Viewed @ Howard Gardens Gallery, Cardiff, 20th Feb 2010
Review by Jo Whitby
Ruth Jones and Andrea Williams, with their project Chwarel/Quarry, have managed to create a stunning audio-visual installation based on the disused Porthgain quarry in Pembrokeshire.
Entering the installation at the Howard Gardens Gallery in Cardiff I was immediately mesmerized by the rugged and windswept landscape on the large screen in front of me. The visuals consisted of a 360 degree panoramic film of the quarry rotating from a fixed position. The piece, lasting roughly 20 minutes and displayed on a continuous loop, introduced stories of the past and present but in a way to allow the viewer to imagine what was/is happening on and off screen.
What I found particularly interesting with the installation was the use of sound as a seemingly separate narrative. A woman singing a song in Welsh under her breath, the clacking of stones and the humming of bees, gelignite exploding and the metallic clap of a pickaxe on stone – a small sample of the sounds heard in the piece delivered by an unobtrusive surround sound system. Many of the noises and candid conversations caught by the sound recording were not represented visually in the film but the stark landscape of the quarry left plenty of space for the mind to digest and create its own interpretation of events. Occasionally the meeting of sound and vision would occur and with it an immediate sense of the present almost in real time.
To one side of the installation was an audio dome designed to pick out specific sounds and isolate them from the rest of the soundscape. I felt this was quite a quirky inclusion but not necessarily something that was needed. It may have been more appropriate within a completely different set-up.
One image that particularly stands out from the film and one that was certainly an unexpected treat was the eerie appearance of a large group of period-dressed quarrymen. Taking inspiration from a 1908 photograph of quarry workers Jones and Williams set out, with the help of local men and women, to reconstruct the picture. As the camera slowly pans across the men you are suddenly aware of the history etched into the imposing stone walls of the quarry.
Intimidating and yet strangely relaxing, Chwarel/Quarry is an audio-visual installation that should be seen not only as an artwork but also as an intelligent and clever document of the Porthgain quarry in its many forms throughout time. Certainly something I would like to see shown in museums as well as art galleries across Wales.
Gallery Photo by CB Lux