I just came back from walking Cardiff’s Olympic perimeter. I was compelled to go after reading Pete Scott’s article on Legacy at the Junket’s website.
While I process my thoughts and double-check some names and dates, I’m just going to post my initial impression here, and the pictures I took along the way. It is street photography after a fashion, in that I didn’t take a lot of time to capture them, did so on my phone, and they document what I saw as I was walking.
They may be a bit jaunty, light-flooded or mundane as a result. I also tried to stay away from the ‘JuXtapositionZ!!’ school of finding things to photograph, which was hard because it is bin day, and very warm.
If you’re keen to wander the route yourself, here’s a .pdf of the Advertising and Street Trade Restriction Area as outlined by DCMS. Most of it is easily traversed, apart from one bit by the castle (on account of its moat).
Ok then, off we go!
So, I get two hundred yards down Lower Cathedral Road before stumbling into this shop. I tell them that I am walking the Olympic Zone. They say “nothin wrong wi tha” twice, maybe three times, and I feel like an idiot because, much as I like the idea, I don’t actually need any confectionery supplies. I grab a bag of lollipop sticks and peruse their cake-topper selection. I leave with a selection of sportspeople, after a discussion on the dangers of boiling sugar.
Next I wind past a couple of streets whose reputation is for brothely-love. Whether that’s deserved or not, I don’t know, but the empty-occupied vibe of this pub makes me feel unease. There are so many open slots, for a sealed-up building: through some, I can see bare brick and rafters – through others, I keep expecting to see an eye.
It’s just around here that the stadium pops into view.
I feel compelled to walk towards it, and the cool breeze coming off the river, but the map tells me to take Plantagenet Street instead. It’s here that I find people outside.
One side of the road has romanesque doorways, outlined by courses of tiles. The other side of the street is decorated in a more traditional Victorian style. There are swags (festoons? I forget what they’re called) of blooms and leaves around each door – most are weather-worn to the point of looking like stone ballbags. All is punctuated with rusty satellite dishes. I don’t stop to take photos. It seems life is doing quite nicely down here and I feel like an imposition. I count seven abandoned bikes and trikes in one garden, but they are colourful. It’s hard to tell if they’ve been there a while, or if they’ve just been dropped as loads of little feet run through the house and into the back garden. Three young boys are playing with the top-ends of pool cues, and they make a little gate that I must pretend to break through in order to carry on along my walk.
I’m taking too much in at this point, and I’m on a stretch of road which I’m more accustomed to driving through. There are many hilarious shop names but everything seems a bit heightened (could have been the gas) so I press on.
Round the corner I feel like I can take deep breaths again. Down a lane, I can see a big cloud of spray from a car valet place – no rainbows but it seems to help me relax.
It’s also worth noting that the Welsh on that sign (‘derbyniad’) describes the kind of reception you have after a wedding.
I’ve always enjoyed walking Pendyrys Street and, as I come to the end of it, I see the stadium again, and sense the openness of the adjacent river. A man is in an underpass playing a really mournful tune on the accordion.
Now, there’s a race-car shaped topiary on this embankment. No photo of that for you. Everytime I’ve tried in the past it looks just like any other shrub – so get to Taff’s Mead Embankment and just drink it in for yourself.
I’m on the riverbank. Looking towards the stadium, I try and work out where the Empire Pool used to be. Double the size of Plascrug, it was where the swimmers went when they got too big for our pool. It was also full of asbestos and built on reclaimed riverbank, so they took it down in the nineties.
It’s also where the tidal port used to sit, back before they moved the river.
“Forty years or more ago (c. 1854) Mr. J. Lucas could be seen drawing salmon from his coracle, at the site of the present Royal Hotel. He lost his life at sea, as a pilot of the Port of Cardiff. Salmon were exceedingly abundant here at the beginning of the present century, and were far from being esteemed a delicacy.” [source]
Just behind it stood Temperance Town, where the sale of alcohol was completely forbidden. It had its own congregationalist chapel, one of the biggest in Wales (it’s where the army recruitment centre is now), as well as a circus, peddling acrobatics and hot chocolate in lieu of booze. It’s this part of town that got me interested in the [deep breath] LOCOG Advertising and Street Trading Restriction Area in the first place. That temperate part of town is, naturally, ironically boozy by now. It also sits very cosily alongside the Competition Venue Footprint. I wonder whether the ban on non-branded chips will be more strictly upheld than the one they used to have on gin.
Directly across from me, somewhere, is the old site of the Cambrian Vinegar Works.
There’s so much to dwell on here that I lose my place a bit. I stop to have a drink of water, and try not to think about history.
I arrange my cake ornaments olympically on a storm drain. Owing to a lack of choice, the blue and black rings are represented by a salmon fisherman and a horse. The lady on the right is a ghost from the Empire Pool.
