In pictures: Plas Bodfa’s latest exhibition is a celebration of Welsh multidisciplinary art
The first time I visited Plas Bodfa, I walked up a winding country lane hoping to glimpse the impressive hill-top manor house on foot. Set in rural-village Llangoed, Ynys Môn — Plas Bodfa had stood empty for 12 years, before artist Julie Upmeyer and husband Jonathan Lewis, along with their two children Ffion and Nesta, decided to make this their home. Set amongst five acres, the old-manor house is steeped in history and emulates a grandeur that does not disappoint.
Originally built in the 1920s as a family home, the original building took inspiration from the Art Deco and Arts and Crafts movements. After passing through several different families (the Hughes Family, the Pal Family and the Wells Family), it was transformed in the 1970’s into an American-style steakhouse restaurant and then into a residential care home. In the 90’s the property was again sold and became headquarters to the Elizabeth Bradley tapestry kit company, as well as a gift shop and tea room.
Since then, Julie Upmeyer has breathed new life into Plas Bodfa, which has once again evolved, this time as a place for artistic experimentation of many kinds.
Julie said: “The house isn’t a historical monument, it is not ‘listed’ on any historic register. You can see traces of each of its lives; the aesthetic and practical decisions, renovations, additions. It feels familiar.
“There is an entanglement with history that stretches into the present-day. The past and the future are closely connected with ‘you’, ‘me’, ‘us’, serving as the continuum.”
This marks the third exhibition that artist Julie has initiated since buying the property with her husband. This initially correlated with a desire to participate in the Anglesey Art Weeks: Open Studios and Galleries, where Julie imagined around seven artists would exhibit in the house. However, the exhibitions to date have included around 250 artists, celebrating some of the best talent Wales has to offer and listed as one of the Top 10 exhibitions by the Wales Art Review in 2019.
While the second exhibition’s opening coincided with the start of lockdown, this did not mar the connectedness of creativity and community that Julie has managed to create in such a small space of time, moving what should have been a physical experience to something entirely virtual.
Julie said: “As an artist or an organiser, creating an exhibition that had absolutely zero visitors is probably a worst-case scenario. But having been suddenly dropped into that very situation, I experimented and developed a great number of different ways that a community of artists can be engaged with artwork and ideas and each other without meeting face-to-face.
“Our live streaming tours, broadcasted artist-talks, creative time-based documentation and ‘just us’ virtual meetings not only kept the group of over 111 creatives feeling connected and inspired but leveraged the exhibition to a global audience. This experience is something I will draw on for the rest of my life.”
The third exhibition focuses on history, storytelling and contemporary works by 77 individuals and collectives and came as a result of open calls to explore the theme ‘Bodfa Continuum — the possibilities of time.’ Implying a flow of time where ideas and energies from the past are carried into the present and stretch into the future.
Tropistic amongst all the exhibitions is a shared value amidst the artists to include some of the local history of Llangoed and Ynys Môn.
To this point Julie says: “This project proposes a deliberate engagement with time, using Plas Bodfa as a framework. A house is a permeable structure, providing a frame for history, connecting directly with contemporary life.
“The exhibition shows how interesting a single place can be, specifically Plas Bodfa, Llangoed, Ynys Môn. But it also demonstrates that this practice of deep and multidisciplinary investigation could indeed be applied to any place. 77 artists and creatives are part of this latest exhibition. They have responded to the house physically, historically, conceptually and even geologically.
“Almost all the works are new, developed in dialogue with the house and the surrounding grounds and lands. The outcome was in no way predetermined. The exhibition is a glimpse into that process.”
There is so much Welsh talent to be celebrated and true to previous exhibitions, the latest exhibition will be immersive and will allow the audience to wander through more than 35 rooms. These will be filled with works from painters and printmakers; stitchers and sculptors; potters and pathfinders; sound artists and sun catchers; poets and pigment makers; along with elements of augmented reality. There will be an added dimension of pop-up and durational performance; exhibition tours (fictional and non-fictional); sonic experiences; and live streams.
A collaboration between Christine Thomas and the Elizabeth Bradley company — who donated wool, saw Christine turn the wool into contemporary tapestries depicting details from the house.
Artist Jan Hale offers a recreation of Welsh documentary photographer Geoff Charles’ 1959 photograph depicting the incredible output at the time of the Wells factory in Holyhead. Her work draws on inspiration from the London toymaker Alfred Wells who made his home at Plas Bodfa from 1947 – 1964.
Rhona Bowey and Heather Hudson responded to folktales surrounding the monk St. Seiriol who lived a monastic life on Puffin Island — creating illumination-style illustrations, paired with a contemporary celtic cross.
For her piece, Angharad Jones offers a live performance through dance, entitled, ‘Rhwng Dwr ac Amser — Between Time and Water’. Passing through time in the sunken garden at Plas Bodfa, these performances explore the relationship between time, water and the landscape. The water clocks are used to decide the length of each section of the performance.
And finally, Karen Birkin’s work, ‘And the walls became the world all around, 2020 – 2022’ offers a narrative around the care aspect of Plas Bodfa. Some of the residents suffered from dementia and were confused about place and time, therefore, these paintings imagine the liminal space they inhabited, using the strange, costumed figures from First Nacht to enter into these realities.
‘Bodfa Continuum — the possibilities of time’ marks the final of the series of exhibitions at this scale, as the plan for Plas Bodfa has always been to turn the main house into a family home, holiday lets, artists’ studios and residencies.
To this Julie adds: “All of the connections and experiences gained during the course of these large-scale exhibitions provides pathways for us all to follow, expanding out far into the future. These ideas will inform the artists’ residencies, retreats, workshops, and many planned cultural projects over the next 30 – 40 years.”
Watch this space!
How to attend
Bodfa Continuum — the possibilities of time, A multi-disciplinary exhibition of history, storytelling and contemporary art.
Exhibition dates: 9 – 24 April 2022
Opening times: 11:00 – 17:00 every day
Plas Bodfa, Llangoed, Beaumaris, Anglesey LL58 8ND
Instagram : @plasbodfa
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