Y Caban - public art commission for Pontio
In early 2014 the process of selecting an artist for this commission began. Pontio (Bangor University's Arts and Innovation Centre) had already been working with lead artist Bedwyr Williams to research and develop ideas for projects and Celfwaith's role was to bring those ideas together to form a series of exciting commission opportunities.
Funded by the Arts Council of Wales, this is the first of three commissions for the new arts development.
The brief required a contemporary response to the concept of the quarrymen's 'caban'.
'Y caban' was a place where quarrymen in the Welsh slate quarries (and mines) met during their lunch break – to sing, debate, and discuss various topics. A caban was a standalone building above ground (or a small chamber within a mine), which had been created by the men.
The workforce was primarily Welsh-speaking, and the caban was the hub of cultural activities. It was a great privilege to be the President of a caban and each caban had a committee. A surviving set of minutes from a caban at the Llechwedd mine at Blaenau Ffestiniog for 1908–10 records discussions on Church Disestablishment, tariff reform and other political topics. Union matters, charitable causes, Sunday sermons, educational topics and current affairs were the most common topics. During the 1904-5 Reformation prayer meetings were held in the caban.
Minor Eisteddfodau were held in the caban of some of the larger galleries during lunch hour, with someone from outside the quarry invited to judge. Competitions were held for soloists, groups, wind instruments, recitals, and poetry and prose writing. Two of the quarry Eisteddfodau even held a Bardic Chair competition, with the awarding ceremony taking place in the caban with all pomp and circumstance.
Many influential preachers and writers started their careers as quarrymen and credit the caban and the older quarrymen as inspiration for their calling. Some became clergy of the Church, and others ministers of Welsh nonconformist chapels. Quarrymen were also poets and writers, writing popular poems, and winning prizes and medals at Eisteddfodau. Their achievements are all the more remarkable considering they started their careers at a very early age some as young as 8 years old and were largely self-taught.
The historical caban was intended as a conceptual starting point - “something that celebrated the way the workers transformed what was basically a hut into myriad different uses. To perform, to argue, to discuss and to dream.” (Bedwyr Williams) The brief was not to replicate a historical structure, but to create a modern day meeting place where people could informally or formally meet and hold events.
There was a very strong response to the call out for expressions of interest, from artists, artists collaborating with architects, and from innovative architectural practices. From a short-list of five, Atelier Van Lieshout was selected; a studio practice led by Joep Van Lieshout which has an impressive track record of creating original, challenging and yet playful work. He produces objects that balance on the boundary between art, architecture and design, encompassing sculpture and mobile homes, buildings and furniture. This commission is their first permanent, site-specific installation in the UK.
Industry, the relationship between man and machine, and the de-industrialisation of the Western world are recurring themes in the work of Atelier Van Lieshout. The inspiration for this work comes from the industrial history of North Wales, as the historical main supplier of slate, and from the history of Bangor University, founded with money raised by the quarrymen, in order to educate and elevate the workers.
The slate miners toiled the soil, and their hard work provided the wealth that was the foundation of Bangor University. The University, in turn, uncovered the intellectual wealth, the academic capacities of the populace. The irregular shape of Y Caban refers to underground wealth, a golden nugget.
One Coleg Menai student benefited through an internship at the artist's studio in Rotterdam and worked with the team as they started to build the wooden frame of the fibreglass structure.
Y Caban was finally installed in October 2015 and opened to the public in early November and has already had some interesting visitors...