About a minute after this is taken, I am punched, accidentally, by a small child. It really hurts.
Further down the embankment, I have to cross the river. This isn’t a particularly interesting plaque, but I feel surprised that it hasn’t been nicked, so I take a photo.
Realising I haven’t written anything down for a while, I stop by the Lloyd’s Bank building to take some notes. Two men are walking down the pavement and there is room for us all. One of them brushes against me and snarls. I don’t respond. The other, once he’s passed goes “Hey love, how much?” and nudges his friend. We make eye contact as he gestures back to me and I laugh. We all laugh. Mine is a slightly raspy pretend one. I am glad they’re away from me and for once, don’t feel guilty that I didn’t give them a ladylike dressing-down. I am safer this way, I reason, and hide behind some bushes til they’re gone.
Fans of corporate-space-public-art, take note ^^^.
There is an incredibly angry man on his phone nearby, who I won’t picture out of respect for his full-blown, public rager.
This is the point where I go the wrong way. I follow the main road around Custom House, rather than the alley behind it. I don’t realise my mistake until I’ve passed this piece of empowering whimsy:
It makes sense, of course, to include Custom House in the policed perimeter. It was, until about a week ago, a shelter for people with nowhere to live. The drink-in-the-square kind that good hosts clear away before large, international sporting tournaments. I am feeling cynical and knowing for figuring this out, but am sobered by the graffiti I find on its walls.
I pass along the side, by this sculpture which I’ve always assumed is called ‘Advert Headache’.
Now, I’m getting tired of writing. You may be getting tired of reading, I don’t know. For those of you still with us, it’s not far now.
At the time, it seemed very profound.
Did you know there’s not a single woman, living or dead, represented in Cardiff’s public sculpture? Just mermaids n shit? You didn’t? Click here to learn more.
The screen in the background is the spot from which the news that Jade Goody had died was beamed without consent into my sleepy brain.
Castle Street was lovely, from the first storey upward. They are re-re-doing the animal wall, which is a good thing. The last time, they gave the anteater a new nose. Apparently someone tried to pull it off the wall a long time ago. Possibly during a riot? Anyway, here’s a man tenderly measuring a lioness.
My favourite part is the word ‘COUNCIL’ along the bottom, and extrapolating from that, an imagined meeting where they discuss “how will they know it’s from the council?” while a beleaguered living-willow sculptor looks on.
Like now, in front of the screen, I was getting a bit distracted so I stopped for a cheese sandwich.
Not all the perimeter of the LOCOG zone is accessible – so I traipse along the footings of building, into the woods, and emerge by the stone circle. The story of performance, pageantry and Cardiff Castle is one for another day, but know that within this particular half-a-square-mile, the upcoming shenanigans fit into a rich heritage of dressing up in primary colours.
This part of the park is particularly well-tended, and looked spectacular (although someone’s been nicking plaques, for shame). I sat on a bench dedicated to the memory of Ken Jenkins.
It turns out that embroidering five interlocking hoops very quickly and in the midday sun is very difficult, so I abandon my handmade tribute to copyright-infringement so I can get home and put on sun-cream. Across the bridge and along a segment of the Taf Trail. There are lots of runners – some goading each other, others just goading themselves. The stolen glimpse I get of the bowls club through the fence makes it look all verboten and club tropicana.
The last part of the perimeter is the only bit blocked by private buildings. I take the main road and eye up my starting point, as I join Cathedral Road again. If you have the time, it’s worth walking along here a couple of times, looking just at the eaves of the buildings. Some of the masonry is breathtaking.
The hoarding outside is advertising ‘HYPNO-GASTRIC-BAND-THERAPY’.
Wishing one and all a happy ‘lympics xx
Bronzed female faces are everywhere in Cardiff. I pass thousands of them every week on Queen’s St, St Mary’s St and around the civic centre.
Above me, as I walk, yet more unnamed women keep watch, hold up buildings, cotch under eaves and above doorways. Among them are virtues, goddesses, mothers and angels, but not a single woman from, y’know, real life.
When I started looking for a public sculpture in Cardiff of an actual female person, living or dead, whose name I could google, I came up with nothing.
I’d rather be proven wrong about this, but it really does look like every female body represented in public sculpture around Cardiff is symbolic (every! single! one!). They fall into the following general categories: angel, goddess, virtue, caryatid, figurehead, mother and wife. Possibly mermaid.
There isn’t a single, individual woman among them. A walk around town will quickly show you that this isn’t a problem we have when it comes to ‘real men’, who have autographs and dates of birth and all that other fancy ‘real life’ stuff.
Gareth Edwards, Ivor Novello, Nye Bevan, Lord Bute… There’s a long list of men whose likenesses are commemorated around the city, their achievements and privileges listed underneath. That there is not a single female role model among them, however, is unacceptable, and I hope I’m not alone in observing this.
