After 12 years in its three-storey townhouse, g39 as we know it is coming to a momentous end. The organisation must relocate to new premises and the space will be given back. In a parting gesture, we have invited a selection of artists to contribute to a final grand exhibition. They have made work that marks the end of the building’s use as a cultural hub and a centre for artistic development in Wales.
Over the last twelve years the building has seen extensive renovation work and temporary conversions in order to display artists’ work. Walls and doorways have been built and unbuilt, apertures have been sliced into ceilings and floors, windows have disappeared and reappeared. These conversions are being entirely undone in preparation for our departure. The space is back to its bare, undecorated state. It is this environment that the artists have been invited to work with, and they are responding to this de-purposed building with a meaningful gesture that marks their time here.
Throughout the duration they will contribute to an accumulation of works and ideas, culminating in a final closing event thoughout the day and night on 2 July 2011, the eve of the gallery’s thirteenth anniversary.
This special event will give audiences and artists alike a chance to say one final goodbye to the building.
Before the gallery opened at 2.30pm, Kathryn Ashill blessed the space with the performance In Honour of Polly Garter. Referring to the Under Milk Wood character, Kathryn scrubbed the doorstep in preparation for the final entry to the building.
Installed throughout the ground and first floors Mark Houghton has rummaged around the building to create assemblages, using discarded and leftover detritus, remnants of a gallery that once was. Dusters, handles and bin liners are all viable materials for his work, all expressing a relaxed formality. What was once a hidden cupboard light has sprouted into a circuit of flickering fluorescent tubes; a forgotten pile of poster bin frames have become an elegant and teetering structure.
Framed by Mark’s lights on the rear wall is Gordon Dalton’s chandelier stencil and faux-naïve paintings of a quiet ‘thank you’ and an octopus. The octopus echoes the way artists work to survive: a hand in everything, juggling different commitments, with g39 as a central brain with outreaching arms. And in the cellar, a bricked up archway leading to Mill Lane’s obsolete canal is the inspiration for Tiff Oben and Helene Roberts’ ambitious installation. The cellar is flooded with dark water. Projected onto the surface is a film of remote and hidden corners of the building.
In the corner are two cardboard numbers, a ‘3’ and a ‘9’ (or a ‘g’?). These are not sculptures but costumes for a piece by Ben Owen featuring Matthew Lovett. The duo played out a call-and-response musical performance in different rooms of the building, that is now screened in the first floor project space. Throughout the building on every surface are labelled memories of Emma Geliot. In this place is a comprehensive diary of her encounters and moments experienced in the building since 1998.
Suspended above the front desk is a work by Huw Andrews. A failed umbrella was discarded as not fit for purpose when he brought it to invigilate the front desk one rainy afternoon. The revitalized object now hangs above the desk like a sword of Damocles. And upstairs an oversize flypaper hangs on the first floor, that is actually a strip of sandpaper. Huw has taken paint samples from significant areas of the building using it, continuing to expose the building’s bareness. Huw’s work continues on the end wall of the middle floor, where he has invited every New Era artist and helper to mark their height on a doorpost.
Richard Powell offers a light-hearted solution to the Dalek’s Dilemma. The universe-conquering, mechanized force were traditionally confined to flat surfaces and unable to navigate stairs. This temporary and playful solution to a long-standing access problem at the building is exhibited in a dismantled state. Next to the ramp is a near-hidden cigarette card by Michael Cousin, a biography of a fictional boxer g39, who was best known for punching above his weight.
Around the first floor are threads of red cotton emanating from a centre and pinned around the room. This is a sort of map by Holly Davey that plots the distances g39’s artists have traveled from around the world. Threads connect us to places as far as Melbourne and Mumbai. And in the kitchen, the red thread motif continues on a teatowel embroidered with the phrase ‘We are all in this together’, a fitting tribute.
Throughout the building, Richard Bevan has translated a different set of information. From a list of significant dates and locations, he has plotted the building with triangle indicators. Overlaying the timeline and geographical maps of the city Richard has created a pattern unique to the building and to the memories of the staff that have inhabited it for so long.
In the first and second floor rooms Kevin Hunt’s work echoes Houghton’s with his re-use of overlooked materials. Shot glasses, sticks, coloured bangles and vinyl signage all take on a new sculptural or graphic resonance. And in the doorway between two rooms is Portal, Kevin’s site-specific response for which he has scorched the bare wood of the doorframe and floor. It demarcates the threshold with fierce and controlled gesture, the mark of moving from old era into new. And cross the room Ifor Davies has collaborating with a theatrical set designer to create a duologue under the stairs, viewed through a chipboard proscenium arch. The miniature stage is bare of performers but their voices are present bathed in a yellow glow.
In the project room a hand-drawn flyposter by Thomas Goddard transforms g39 staff into Russian revolutionaries. Generated as part of an ongoing series exploring (mis)remembered histories, the g39 staff are given a pivotal role to play in the shaping of their era. And opposite on the windowsill is Concrete (ice) cubes by Jonathan Anderson. Alongside this is Sam Hasler’s work, a sheet of newspaper that has been all but obscured by silver drawing pins. And in his role as WARP intern, Sam has collaborated with Cinzia Mutigli to create an Advice Sheet for artists, with offerings from g39 artists and partners. Cinzia’s sound piece That said is an abstracted and positive comment, a remark to balance the sentiment of Holly’s tea towel nearby.
Poking through the ceiling is part of In between, Simon Fenoulhet’s sculptural intervention. A found chair has been sunk into the upper floors, through floorboard, plaster and joist to appear on the middle floor. It has echoes of Out of body, a piece Simon made for g39 in 1999 where he constructed a chair from electrical adaptor plugs, this was sunk into a socket especially installed in the ground floor.
Alongside Simon on the top floor is Elfyn Lewis who has worked on three new paintings. These paintings have been leaving only the traces of their execution like frames. It is a fitting departure from the building. And on the window frame and bay Iwan Bala has created a totemic offering giving various meanings of Sion Cent’s declaration Ystad bardd astudio byd. Chris Brown’s Disco Toilet (After Tether) animates the building’s loo, transforming it from its functional guise into an 70s party haven. This intervention is in homage to Tether Studios, Nottingham. And Anthony Shapland’s photographic work draws the two ends of the era together, both a historical intervention of the building then and now and a self-portrait. Throughout the building his
Tumble Weed wanders around as it cleans, an automated nomadic prairie housemaid. And for a final gesture to the building, Anthony will be inverting the gallery sign on the door as a mark of its final closing at 6.25pm. g39 is declared officially over!