisscrossed by busy lanes and farms. It has been hard not to be seduced on these late summer evenings by the whirling swallows and dramatic cloudscapes around the Skirrid mountain; whilst trying to remember that in winter it can be a difficult and isolated place.   

Treveddw farm has been in the James family since 1860. The first James to farm there was Edward, who was Edith’s great grandfather, followed by Alan James and then Cecil James, Edith’s father. Today it is looked after by Mark and Liz; Liz is Edith’s niece. The farmhouse itself and the barns and farm buildings are beautiful in that way that practical buildings are; patched and repaired over hundreds of years, building up a tapestry that has shaped the look of the place as much as any architect.

Edith has provided graceful, bucolic photographs of her family’s life. Photographing the same farm and lanes, I have sought to reflect the contemporary atmosphere of the area, whilst also acknowledging my own early life growing up in rural north Yorkshire and Warwickshire.  

For me it is the smells of the buildings that are powerfully evocative, not just the farmyard smells but the shed where all the chopped wood is stored. When I was very small my Nan lived in a village in north Yorkshire and it is the humble garden buildings of her neighbours, Norah and Arthur, that the Treveddw wood shed recalls to me. Cool and dusty, with shafts of sun picking out the cobbled floor, it smelled of chopped wood, damp and bitumen. A totally timeless space, where imaginations were formed. I hope that places like this last forever.’

– Jon Pountney

Jonathon Edwards has written an article responding to The Living Valley:

The Abergavenny Food Festival. Stall after stall of salt and chilli squid, oysters and Bollinger, falafel and pitta, where burgers are made of venison or boar or water buffalo but never ham, where lattes are made of coconut milk or the tears of angels, where scallops in their shells sit in display cases or treasure chests surrounded by jewels of ice. There is organic food and hand-reared food, slow food, fast food and, quite probably, food at a moderate pace. Carwyn Jones stands queuing for tickets. Matt Tebbutt strolls in the sunshine, looking a bit like Matt Tebbutt. A twentysomething fashionista in the crowd points at a stall across the way and yells ‘Soft shell crab! Boom!’ In the afternoon sun, a helium-filled Tyrannosaurus rex floats up through the sky.  Follow that balloon straight down and you’ll find a crying child, holding a dinosaur-shaped hole where his heart used to be.

In the middle of all this, in an idyllic spot behind the castle – the Blorenge flicks cloud from its shoulders in the distance – stands the Peak Horsebox Studio, a haven of culture, thoughtfulness, opportunity, education, fun. Jon Pountney, the commissioned artist, has produced a new photography collection called ‘The Living Valley’ inspired by the food producers of the Llanthony Valley. He has sourced photos of Treveddw Farm from Edith James, whose family has lived on the farm since the late 1920s. These fascinating family portraits, school photographs and pictures of farming life offer a window on history; I was reminded of the wonderful RS Thomas poem ‘Cynddylan on a Tractor.’ Alongside these, Jon has produced images of what it looks like now, which offer an illuminating contrast with the originals. A horse looks out of its stall as if keeping an eye out for visitors. A road leads off into the distance in a beautiful rolling valley.

The photographs trigger a range of memories among visitors, who know people or places in the photos, or know someone who does, or think they recognise someone or somewhere, but are a few streets or miles or a generation out. Jon is influenced by the way art can build connections between people, and the way the Horsebox is a means of getting art out to audiences who may not have access to it. He describes the Valley as a ‘magical, interesting, otherworldly kind of area…as if you’ve passed into another dimension.’

Over the course of the weekend, the Horsebox is also a place for children. Emma Beynon’s wonderful poetry workshops inspire joyous poems about food. Here are a few among many examples of the children’s lines, which any poet would love to have written: ‘The apple is an orange in disguise,’ ‘the apple is a mohawk hair cut,’ ‘the apple is curvy as a hammock,’ ‘the cheese is a creamy yellow miniskirt, subtle but bold and confident.’

