A collaborative exhibition of contemporary artwork by artist Valerie Coffin Price
and words by award-winning poet Philip Gross
in response to the Taff Valley, accompanied by their new book published by Seren.
18 March to 15 May 2015
Oriel y Bont
University of South Wales, Trefforest, Pontypridd CF37 1DL
Mon to Thurs 8.30am to 5.30pm. Fri 8.30am to 5pm. Free
tel 01443 480480 / http://www.gallery.southwales.
Valerie Coffin Price and Philip Gross have an exhibition, The River Next Door, at Oriel y Bont, Ty Crawsay, Trefforest, Pontypridd CF37 1DL until 15 May 2015.
The work is the result of a two-year collaboration responding to the River Taff in South Wales. Quakers Yard is the village where Philip moved when he joined the staff of the University of South Wales, the cottage lying in a deep and steep twist of the river, on the edge of the Pontygwaith Nature Reserve. Philip describes this place as:
‘… unaccountable, barely there on the map, beneath the railway on one side, on the other the lights of the A470 flickering through the trees but when you looked from the road you could not see the space where the cottage might be. It was puzzlingly pretty, for a place that wasn’t meant to be countryside, and sometimes dank and dark, and threatening too.’
Valerie, meanwhile, has been a long term and passionate advocate of the waterways of Britain, whose work responds creatively to the language of poetry and place. Working with issues to do with the environment, language and cultural identity her work has been looking at the act of journeying, where to journey is to explore and discover cultural traces embedded in the land. As part of this her work involves an immersion in the landscape through walking, in this particular instance simultaneous research along the river Frome in Gloucestershire and the river Taff in South Wales in 2013.
Collaboration is important to both artist and poet. Both have worked with people from across the range of artforms; both see collaborative working as an equal exchange: the images are not illustrations of the poems, nor are the words ekphrastic glosses on the art, but a means of producing artworks and poems that is an exchange, or conversation between the two of them and their individual media. The two first met when Valerie incorporated text from Philip’s TS Eliot Prize-winning collection The Water Table in an installation, Estuary in 2011. Since then they have collaborated in a multi-disciplinary exploration of the wetland environment, with academics from Bristol, Cambridge and East Finland.
Valerie describes her process of working as ‘a collaboration, or conversation, with the landscape or environment, the work itself, the materials the text,’ so as part of her research for the project she walked the whole of the River Taff. She used her landscape sketches and photographs as source material, with the initial poems and notebook entries, to create works that folded image and text together. Later, Philip would visit Valerie at work in her studio where he describes the memorable moments of collaboration: ‘I would nose around, finding work excitingly half done, sometimes sketches or scraps. I would write lines quickly, also half-formed, and offer them straight back. Valerie would cut up fragments of my writing and incorporate them – change them in the process… set them free…’
The collaboration has produced artworks that are, at the same time, subtle and dark in their reflection of the Taff valley, appearing to shift and flow from image to word and back as the light changes and the viewer moves. The poems and images highlight the robust and unpredictable nature of the river itself. This is not a pretty river, nor is it just the industrial heart of South Wales but one with ‘muscle’, where the twists and turns of the Taff, linking and separating places, changing and enduring through time, speak of the changeable nature of the area, its population and personality while mirroring the interplay of art and poetry in the exhibition.
The exhibition is accompanied by a book A Fold in the River, published by Seren Books, which is available to buy both at Oriel y Bont, in bookshps and online. To purchase the artworks please contact the gallery director, Ceri Thomas.
Part of this exhibition will be going to Booth Books for the duration of the 2015 Hay Festival of Literature & Arts, where she and Philip Gross will be talking on May 25, 2015. After which it will be travelling to the University of Gloucestershire for a conference on the Dymock poets, New Numbers, New Approaches on June 6-7, 2015.
Philip and Valerie will also be leading a walk for Literature Wales on Saturday, May 9, 2015 and reading at the First Thursday New Poetry event at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff on June 4, 2015.