Emma Geliot's picture

Jon Burgerman, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Doodle, 2014

As Art Across the City 2014 is packed away, we offer an edited version of Emma Geliot's review for Axis of a festival that puts art in unusual spaces across Swansea.

As Wales celebrates the centenary of Dylan Thomas birth, the city-that-was-a-town is at the epicentre of a year of frenzied activity and Locws International has not only jumped on the festival bandwagon but seems to be cracking their whip over the foam-flecked horses.

The festival, best known for creating temporary-but-sometimes-they-become-permanent artistic interventions in the public realm, is injecting literature into the mix. Last year Dylan Thomas association with the city was marked by Mark Folds Dylan s Pencil in Cwmdonkin Park, the setting for several of Thomas poems. Folds' sculpture is one of a growing number of permanent works that have become part of the fabric of the city and these, with the new commissions form part of a trail around Swansea.

Now, on a blind wall - the anonymous non-customer-facing fa ade of a shopping centre - Jeremy Deller s mural, in billboard style, proclaims:More poetry is needed . It calls out to the steady stream of traffic plying up and down the Oystermouth Road towards or away from the sandy beaches and holiday homes of the Gower. And this call to verse is taken up by poet Rhian Edwards, who provided the opening stanzas of the Tawe Mega Poem. Fed by the public, this epic is already at 46 pages and growing.


Jeremy Deller, More Poetry Is Needed, 2014

Other writers have their say too: Rachel Trezise s six micro fictions can be found in the pubs and cafes across the city and Niall Griffiths four prose pieces hang beneath the monumental heads created from scans of workers at the nearby megalith: the Amazon distribution centre. These giant laser cut heads The General Public, made by Ultimate Holding Company loom above the bustle of the bus station, while Griffiths texts create monologues beneath them.

The first Locws international project was launched in 2000 and got into a biennial swing from 2007, with the international festival being replaced by more locally based projects in the down year. These two strands have now merged and Locws is moving forward as an annual programme, backed by the City and County of Swansea and regularly supported by the Arts Council of Wales, it was also part of the Swansea bid to become UK City of Culture in 2017, which was pipped to the post by Hull last November. With 62 previous projects prior to this outing, Art Across The City is now engrained in the psyche of Swansea and culture is certainly firmly on the regeneration agenda for the council.

Rob and Roberta

Bob & Roberta Smith, Art Makes Children Powerful, 2014

Locws International, the charity that programmes Art Across the City, is more than a delivery vehicle for institutional or political agendas. Past projects have engaged in communities as diverse as the population of this seaside city and pointed up local stories Richard Higlett s A Song for Jack, Bedwyr Williams Lionheart & Lightsout and now Tom Goddard s The Life, Death and Afterlife of Lizzie The Elephant - allowing for multiple perspectives and a kind of cultural layering of the city.

Key to the mission to reach the public is an education programme that was embedded from the outset and schools have been closely involved from the early days of what was first simply called Locws. Rob and Roberta Smith s bright statement Art Makes Children Powerful echoes an ambition that runs throughout the programmes of the council s education department and the outreach work of galleries such as The Mission Gallery and the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery (the latter currently closed for a major renovation project).

UHC Ultimate Holding Company, The General Public, 2014

For artists, Swansea offers rich pickings for ideas. It s the buffer between the last vestiges of what was once a highly industrialised strip of land and the rural hinterland and beauty spots of West Wales. Swansea was the home of copper (Copperopolis), neighbouring Llanelli (Tinopolis) once made tin plate and steel is still made in Port Talbot to the east. It still has the docks and port, where once all goods and people were traded in and out, while above are the south Wales valleys, home of the coal that fed the making of so much metal.

The city centre was badly bombed during the second world war and re-built in brutish (rather than Brutalist) style, then gradually re-modelled as the shopping centre bug began to bite and it has one of the most fiendish traffic systems in Wales. The sheer diversity of landscapes to respond to would be excitement enough, but it s the stories, the communities and the buildings that also intrigue artists and ensure that Locws can sustain a programme that will continue to capture the imagination.


Sean Puleston Sean Puleston, We Are Here, 2014


Art Across the City 2014 was inSwansea 12 April 01 June Find out more at locwsinternational.com

With thanks to Axis for their kind permission to reproduce this article. You can read the full, unedited version here

Art Across the City will feature in a Dylan Thomas 100 festival special feature in CCQ Issue 4 out later this summer.


Main Image: Jon Burgerman, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Doodle, 2014