Jon’s photographs also inspire writing. ‘Poem to the Valley,’ which I’ll end this piece with, is a communal poem, combining lines from a range of people who visited the Horsebox throughout the weekend, offering a snapshot of visitors’ thinking and reminiscing, the journeys that they went on, inspired by Jon’s wonderful photographs.

-Jonathon Edwards


Poem to the Valley

A horse looking out of its stall, keeping a keen eye out for visitors.

A man holding his pet fox underarm – strange rugby ball, looking round at the world.

Sweat and stone, years of farming, making food in the Llanthony Valley.

The sweet smell of dew in the grass and the bitter taste of smoke in the air.

Bonnets tied tight under freckled chins, shading brightness, casting shadows.

The old signpost, pointing down the lane to the past, shining on memory.

Machine gun on a horse, mouldy apples, neigh!

Determined tractor driver, in his best bow tie.

Humans at one with rural wilderness.

Family roots growing like potatoes.

The purple cauliflower was funny.


About Jon Pountney:

‘I first picked up a ‘real’ camera in 1995, a present for my 17th birthday from my Nan. From this moment I began my creative journey as a photographer and artist, exploring photography, painting and drawing at college and university. Since leaving education, I have worked on a series of self-initiated and collaborative projects, which have ranged from a residency in a castle to a photography documentary commissioned and shown by the BBC.
My work is the result of years of seeing and thinking about photography and my place within it as an artist. My aesthetic as a photographer is very simple and straightforward: try to capture interesting places and moments in time and share with others. I make art to communicate my sense of wonder, and the themes in my work are influenced by my interest in people, place and history. Not merely a spectator, I am most often a member of the communities who form my practice. I am driven by storytelling through imagery, in still or moving image, and I believe my familiarity with my subjects helps to vitalise the work by lending credibility and an empathetic interpretation.’



About Abergavenny Food Festival:

Over the last 18 years, Abergavenny Food Festival has grown to become the largest, longest running food festival in Wales. The event enjoys an exceptional reputation as a place for chefs, food businesses, journalists, farmers and food producers to come together. The Festival prides itself on transforming the way people think about food; challenging and promoting new ideas, pushing the boundaries of current thinking and encouraging people to look differently at where their food comes from. Abergavenny Food Festival was created in 1999 by two local farmers in response to the BSE crisis and the resulting lack of consumer confidence in British produce. With the outbreak of Foot and Mouth in 2001, the difficulties worsened for farmers and pushed the Festival forward in terms of showcasing the wonderful food on offer locally and the passion of the people who produce it. Each year the Festival attracts more than 30,000 visitors to Abergavenny, generating an estimated £4 million impact for the local economy. 



The Horsebox Studio is a creative mobile space which takes Peak projects on the road. Supported by the Brecon Beacons Trust.



Beasts of the Black Mountains
Pete Fowler

Green Man Festival

Glanusk, Crickhowell, Powys
17th – 20th August 2017

Situated on site at the Horsebox Studio, Einstein’s Garden.

Click here to complete our survey and be in with a chance of winning a signed, limited edition Totemic print. Deadline 3rd September. 

Originally from Cardiff, artist and designer Pete Fowler works in a variety of media, including drawing, painting, animation, printmaking and sculpture and is best known for his artwork for the Super Furry Animals.  For Peak/Copa’s artist commission for Green Man 2017, Pete was lured away from his studio on Brick Lane, London for a research visit to the rural Black Mountains of Wales.

Over an intense four days Pete visited a variety of locations, including waterways, mountains and woodlands and met local residents and eco volunteers. Pete was inspired to creatively respond to the region’s unique landscape to design a psychedelic mirrored realm of the environment.

Pete has created TOTEMIC – Beasts of the Black Mountains, a company of fantastical beasts that live and breath within the features of the terrain. Pete will unleash the Canal Hydrus, Table Mountain Shaman, Alder Wood Sprite and River Usk Nymph at Green Man festival. Audiences are invited into the unique portal of the Horsebox Studio, a creative mobile space that takes Peak projects on the road.

