Our county is home to Wales’ National Eisteddfod this year, and the towns and villages approaching the venue are awash with purple and mauve bunting. The event is staged in grassy fields with beautiful Denbighshire hills as a backdrop. It’s a festival of Welsh culture and so features literature (Welsh language), music, dancing, food specific to the region, as well as contemporary fine and applied arts from the whole of Wales and beyond.
The Visual Arts area traditionally houses an open exhibition and a special exhibition. This year, the special exhibition has been created in response to the former North Wales Hospital, a large Victorian asylum that now stands derelict, but since 1848, has been of great significance to the area.
The artist Simon Proffitt has been commissioned to research and respond to the hospital and it’s impact, creating work in collaboration with Eilir Jones; writer, performer, artist and former psychiatric nurse at the hospital. The results are shown in the exhibition, entitled Dinbych Saith or Denbigh Seven, the telephone number for the hospital.
Covering a wide range of disciplines, the work includes sculpture, sound, film, photography, painting, collage and performance. In the piece pictured above, Dept. of Memories, exhibition visitors are invited to share their thoughts about the hospital with the artists, who are dressed as psychiatric nurses. The visitor’s response is condensed onto a label, stuck to a small brown medical bottle and placed on a collecting shelf. Over the course of the exhibition, this piece has the potential to build up a fascinating insight into the direct and indirect effect of the institution on the people of the area.
Other pieces include Occupational Therapy which features a swarm of bath plugs, scouring pads and lumps of coal, suspended from fine chains, above a nest of speakers. The materials reference the industrial therapy unit at the hospital, where patients were employed with repetitive, menial tasks.
The first thing you notice when entering the exhibition is the colour of the walls: authentic ‘ward-yellow’ which in this instance is a kind of 1960s yellow-ochre, similar to that found in vintage caravans… or ancient asylums. This, alongside the signage in NHS font and colour, gives the space a distinctive feel and a slightly unsettling air.
A feeling further exemplified by powerful short films such as Fragments made from vintage footage shot at the hospital itself. This is a triptych of moving images, layered to create a disorientating central area. Like the Rorschach ink blot test, it’s difficult not to see sinister images made from the innocuous recordings.
My favourite piece however, is Main Hall (detail) consisting of a single brick. At one point apparently, it was actually part of the hospital complex and was recovered from the site complete with the small hole that looks like a tiny doorway. It’s a beautiful brick, with a rich, slightly iridescent front fired face. It’s displayed cheekily on a white plinth, nodding to the reverence of a museum exhibit, but with the spontaneous energy of a found object.
2nd – 10th August
Simon Proffitt & Eilir Jones
Special Exhibition, Y Lle Celf
National Eisteddfod 2013