In the last couple of months our project has moved into a phase of intense activity with our project partners – and especially with Brecon and District Mind.
The first step in planning a series of workshops was to meet people in the Brecon, Hay and Talgarth Mind groups, to introduce ourselves and the project, to hear people’s ideas about it and what would be of interest to them. Some people wanted to share memories of their own or things they had heard about what it was like to be living in the old hospital. For other people, the site was simply a place they passed on their regular walks in the area while interestingly, some younger people were fascinated by it as a place that fired their imaginations. For still others, just the mention of the institution was disturbing and unwelcome.
We learnt about what helps people feel safe and relaxed in the here and now. For example, the positive impact of nature, perhaps through growing and tending plants or simply being in natural environments. Games and puzzles were important to some people, as a way of relaxing in company during Mind meetings, and we were happy to join in. All our encounters and conversations helped us devise our workshop plans.
Weaving with foraged plants. Nettles and brambles are taking over the grounds of the former Hospital. Usually they are seen as weeds that should be eradicated, but they have all sorts of benefits. They protect new tree seedlings and provide shelter for wildlife – and in the past they have been prized for their medicinal properties and as material for making baskets, weaving and cloth as well as a plentiful free source of blackberries. In previous times, fabric made from nettles was more valued than linen. And of course nettles and briars run through many of our myths and legends as having magical properties, and even as marking entrances to other lands…
Making a Thaumatrope. Through the ages, games and pastimes have brought people together, creating a space for both remembering and forgetting. We made thaumatropes – an optical toy that was popular in the early 19th century. “Thauma” is from the Greek “wonder” and “tropos” means to turn. Basically, a round disk is spun fast with a different image on either side and persistence of vision gives the illusion that they are parts of the same image. “A Private Land” has been a project about what is hidden and what is revealed, what is an illusion and what is true. The uncanny feeling of seeing something that isn’t there was echoed by using inkblots on one side along with monotype on the other. The thaumatropes offer a way of integrating seemingly irreconcilable points of view perhaps?
Making slides for viewing and projection, using flowers. Flowers have so many associations for people and planting or pressing them has long been a way of preserving memories. We used slide mounts to press them, which allows them to be seen in a viewer or projected large-scale. And of course the slide mounts and viewers themselves reminded some people of older ways of capturing a moment in time and the experience of being in a darkened room, watching slide projections.
Animation. We made simple stop frame animations using photos, drawing and natural objects. Some of the imagery was drawn from the old hospital site, but people brought their own ideas too. The animations were another way of combining different elements and bringing them to life in a shared space.
Painting, gilding and binding objects. Using materials gathered on walks in the hills and by the river, we experimented with painting with sticks, gilding and binding. Painting on a stone or object can amplify something of its particular properties and at the same time can suggest something quite different – water perhaps. Binding – keeping something held in place – could be seen as protective or restrictive. Susan told us that on a recent trip to Japan she learnt that one meaning of the bound stones seen there is ‘Keep Out’. Gilding something can be a way of showing how much it is valued, or a way of hiding something less prized under a bright surface. Or it can be an unnecessary ornamentation of something already beautiful in itself.
In all our activities there was chance to hear more about the old hospital – things that we had not come across in books or the Powys archives. For example, we were told about artworks and videos made by and about people at the hospital and were given clues as to how these might be tracked down. Some people remembered good things about being there, or visiting others – such as how beautiful the grounds used to be. One person remembered witnessing something that should not have happened – and although a complaint was made, action was not taken to put it right for several years. We heard what people would like to see on the site now: one person said ‘I just want to see it full of life again’.
We’ve only been able to offer a few workshops and a number of people said they’d have loved more time, so we’ve been giving activity packs and a range of materials for those who want to develop the work more. It has been fabulous to see how participants come up with ideas we’d not have thought of, including how to extend the work and ways of sharing with the public in September. We’ve started to feel that the exhibition and events really will be co-produced.
We are so grateful to Mind members and Team members for their warm welcome and the energy they have brought to the project. It was Marie Davies, CEO at B&D Mind, who was instrumental in us deciding to go ahead with the project despite the sensitivity of the topic. Her reflective but positive approach, and the assurance that together we could support every-one involved gave us confidence to go ahead.
More information, photos and postings about forthcoming events can be seen at A Private Land Facebook page. If you have a link to the Mid Wales Hospital, feel free to post on that site too.