During the festival weekend this portal will grow and mutate as families and folk create their own interpretations of the beasts through creative drawing and writing workshops. Will the Green Man have the ingenuity to tame these strengthening beasts?

Totemic will be exhibited at The Old School in Crickhowell in the autumn and via www.peakart.org.uk Signed limited edition Pete Fowler prints will made available to purchase after the festival.

Totemic is supported by the Arts Council of Wales and Brecon Beacons Trust.

Peak/Copa creates opportunities for contemporary art in the Black Mountains.



Tirlun Gwaith / Working Landscape

Recordio bywyd ar dyddynnod Canolbarth Cymru
Recording life on the smallholdings of mid Wales


Peak/Copa yng Ngŵyl Wanwyn y Sioe Frenhinol: 20 a 21 Mai 2017
Peak/Copa at the Royal Welsh Spring Festival: 20 & 21 May 2017


I don’t like to plan too much.
I’m trying to put back the natural wilderness.
Oak birch hazel thorn mountain ash ash.
A farm opening its arms wide to change,
as the same birds circle there, above,
singing their song.
And everybody on the farm looks up.

The Peak/Copa team pitched up the Horsebox Studio at the Royal Welsh Spring Festival in Builth Wells, where we presented a mini museum of tools from agricultural life of the 19th and 20th centuries. The objects were selected from the personal collection of historian, author and dry stonewaller, Stuart Fry. Over 230 people visited the Horsebox and we invited farmers and smallholders to talk with us to find out more about their experiences and memories of working on the land.

You can listen to recordings from the conversations here: soundcloud.com


We were delighted to be joined by Welsh poet Jonathan Edwards (winner of the Costa Poetry Prize 2014) who created a new poem for each person in response to their conversations.

You can read Jonathan’s poems here:
Tirlun Gwaith _ Working Landscape


And now a group of boys there on a bridge,
this summer of scything and leisure hours,
green, green leaves and lambing,
Summers don’t seem to be summers anymore.
It’s a life. It’s a life that’s gone now.

A short article from Jonathan reflecting on the weekend:

It was an enormous privilege to work with visitors to the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society Spring Festival. As I don’t come from a farming background at all, it was fascinating to hear the great variety of experiences which farming generates. The people we interviewed ranged from a woman in her twenties who’d taken to farming despite her fiancé’s lack of enthusiasm, delivering lambs with her engagement ring on, through to people who’d been in farming for sixty years, who’d seen all sorts of changes and talked with pride of passing their experiences on to the new generation.

One farmer we spoke to discussed his childhood in the 1950s, when he skipped school to work on the farm. In a family of butchers, my father had the same experience, skipping school to cart a delivery bike all over the valleys through his teens, so I was really interested in that connection, and the impact of a family business on education and opportunities. As a writer, I was also really struck by the care and delicacy of some of the processes farmers go through in their work. For example, one man discussed how part of his job at the moment involves seeding hedges, and to do so the seed needs to be removed from the berry and the poisonous pith around it. Having tried food blenders and all sorts of different apparatus, the conclusion has been that completing the process by hand is the only option, and that sort of daily process in some ways sums up the passion, patience and tenderness that the people I spoke to bring to their daily lives. Another farmer had developed from scratch a 13,000-tree wood on a piece of land he’d purchased. He spoke of going into his wood, the world he’d made, and spending hours there, the birds, the trees, how it felt protective. In that making of worlds to walk round in, that single-minded passion, there was much as a writer I could relate to.

