Theatre in Wales

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Chapter: The Origin Story by Christine Kinsey

Theatre History

Hon , H'mm Foundation , January 11, 2024
Theatre History by Hon “Hon” is a book of significance on the visual arts of Wales of recent times.

It has the quality of production that is a hallmark of the Gomer press. The H'mm Foundation publishes independently with no credit given of public subsidy.

Edited by Christine Kinsey “Hon” comprises text, interviews and images of the art of Kinsey herself and Marian Delyth, Sadia Pineed Hameed, Angharad Pearce Jones, Julia Griffiths Jones, Sian Parri, Sarah Rhys, Catrin Webster, Sarah Williams, Sarah Younan.

These are all of interest in themselves. It also contains a passage beginning on page 133 that is of importance in the record of performing arts in Cardiff.

Chapter is a tale of the 1960s. “In December 1968 I co-founded Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff with Bryan Jones and Mik Flood.” The three were aware of the counter-culture, by then in full flourish, and the lack of a venue in the city. Over Christmas a decision was made to form an Arts Centre Project Group.

An advertisement was placed in a key publication of the era, the International Times. The journal's colourful history had begun two years before at an all-nighter at the Roundhouse with Soft Machine and Pink Floyd. Within a few months it had invited a police raid but nonetheless continued to publish. Paul McCartney was a source of financial help. The Welsh advertisement attracted a single response. But that respondent was Peter Jones, Assistant Director for Art at the Welsh Arts Council.

Over the following year arts labs and centres in England were visited. SPACE studios in Saint Katherine's Dock in London provided the closest model to what was envisaged. Events in Cardiff included twelve hours of music, Pink Floyd the headline act. A large shop in Queen Street was taken over and broadcast poetry and music. Theatre in Transit was a student group at the university. It performed a version of the Odyssey. Four decades on a member was to perform a version of the Iliad for the yet-to-be National Theatre of Wales. That was Mike Pearson.

The event also included Valleys paintings by Buddhist artists and inflatable sculpture by Frank Triggs. A symposium was held to garner opinion on the shape and nature of the new venture. The music films “Don't Look Back”and “the Harder They Come” were shown at the Roath Cinema.

Peter Jones commissioned a scheme “Pavilions in the Park” in Cardiff and Newport. Artists of all disciplines were shown in six semi-cylinder pavilions.

After the success of these events Cardiff City Council was approached with a view to rent a building that was out of use. Canton High School was derelict but was possessed of 42,958 square feet of space. The three moved into the building in December 1970. The two artists and a writer were bereft of any building or managerial experience. They also had no money.

The times were socially turbulent. Roy Jenkins at the Home Office had introduced social reforms on a scale without equal before or since. The existence of Chapter filled a gap and met a deep need. “We received immeasurable help and support”, writes Christine Kinsey, “from artists, craft-workers, theatre practitioners, musicians, film and video-makers, together with members of Chapter to develop studios, work-shops, galleries, theatre and cinemas.”

Remedying the lack of opportunity for women in art was a focus. Support was given for the establishment of a creche and nursery so that children and parents could be present as part of a creating community.

In May 1976 innovative art came up against the strictures of authority. An exhibition was titled “Five Women Artists: Images of Womanpower.” A painting by Monica Sjöö “God Giving Birth” was considered by some to be of a blasphemous nature. Chapter was threatened with closure if it were not removed. A group of city councillors visited. By that time Chapter had a track record. The painting stayed, albeit “after a great deal of discussion.”

The pioneering spirit for women continued. In 1981 Chapter formed the South Wales Women's Film Group, the first of its kind. Red Flannel films was founded in 1986 by group members. Chapter had a video workshop that taught the making and presentation of film work for women. In 1983 discussion by a group of women at a film festival in Italy led to the Magdalena '86 festival. From that was born the Magdalena Project. It prevailed until 1999 when the Arts Council of Wales ceased its funding.

The writing on Chapter is part of a wider essay of substance by Christine Kinsey on her aesthetics, development and working method. In an age of subjectivity, to excess, a novel line of theory proposes that art is a platform for autobiography. Its infection on theatre is not widespread, but it is there. The anatomising here is more subtle, tracing the line out of subject to object:

“The layers of influence that have evolved from growing up female in the industrial eastern valleys of South Wales, a sense of Cymreictod, within a Christian culture forming a backdrop against which each character enacts a role. My images incorporate symbols and motifs which reinterpret the traditional symbolic representation of women, to reveal the characters' continuing search to become the subject and not the object of the image, together with imagery that explores the interface between the material and the spiritual.”

The text is supported by nine works of her art finely illustrated. Her signature palette counter-poses deep reds and blues, reminiscent of Marc and Macke.

“Hon” is a substantial contribution to contemporary art commentary. A wider visual arts appreciation of the book and the other artists can be read on Nation Cymru.

Source: https://nation.cymru/culture/review-hon-women-artists-in-wales/.

Illustration: detail “Gwylnos” / “Vigil” oil on canvas.

A guide to the sequence “Theatre History Book” can be read below 12th August 2021.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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