Something remarkable unfolded deep in the heart of Brecon Beacons National Park this Mothering Sunday 14th March. A 12 mile coffin route and an ancient Bronze Age Burial Cairn set the scene for a conceptual art exhibition of a totally different kind.
Situated on the hauntingly beautiful Black Mountain, Carnau y Garreg Las burial cairn became home to a 20ft hand knitted wool blanket - part of an inspiring and unique art exhibition entitled ‘Cwtch’ by conceptual artist, Ann Jordan from Swansea Metropolitan University.
The open-air gallery - where a crumbling 4,000 year old burial cairn has become a giant crib – is an idea conceived by Ann Jordan, who first approached the National Park two years ago with her extraordinary idea to hand knit and lay a blanket on the Black Mountain. Knitted from 12 miles of yarn, hand spun from local mountain sheep, the impressive 8kg blanket has been compared to an oversized baby’s shawl – and when it’s laid out it resembles freshly fallen snow. Welsh for ‘snuggle up’ or ‘cuddle’ - ‘Cwtch’ comes to life as it explores the relationship between the artist and an earthy landscape - celebrating the cycle of life, death and rebirth.
It’s an installation that has taken years of research, over 1500 hours of knitting and over 140,000 stitches, but it’s evidence that art is penetrating some of the least likely places, very far from modern galleries and exhibitions, opening up conversations in unexpected ways around our relationship with the environment, community and sustainability. With the project finally coming to fruition Ann hopes it will help to change the way people think about farming families and Welsh communities. She said: ““This project has been a wonderful experience. Whilst exploring my own personal relationship with the Black Mountain I have met and learnt so much about the history, culture and the people who work and live in the area.
“One of the things which I find really fascinating is how this blanket tells such a wonderful story. I have researched the coffin route and there are so many stories attached to it that have moved through generations. This route plays an important role in our Welsh history – it’s enchanted me and I hope that it will enchant others who come and walk along it to see the installation.”
Judith Harvey said: “This is the first time Brecon Beacons National Park Authority has hosted an exhibition of this nature and how fitting that it’s a vivid reminder of so much that is iconically Welsh - the decline of the wool industry, a route that quarry workers and miners walked along, a trail that farmers’ wives also followed – knitting as they walked - over the Black Mountain and of course the importance of the landscape for our Welsh farming communities. It’s almost as if a historical record of Wales is wrapped in one blanket.”
The origins of the old coffin route date back hundreds of years to a time when men from the farms around Llanddeusant left the village and walked over the Black Mountain to find work in the quarries and coal mines. It was the time of the Rebecca Riots and also a time when wool had reached rock bottom prices. When the men from Llanddeusant died in the mines or quarries their bodies were carried homeward over the Black Mountain by the men from Brynamman. The men were met halfway on the Black Mountain by the men from Llanddeusant who then carried the bodies home so they could be finally laid to rest in the churchyard of St Simon and St Jude at Llanddeusant. The bodies of the men were always wrapped in woolen blankets because centuries before, a Parliamentary Act of 1666 decreed that all corpses should be buried in a woolen blanket in an attempt to save the British wool industry from foreign imports.
Andrea Liggins, Dean of Faculty for Swansea Metropolitan University, Dynevor Centre for Art, Design and Media said: “Ann Jordan is an artist who impacts upon a place, not with a sharpness or a loud crash, but with gentleness and warmth, just as the title of her new work suggests, ‘Cwtch’. In a previous work ‘Transfusion’ she wrapped the Dynevor School in its transition to the Dynevor Centre for Art, Design and Media with a giant celebratory red ribbon, for her ‘Cwtch’ project she again is using material in the form of 12 miles of hand spun wool to wrap, protect, guide and to trace a journey.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the work in situ and the six mile walk that will be part of the event, which will echo the hard work that Ann has poured into this inspiring piece of contemporary art.”
The ceremonial blessing and laying of the blanket took place at the St Simon and St Jude Church in Llanddeusant, on Mothering Sunday 14th March after an all night vigil by the artist. The vicar of the village church, Rev Mike Cottam blessed the blanket and it was carried six miles along the coffin route to the burial cairn where it will be on display from 14th March until 25th April 2010. The blanket will then be exhibited at the Welsh Wool Museum, Swansea University MA show and it’s entered for the National Eisteddfod of Wales. A formal launch of the exhibition will take place on 25th March at The Black Mountain Centre, Brynamman.
If you would to know more about the art work or the exhibition at The Black Mountain Centre, Brynamman please contact Ann Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 07743 699 861.
Pictures: Copyright of Ann Jordan
Picture shows the unfinished blanket taken two months ago at the Gower, near Swansea. The blanket is now finished and spreads to a 20ft diameter.