It’s an enormous responsibility to take the experiences someone has been generous enough to share with you and form them into a piece of writing, to honour the art as well as the person. My favourite part of the weekend was seeing people’s reactions when I read the poems to them, when their lives and stories were given back to them. The gifts I received in return included five Welsh cakes, one pint, one handshake, one hug, nine smiles, one spontaneous round of applause and one offer of a bed if I ever happened to be passing through Cwmdu. Knowing how I might react if anyone ever wrote a poem about me, I’d been practising for weeks my read-and-duck method to avoid any punches, but it was never needed. Because of the quick turnaround, with each piece being written in half an hour or an hour to get to the next person in the queue, these are nascent, infant poems, first drafts, saplings, the sort of sketches my mother might make with a pencil before taking them home and getting the oils or the watercolours out. The material the farmers were kind enough to share with us was incredible, and my hope is that, with apologies for this obvious comparison, like one farmer’s berry or another’s forest, in the coming weeks and months, I can get rid of the places where the poems aren’t up to the job, can make them better, make them bloom and grow.

– Jonathan Edwards
May 2017

Images, Film and Sound Recordings by Sion Marshall Waters

With thanks to the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society and everyone who stopped by the Horsebox Studio to share their story.



Horsebox Studio Commission

Horsebox Studio Commission
Peak/Copa & Abergavenny Food Festival

August – September
Festival Weekend 16th & 17th September 2017

The Horsebox Studio Commission is a partnership project between Peak/Copa and the Abergavenny Food Festival. We are seeking a professional, Wales-based visual or applied artist of any discipline, to respond to the distinctive region of the Black Mountains and to the themes of the festival to produce new work in collaboration with the public, which will be created and presented in Peak’s Horsebox Studio on site during the festival weekend (16th and 17th September 2017).

Themes: growing, cooking, agriculture, sustainability, food culture, the politics and economics of food production, individual and collective memories of food, markets, small holdings


The artist must be available during the preparation and delivery of the festival weekend (16th and 17th September).

The artist is expected to spend a minimum of 8 days working on the research, preparation, delivery and evaluation of the commission (at least 4 days to be located in Abergavenny).

The Artist Commission is supported through Arts Council of Wales funding.

  • £2,500 artist fee inclusive of materials and production costs
  • Up to £150 travel expenses
  • Up to 4 x nights’ accommodation in Abergavenny (if required)
Click here for more information:
PeakCopa Horsebox Commission ENG Word doc
PeakCopa Horsebox Commission ENG  PDF

Or contact Rebecca Spooner, Creative Director rebecca@artsalivewales.org.uk / 01873 811579

The deadline for applications is 10am, Wednesday 19th July 2017.


Peak/Copa is an initiative devised and delivered by Arts Alive Wales, an arts education charity based in Crickhowell, Powys. Peak creates opportunities for contemporary art in the Black Mountains and Welsh Borders for the benefit of the region’s artists, communities and visitors.




Comisiwn Stiwdio Fan Geffyl
Peak/Copa a Gŵyl Fwyd Y Fenni

Gorffennaf – Medi.
Penwythnos yr Ŵyl 16 ac 17 Medi 2017

Mae Comisiwn Stiwdio Fan Geffyl yn brosiect partneriaeth rhwng Peak/Copa a Gŵyl Fwyd y Fenni. Rydym yn chwilio am artist gweledol neu gymhwysol proffesiynol o unrhyw ddisgyblaeth sydd wedi ei leoli yng Nghymru, i ymateb i ardal nodedig y Mynydd Du ac i themâu’r ŵyl gan gynhyrchu gwaith newydd mewn cydweithrediad â’r cyhoedd, a fydd yn cael ei greu a’i gyflwyno yn Stiwdio Fan Geffyl Peak ar y safle yn ystod penwythnos yr ŵyl (16 ac 17 Medi 2017).

Themâu : tyfu, coginio, amaethyddiaeth, cynaliadwyedd, diwylliant bwyd, gwleidyddiaeth ac economeg cynhyrchu bwyd, atgofion unigol a chyfunol am fwyd, marchnadoedd, tyddynnod


Rhaid i’r artist fod ar gael yn ystod paratoi a gweinyddu penwythnos yr ŵyl (16 ac 17 Medi). Disgwylir i’r artist dreulio o leiaf 8 diwrnod gwaith yn gweithio ar yr ymchwil, paratoi, cyflenwi a gwerthuso’r comisiwn (o leiaf 4 dydd i’w leoli yn y Fenni).