A comment on public art in general should shoulder in here, probably to qualify the fact that I’m looking, against my better judgement, at representational, commemorative art in this post. There are some great examples of abstract, kinetic and interventionalist art around Cardiff, as well as some total dreck and inaccessible whimsy. They all deserve further commentary and by all means, point me towards it if it exists.
Within the orbits of chat about access to the arts, urban planning, the reinvention of common space; there’s only one thing I want to tackle and it’s pretty simple.
While baby boomers are still in charge of commissioning and approving public art, we might as well ask: where the ladies at?
In a frankly super-retro twist on an ole’ Victorian classic; women’s bodies and what they represent are abundant in Cardiff, but not their stories, identities and voices. The ‘seen and not heard’ female slips unnoticed into the civic background of the city. I’m willing to bet an old 50p that the ideal of Empire, which still hangs about the ankles of the city, tripping us up every now and again like a pair of pants on a drunkard, has a hand in this inequality.
I have had the peculiar privilege of speaking at some of the Old Boys’ Clubs still left in this city, full of men who used to control the Docks, Stocks and Shares. They are men who spend a lot of time in some of the only really grand buildings to have survived Cardiff’s Mermaidification; whose fathers have literally gilded halls named after them; who eat their glorified public-school-school dinners together in wood-panelled rooms and play golf.
On one occasion, after giving a lecture, I was leafing through the visitor book in the grand foyer of an OBC. The Maitre d’ (yes they do exist in this town) made a soft-shoed but frantic move towards me and covered the page with his hand. He said quietly: “Women don’t leave a mark here.”
I waited until he had gone and did one in red pen, but that’s beside the point. The point was that I was only allowed to enter this place, to play at ‘culture’, on the condition that I left no trace.
It was a resonant moment. We can participate in and contribute to civic life in Cardiff – even at its most horrifyingly exclusive – as long as we don’t leave a mark. The outstanding women of Cardiff and Wales deserve to have their contributions recorded and represented. This is why I think we should erect a sculpture of an actual woman in this City.
I’m hoping that those of you who’ve made it this far, who are at least in partial agreement, will add your own suggestions in the comments – which amazing women would you like to see commemorated in Cardiff?
I’ve made a start on this little research project – one which I hope you’ll join too. In the short time I’ve been looking, I’ve uncovered so many interesting Welsh women’s stories, each worthy of memorial and celebration in Cardiff. I’ll be posting about them as I go. Then we’ll do a Poll. Everyone loves a Poll. Although I think Shirley Bassey will win it. Xx
Thanks to Peter Cox and Cardiff Civic Society for information on public art in Cardiff. Photo of Miss Millie’s bin by amcunningham72, Nereid by _claireelizabeth. The photo of Girl was taken by tobanblack.
Diwrnod Rhyngwladol y Menywod: Buddug James Jones
Pan fydda i’n edrych trwy ffenest ôl y car a gweld absoliwt ffycin llanast fydda i’n meddwl am Buddug gan amla. Dydi nghar i ddim cweit mor wael; ond morio trwy sgriptiau, llysiau, props a llyfrau llyfrgell coll i ffeindio lle i eistedd ydi’n atgof o fod gyda hi. Roedd hi’n bod yn gallu bod yn flin, yn hwyr ac arbennig o flaky, ond awel bore cynnar ac eistedd yng nghefn y car, ar y ffordd i neno’rble dwi’n ei gofio’n bennaf.
Dwi’n credu’n gryf yng ngallu’r celfyddydau i wella ein safon byw, ond dysgodd Buddug ifi beidio a chymryd hynny gormod o ddifri. Roedd y profiad o wisgo fyny fel corrach cas gystal â chwarae rôl yn Beckett neu Churchill – i’r enaid, ta beth. Roeddem ni’n dwlu ar ddramau abswrdaidd, perfformiadau dawns gwirion a dwys: pethau sydd di magu hyder a chwilfrydedd ynof fi ers hynny.
Roeddem ni’n dwy’n cael ein diflasu gan yr un pethe, a helpodd fi i ddechre archwilio’r parchus ofn oedd yn gwneud imi deimlo parlys, weithiau, pan yn blentyn. Agorodd fy llygaid i werth perfformiad y tu hwnt i’r pulpud a’r eisteddfod. Ro’n i ‘di blino ar ddynion mewn siwtiau llwyd, y ‘Masters of Ceremonies’ hir-wyntog, jôcs noson lawen am flwmars a Meri-Jêns. Ro’n i di blino ar y foeswers llawdrwm, y ‘payoff’ o losin sdici neu’r rosèt ddibwrpas.
Roedd rhywbeth caredig, direidus a chyffrous am Buddug, os braidd yn od a meddylgar. Dwi’n ei chofio hi, a dathlu menywod cryf, doniol a digyfaddawd Cymru, heddiw.
