03 November 2016

Cardiff art: More places to sit

Way back in March, I showed you the Beastie Benches, a series of nine terracotta benches, sculpted by artist Gwen Heeney who got her inspiration from by the mythical creatures in Dylan Thomas’s poem ‘The Ballad of the Long Legged Bait’.

Here is another set of Henney’s wondrous carved brick benches. The simplest of the three (below left) is the Mussel Bench, which pulls together a series of mussel shells to form a bench, but one much more comfortable than the real mussel shells could ever be. I have to say I don’t quite see the shells here but perhaps I should’ve looked more closely at the other side of the bench instead of just sitting on it.


Sitting cheek by jowl with the Mussel Bench is Rhiannon Seating, which is also the collective name for this group of benches located in Barquentine Place, near Cardiff Bay. Rhiannon, which translates as ‘Great Queen’, is a central figure in Welsh mythology, in the stories related in the Mabinogian. She personifies the ancient concept of the Earth Goddess or Earth Mother.

What amazes me with this artwork is the fluidity Heeney has achieved with a material that is, basically, a pile of rectangular, sharp-edged building blocks. Rhiannon looks completely relaxed, enjoying a comfortable snooze in the sun. And those feet! If you tickle them, will the sleeping giantess awaken?

The third bench that completes this 1999 trilogy is Sleeping Partner, a mystical male figure who is also sleeping away his days. It almost seems a shame to sit on him in case he too awakens from his peaceful slumber.



This second terracotta artwork is also for sitting on but it has an entirely different feel to Gwen Heeney’s work. Dating from 1993, designed by Nina Edge and created by ceramicist David Mackie, West Close Square can be found in Cardiff’s inner city suburb of Butetown. It is a multi-cultural community, whose many and varied ethnic roots are reflected in the decoration of the ceramic panels that surround the central circular piece.


                                            

  In an article entitled ‘Pass the Parcel: Art, Agency, Culture and Community’, Nina Edge tells the wonderful story of how this piece came into being through the enthusiasm of a group of creative women from the Butetown community where she was then living:

As far as they were concerned, they had a neighbourhood artist -- like they had a hairdresser, a cook and a singer. They had no interest in approaching other artists. So the administration bent to the gentle insistence of the young women, who in turn knew and pursued the aims of their wider community.
 
The result is West Close Square, an artwork that has transformed a vacant lot on a council estate into a space where the local people can come together ‘to show off, sit, play, chew ghat, smoke weed and meet’.