Caiff Comisiwn yr Artist ei gefnogi drwy nawdd Cyngor Celfyddydau Cymru.

Mae’r comisiwn yn cynnig y canlynol:

  • £2,500 ffi artist yn cynnwys deunyddiau, costau cynhyrchu ac unrhyw addasiadau i’r Stiwdio Fan Geffyl.
  • Hyd at £150 costau teithio
  • Hyd at 4x noson o lety yn y Fenni (os yw’n ofynnol) yn ystod y cyfnod ymchwil a phen wythnos yr ŵyl.
Cliciwch yma am ragor o wybodaeth:
PeakCopa Horsebox Commission CYM Word doc
PeakCopa Horsebox Commission CYM  PDF


Neu cysylltwch â Rebecca Spooner, Cyfarwyddwr Creadigol rebecca@artsalivewales.org.uk / 01873 811579

Y dyddiad cau am ymgeisio yw 10am, dydd Mercher 19 Gorffennaf 2017.


Menter yw Peak/Copa a ddyfeisiwyd ac a gyflenwir gan Arts Alive Wales, elusen addysgol gelfyddydol a leolir yng Nghrucywel, Powys. Mae Copa yn creu cyfleoedd am gelf gyfoes yn y Mynydd Du ac ar y ffin er budd artistiaid a chymunedau’r ardal a’r ymwelwyr â hi.




Saturday 1st July 2017, 12-10pm


Redhouse, Old Town Hall, High Street, Merthyr CF47 8AE




Peak/Copa is pleased to support Enthusiasm


A project by Victoria Donovan and Stefhan Caddick


Enthusiasm is a migration story spanning Merthyr Tydfil and Ukraine; the 1860s to the present day. This innovative, interdisciplinary one-day arts event brings together musicians, members of the community, archivists and historians to take a radical look at a little-known historical episode that links Merthyr and the South Wales Valleys to the Donbas in Ukraine and asks how the legacy of this past continues to resonate in our social, cultural and political landscape today.

For more information visit: www.stefhancaddick.co.uk

In 1869, Welsh industrialist John Hughes founded the mining town of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine, initiating a wave of migration from South Wales to Eastern Europe. 1917 and the approaching Russian Revolution saw the hasty exit of the industrialists who had followed Hughes, fearful of the revolutionary ferment. 100 years later, in the present day, Ukraine and the Donbas are once again at the centre of a violent conflict that has led to the internal displacement of over a million  people.

Enthusiasm will bring to life some of the elements of this fascinating and timely story, via film, music, image, food and discussion.

Enthusiasm includes:

• Performance of a selection of migrant letters by local and diasporan voices.

• Exhibition of historic photographs of Donetsk from the Glamorgan Archives and contemporary images by Ukrainian photographer Alexander Chekmenev

• A programme of workshops and activities

• Screening: Enthusiasm: The Donbass Symphony (1931) by Ukrainian revolutionary film maker Dziga Vertov with a new original score performed live by composer Simon Gore.


View a pdf of the full programme for the day 

Dr Victoria Donovan, originally from Cardiff, is a cultural historian of Russia based at the University of St Andrews. Donovan was selected as one of ten academics in the ‘New Generation Thinker 2016’ scheme.


Stefhan Caddick is a visual artists who works in video, installation and performance. His practice is often a collaborative engagement that sources its materials from institutions, communities and individuals.

Project Partners: 
University of St AndrewsGlamorgan ArchivesRussia 17, Peak/Copa: Contemporary Art in the Black Mountains, Redhouse Cymru

Image credit: 
Image: still from Dziga Vertov’s Enthusiasm: The Donbass Symphony (1931) (from the collection of the Austrian Film Museum. Frame enlargement Georg Wasner)

Y Gors Ddu / The Black Bog

Join us for an informal event to view Allen Fisher’s work in progress and discover more about the Black Bog.


