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Fieldnotes - an exhibition by Iwan Bala and Menna Elfyn

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Polly March Polly March | 10:40 UK time, Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Award-winning poet and playwright Menna Elfyn and artist and writer Iwan Bala have teamed up for a thought-provoking new exhibition at the Oriel Myrddin Gallery in Carmarthen.

Image courtesy of Iwan Bala. Photograph by Toril Brancher

Image courtesy of Iwan Bala. Photograph by Toril Brancher

This creative dialogue is the product of conversations and ideas the two have shared during their time as colleagues at Trinity College, Carmarthen, where Menna is director of the master's programme in creative writing and Iwan is a senior lecturer in creative arts and humanities.

Fieldnotes uses a collaboration of Iwan's paintings and Menna's poems to explore notions of memory, interpretation and errors in translation and also links this to Welsh cultural heritage and the shared knowledge of communities.

It draws on the concept of notes made by any researcher as they investigate a topic. It is something Bala feels is intrinsically linked to his own artwork, which has always been about his lived experience and ideas drawn from his reading - in effect a product of his own field notes.

His fascination with combining words and images, such as in maps and diagrams, acts as a springboard for much of the thinking behind the exhibition.

"The meanings they contain are in constant flux," he says. "Despite their implied certainty - there is often a subtext, an error in translation, gaps, omissions, terra incognita, which is open to interpretation."

For Elfyn, this gap, especially between the two languages of Wales, is fascinating because it allows people to interpret and read the same thing so differently.

She says: "If you look at a diamond, it will gleam in so many different ways and it's the same with language - so much can be lost in translation."

Image courtesy of Iwan Bala. Photograph by Toril Brancher

Image courtesy of Iwan Bala. Photograph by Toril Brancher

The artists both relate this to Wales where many of the names of places - towns, villages, farms and houses - have been translated or lost by renaming.

Elfyn says it is more than a place name that is lost, but the common shared knowledge of a people.

"In the exhibition Iwan has a photograph with different names of farms and it's a very plain-looking list but opposite I have printed a list of nicknames given to miners that I heard growing up in Pontardawe.

"They are nicknames that come from a local understanding and the brotherhood that exists in a rural place, but may not be carried on through the generations.

"Much of our work in this exhibition is about mapping and remembering and an aura of place.

"If you take the word snowdrop for example, in Welsh there are five different names for it, all of which are linked to images - one literally means 'brooch in snow' and another 'child's bell'.

"I think it's up to each artist to rediscover these old names and give them prominence so they are not lost forever. It's important to get them down on paper."

This merging of the historic and current is something Menna is very conscious of in her own work, with her modern Welsh poetry often supplemented by older words, which she hopes to "wash anew" in a new light for her readers.

Both artists were determined the exhibition would evolve organically rather than with Menna writing in response to Iwan's art and vice versa, although it does include one picture of his of a map of Wales and Menna's poem about a map of Wales as well as a work Iwan has created in response to her poem Size of Wales, about a piece of ice the size of the country, breaking off.

Image courtesy of Iwan Bala. Photograph by Toril Brancher

Image courtesy of Iwan Bala. Photograph by Toril Brancher

Menna adds: "Writing is all about field-work and the act of digging deep to unearth mysteries. We know too well that we are only passing through as we sub-consciously make our personal field-notes.

"Two artists seeing 'something down there to smile at in the dust' share the fascination of lifting and sifting through the cae hir (long field)."

Fieldnotes will be opened by Professor M Wynn Thomas, Emyr Humphreys Chair of Welsh Writing in English, Swansea University on Friday 6 January at 6pm.

Just before the official opening Iwan Bala and Menna Elfyn will be in conversation with visitors to the exhibition.

The show runs from 7 January to 18 February. For more details visit www.orielmyrddingallery.co.uk.


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