Mae’n anodd gwybod ble i ddechrau yn y Gymraeg. Mae cymaint ar y gweill, ei bod hi’n ymddangos yn wirion dweud llawer am ddim byd heblaw’r bleidlais ar ddydd Iau.
Dwi’n gobeithio y bydda i’n gwybod yn well beth i’w ddweud wrthych ar fore Gwener. Tan hynny, felly!
“The British museum,
though in some respects awe inspiring
and a corner stone of world culture
and the achievements of the human race……
kinda boring, wish I was in the pub,
what a soulless unappreciative cretin I am”
– Anon, Facebook
According to the UK’s Brain Laureate, Alain de Botton, museums should be attempting to instruct the soul, as well as the eye and the heart. A few weary cries went up on twitter, people shrugged, went on with their business.
Couldn’t let this one lie, though, could I? I thought it would be appropriate to respond; especially since I’ve been, over the last few years, working in a church which is also a museum. A museum-church, if you like.
Now, you can go here to find out all about it: today, I’m more interested in chewing some de Botton cud. Why is the presentation of truly transcendent art presented in such a ‘bland’, ‘academic’ way, he asks? The engine of his opinion piece was that museums should be employing a more paternalistic, moral model in their engagement with visitors. To paraphrase: “Why can’t they be more like churches? At the moment they’re no more than libraries with cases.” (To which I would add: what’s so bad about libraries?).
Along the way, he picked up a few bizarre assumptions which provoked a collective response of: “Which museums has this man been visiting?”
According to his experience, museums are ‘secular church[es]’ which ‘enjoy unparalleled status’ but ‘don’t do enough with the treasures they have’. Visitors attend in ‘quiet reverence’, even though these institutions are ‘notoriously bad’ at telling people why their collections matter. He also seems to think that museums only hold visual art: such a giant straw man that I’m going to call on Christopher Lee to deal with it, since I’m busy writing this.
Let’s take those in: all in all, a pretty damning view to take of these cultural institutions, considering their brief. It’s obvious that the BBC wouldn’t commission an opinion piece from the UK’s most prominent pop-philosopher called ‘Gallery Interpretation Panels Can Be Boring’, and so I understand that he’s had to generalise and up-sex a little bit. He uses the goosebump-inducing Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice as a template to aspire to. That national collections should try to be a bit more like the most amazing building in the entire world is a laughably unhelpful.
The very sensible answer to most of his complaints is: “errr, time? Maybe money? Then maybe some more money for marketing?”. Museums all across the world are reaching out in new ways – cheaply, and at a pace never before seen, considering a proportion of curators live in deep time.
The question of guidance is a more complex one, especially since the authorial voice is gradually being phased out in many galleries. (This may also be the opportune point to mention the phasing in of the term ‘curator’ to mean pretty much anyone who chooses anything, as long as it appears in a discernible sequence.) The question of plurality and diversity is something most collectors, especially experts, already appreciate and are keen to communicate better. Indeed, there are people working at, and visiting, our public institutions so keen on variety, they can talk for seven hours about regional variations in types of wooden spoons. Trust me: I was there.
Why, then, does interpretation often bore, or alienate its audience? What we contend with is the historiography of our own collections. This is so inextricably linked to the aims and research interests of our forebears that, very often, the information we might ask for today is absent in the museological inquiries of the past. The age of the Curator’s ‘pet project’ is over, at least in publicly-funded museums, but the information gathered during that period still informs us about the objects today. While auditing collections could redress this to an extent, it would be immensely time consuming – and probably expensive, since project funding is nowadays more often awarded for engagement rather than research.
In addition, as the quote at the top this post illustrates, you can present a pitch-perfect, aspirational collection of gubbins and visitors might still feel like shit when they look at it. Without a mediator of some sort, people are overwhelmed or confused when museums try to shake their assumptions about life and the universe to the core while they’re being pulled to the next display by a screaming child on a rainy Saturday afternoon.
Who are we to say whether or not someone’s inspired by what they see? Is the effect instantaneous or cumulative? How do we measure it? More practically, even if I came up with a magical formula which informs and empowers, how would I tailor such an experience to in excess of 600,000 visitors a year? Experimenting with user-generated interpretation is a good start, and, as a sector, I hope we’ll learn how we can design for this using tangible materials, as well as new media. Unfortunately, if we decide to go down the telling-people-what-to-think route of gallery instruction, I think we have more to learn from the sneaky semiotics of advertising, than the processional and material cultures of the Christian Church. Sorry Alain.
Bydd y blog yn cael lawnsio’n iawn fis Mawrth, cofiwch alw ‘nôl i ngweld i!
This page will launch properly in March, don’t forget to come back to see me then!