SATURDAY 10TH JUNE, 10am-1pm
(panel discussion will start promptly at 11am)


Arts Alive Wales
The Old School, Brecon Road, Crickhowell, NP8 1DG


FREE. Refreshments served. To book a place:  info@artsalivewales.org.uk / 01873 811579

Artist, Allen Fisher has created a new collection of paintings on y Waen Ddu, the Black Bog – a rare raised peat bog situated on the Craig Y Cilau nature reserve in the Brecon Beacons National Park. Allen is drawn to the cultural associations of peat bogs as sites of Iron Age sacrifice, preservation and divination as well as their ecological importance as rich environments of biodiversity and carbon capture. Peak/Copa, in collaboration with BBC Cymru R&D has produced 360 degree film footage and binaural sound recordings of Allen creating new work on site.

Rebecca Spooner, Creative Director, will host a panel discussion with Allen and two guest speakers:

 – Allen Fisher is based in Hereford and is a poet, painter and tutor associated with the British Poetry Revival and the Fluxus movement. His work is represented by Tate gallery. Allen will talk about his attraction to working on site with the ponds of y Waen Ddu and his working process. He will also discuss the enduring need amongst artists to work directly in the landscape, particularly referencing the land art movement of the twentieth century.

– Archaeologist and author, Professor Miranda Aldhouse-Green, will discuss the historical and cultural context of peat bogs. Referring to her critically acclaimed book Bog Bodies Uncovered (Thames & Hudson. 2015) Miranda will tell us more about the remains of prehistoric people who have been revealed in the bogs of northern Europe. In many cases their skin, hair, nails, and marks of injury survive, betraying the violence and ritual that surrounded their deaths. Who were these unfortunate people, and why were they killed

– Geologist Alan Bowring is the Fforest Fawr Geopark Development Officer for the Brecon Beacons National Park Authrority. Alan will talk about the ecological and geological significance of the Criag Y Cilau site and its importance within the National Park.  In 2013 Alan discovered a rare example of Bronze Age rock art, more than 4,000 years old  in the Brecon Beacons.

Our Digital Manager, Gavin Johnson will discuss the documentation of Allen Fisher’s project in partnerhsip with BBC Cymru and the potential for digital technology in artist projects.

Directions and parking information can be found on the Visit Us page of the Arts Alive Wales website.

Photo credit: Toril Brancher


French & Mottershead

A love poem to the forest and body

Cushioned by soil and surrounded by leaf litter and new growth, Woodland by artist duo French & Mottershead is a meditative and deeply affecting audio work that creates a self-portrait of the body after death. Using spoken narrative with insights from forensic anthropologists and ecologists, Woodland is a gentle confrontation of mortality and an invitation to imagine our body’s return to the earth over an epic length of time.

Friday 26th– Monday 29th May, 10:30am – 4:30pm

Special event:
Saturday 27th May with an artist talk at 7pm

The Old Station, Tintern, nr Chepstow, Monmouthshire, NP16 7NX

Suggested donation: £4 per person

Drop-in or to book a place contact: info@artsalivewales.org.uk

  • Woodland is an outdoor piece. Please wear appropriate clothing and sensible shoes.
  • This works contains sensitive material. Recommended 14+, or by parental guidance.
  • The audio experience lasts 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Co-presented with independent curator and producer Ruth Holdsworth and supported by Wye Valley River Festival and Wye Valley AONB.


Photo credit: Paul Blakemore

Tirlun Gwaith / Working Landscape

Recordio bywyd ar dyddynnod Canolbarth Cymru
Recording life on the smallholdings of mid Wales 

Peak/Copa yng Ngŵyl Wanwyn y Sioe Frenhinol: 20 a 21 Mai 2017
Peak/Copa at the Royal Welsh Spring Festival: 20 & 21 May 2017

sgyrsiau / gweithdai ysgrifennu / amgueddfa fach / atgof / recordiadau digidol / llyfrgell / barddoniaeth
conversations / writing workshops / mini museum / reminiscence / digital recordings / library / poetry

Gweithgareddau am ddim i bob oed.
Dewch o hyd i ni yn Stiwdio Horsebox, Neuadd Morgannwg Ganol.
Free activities for all ages.
Find us at the Horsebox Studio, South Glamorgan Hall.

Cydnabyddiaeth ffotograffau: Toril Brancher. Gyda diolch i Stuart Fry.
Photo credit: Toril Brancher. With thanks to Stuart Fry.

Coal Tree Salt Sea

Peak has been supporting artist Sarah Rhys, based in Mamilhad, Monmouthshire, with her current project Coal Tree Salt Sea. Sarah is preparing for a solo exhibition at Abergavenny Museum from 18th Jan – 1st March 2017.


‘Coal Tree Salt Sea
 began in Ystradgynlais when I met the Josef Herman Art Foundation Cymru. I was interested in archiving work for the Mining Josef Herman Project. Through this initial meeting the Foundation became interested in the way that I working and in particular my approach to ‘place’. This led to an invitation to develop an artist residency in partnership with them for which I was awarded a research and development grant from the Arts Council of Wales.

The early phase of the work was based around Ystradgynlais, but since the project was also influenced by the people I came into contact with, ensuing conversations caused a rhizome of connections and meanings. This led to a research trip to Poland, Josef Herman’s country of origin. There I explored a salt mine as a counterpart to the coalmines in Wales, I subsequently accepted an invitation to meet a group of poets and artists in Prague, known in medieval times as the City of Alchemy.’

– Sarah Rhys

Sarah is self publishing an artist book with her Coal Tree Press to accompany the exhibition at Abergavenny Museum, which will also be presented at Oriel Q, Narbeth from 5th August to 3rd September.


The book is now available for order from rhysstudio.org/shop


The following extract is from a conversation with Dr Iain Biggs, Co- Director of PLaCE International.

Iain Biggs: How did the Coal Tree come about?

Sarah Rhys: ‘I had spent a few days in Budapest in Autumn preceding my residency. In the Jewish Quarter, I was particularly moved by a sculpture in the garden of the Synagogue: a huge silver tree that bore the names of Jews murdered by the Nazis, engraved on its leaves. At the base of the tree were branches representing whole families that had been systematically destroyed It was a very striking image. In the Judaic, Christian and Hermetic tradition of the Kabbalah, the Tree of Life is the central mystical symbol.

Later on, after I had started my residency, a strong and compelling image came to mind: of coal pouring from a cattle horn and then later from a hollow tree. A sort of inverse geology and cornucopia.

I wanted to make something outside in the landscape and wanted to find a hollow oak tree. Oak felt appropriate, significant: both oak and animal horns feature widely in Celtic culture.

In Welsh, oak is derwen, and druid is derwyddon, which means oak knowledge.

I met Arwel Michael from the Ystradgynlais Heritage and Language Society through the Josef Herman Art Foundation. He took me to a tree on a hill in nearby Cwmgiedd, where he lives. This ancient hollow oak had served as a den for him and his friends in childhood. This oak had all the right qualities.

Arwel had acted in the Humphrey Jennings documentary film The Silent Village (1943) in which he appeared, aged two, sitting on his father’s knee. Humphrey Jennings chose Cwmgiedd as a parallel village to Lidice in the Czech Republic.

Interestingly, Arwel has been active in preserving the Lidice / Cwmgiedd link over the years and plans to import a pear tree graft taken from the sole surviving tree of the Lidice atrocities in WW2. The tree will be planted in Cwmgiedd.’

Copyright – Sarah Rhys.
Mamhilad, Monmouthshire, September 2016.

Limelight / Calcholau

Rob Smith & Charles Danby

Cardiff Contemporary

Limelight : an archive

Castle Arcade, Cardiff
22 October – 19th November
Tuesday – Saturday 11am-6pm / Sunday 11am-5pm

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

is a project developed by collaborative artists Rob Smith and Charles Danby, based in Newcastle. Supported by Peak/Copa and the Canal & River Trust, the project researches and responds to the working landscape of canals, quarries, tramways and kilns that serviced the lime industry of the rural Black Mountains which in turn fed the nation’s heavy industries that roared through South Wales.

For their Cardiff Contemporary commission, the artists have used digital means to bring reflections on this history to urban audiences by streaming live illuminations at nightfall from Llangattock Limekilns in the heart of the Brecon Beacons National Park to the Welsh capital and online. The live stream event (on 22nd October) presented multiple perspectives of landscape, combining live with recorded footage, audio and performance in an immersive experience. The illuminations were created with limelight itself, an intense, pure white light generated through heating quicklime at high temperature, used in the 19th century for land survey work and stage lighting. Each live broadcast will lasted as long as it took for the chemical reaction to be exhausted.

Peak/Copa pitched up its Horsebox Studio outside Cardiff Castle during the opening weekend of Cardiff Contemporary (Friday 21st – Sunday 23rd October)
 which acted as a resource space for members of the public with an intriguing collection of artist films, vintage books, maps and lime materials related to the Limelight project.

Rob and Charles organised a replica limekiln burning at Llangattock during their research week in the Black Mountains in September 2016
. The public event introduced the project and facilitated discussion about the lime industry and canal network.



Artists Rob Smith and Charles Danby are based in Newcastle and have collaborated since 2011. Rob brings a materially engaged approach to digital technologies, exploring the possibilities of live and networked art such as Radiometer (2011) and Field Broadcast – a live streaming project that enables artists to make live broadcasts from remote sites. Charles brings wide academic and curatorial experience challenging conventional approaches to archives and British art histories including projects such as Grand National – Art from Britain, Vestfossen, Norway (2010), Animated Environments, Siobhan Davies Studios, London (2011-12) and Das Traumann at Baltic (2015). He is a senior lecturer at Northumbria University.

In 2014 Smith and Danby organised Revisiting the Quarry, a symposium in conjunction with the Hayward exhibition Uncommon Ground: Land Art in Britain 1966-79 at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. In 2014 the artists were commissioned as part of Shelter, a project on Lindisfarne, Northumberland. Taking limestone from a quarry on the island they made a small scale lime kiln and produced quicklime that was subsequently used to create new sculptures called Repaired Rocks. These works repaired limestone rocks from the quarry, extending themes of industrial process within the landscape and the nature of post-industrial reparation to a site.



Peak/Copa creates opportunities for contemporary art in the Black Mountains for the benefit of the region’s artists, communities and visitors. The inspiration for Peak lies in an enthusiasm for the exceptional artists working in the Black Mountains and the distinctive, natural landscape of the region as a unique resource. Peak works in partnership with environmental and heritage organisations such as Canal & River Trust, The Landmark Trust and the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority. These organisations share Peak’s vision for bringing artists, sites and audiences together. Peak/Copa is an Arts Alive Wales initiative.

Cardiff Contemporary is a citywide festival of contemporary arts, showcasing a programme of exhibitions, events and activities over five weeks.  20 October – 19 November.

Limelight is part of the Canal & River Trust 2016 Arts on the Waterways programme. The programme offers time and space to artists, producers and curators to make new work and engage new audiences for both the waterways and the arts.

Peak is one of five projects currently supported by the Digital Innovation Fund for the Arts in Wales, a strategic partnership between Arts Council of Wales and Nesta. The partnership is helping arts organisations in Wales to experiment with digital technology as a tool to reach new audiences. Peak is working in collaboration with BBC Cymru Wales to research the use of live-streaming digital technology in site-specific locations in the Brecon Beacons National Park.

Established in 1995, Ty-Mawr Lime Ltd has made an enormous contribution to resurrecting the use of traditional building materials.  Ty-Mawr has gone on to become a market leader in the design, manufacture and distribution of environmentally-friendly building materials and systems, providing a ‘one-stop’ shop for its customers and clients across the UK.


For more information contact: Rebecca Spooner, Creative Director
rebecca@artsalivewales.org.uk / 01873 811579

(photo credits: Jon Pountney & Toril Brancher)