Charms and Chasms

G39, Cardiff


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Charms and Chasms

For their research res­i­den­cy at G39, the Heavy Water Col­lec­tive first engaged with a selec­tion of arte­facts held in the Spe­cial Col­lec­tions at Cardiff Uni­ver­si­ty, before set­ting up camp’ in the G39 Library to spend time devel­op­ing visu­al respons­es to the objects found. Arte­facts relat­ing to witch­craft, reli­gion, child­birth, colo­nial­ism, war and car­tog­ra­phy have been cen­tral to the col­lec­tives’ artis­tic research. 

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Victoria Lucas

Witch's Ladder

The work I devel­oped at G39 respond­ed direct­ly to the objects and doc­u­ments I had encoun­tered in the Spe­cial Col­lec­tions at Cardiff Uni­ver­si­ty ear­li­er in the res­i­den­cy. Hav­ing found a ghost­ly mark in a book about witch­craft that was rem­i­nis­cent of witch­es lad­ders, I was able to find instruc­tions on how to make one, com­plete with an incan­ta­tion. 1

Whether his­tor­i­cal­ly accu­rate or make believe, the witch’s lad­der is an inter­est­ing process of rit­u­al­is­tic knot­ting that encap­su­lates impor­tant aspects of faith. The prac­tice sum­mons the human will to hope, desire and / or pro­tect the things that are cared about deeply. I have devel­oped an arte­fact based on these instruc­tions, first carv­ing nine objects tak­en from the Spe­cial Col­lec­tion out of soap before con­struct­ing a com­plex­i­ty of knots and braids. I tied these objects into the threads using a knot­ting tech­nique, while focus­ing on these very spe­cif­ic set of object-inten­tions. The objects include (from top to bottom):

  1. Alec­to­ri­ous: A non-pre­cious stone found in the giz­zard of a young cas­trat­ed cock­er­el. The stone is believed to be an effec­tive amulet in gen­er­at­ing courage and boldness.
  2. Elm Tree: An amulet that pro­tects all near­by plants and flora
  3. A Bidder’s Staff: A staff adorned with wed­ding gar­lands, held by the bid­der’. His­tor­i­cal­ly, the bid­der is a joy­ful, wit­ty indi­vid­ual who bids the guests to wit­ness the mar­riage of two peo­ple. In the con­text of the work, the gar­land rep­re­sent the union of all organ­ic mat­ter, as part of a rit­u­al of recon­nect­ing with nature.
  4. Left Ovary: An amulet to pro­tect women’s bod­ies, and to ward off those who seek to con­trol them
  5. Moun­tain and Cave: An amulet that works to pro­tect indige­nous lands and their communities
  6. Right Ovary: An amulet to pro­tect women’s bod­ies, and to ward off those who seek to con­trol them
  7. Non-human: An amulet to pro­tect all non-human bod­ies from harm and neglect
  8. Annu­lus: A ring or loop that con­nects us to our past, present and future blood rel­a­tives. An object that rep­re­sents con­ti­nu­ity, time trav­el and change
  9. Island: A place to reflect, to learn, to dis­cuss, to for­give, to change, to listen.

In these select­ed exper­i­men­tal works, witch, native, com­mons, min­er­al, uterus and non-human are all brought togeth­er as sites of extrac­tion under capitalism. 

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Cre­at­ing some­thing method­olog­i­cal­ly rit­u­al­is­tic, in a way that recon­nects to the past, cre­ates an oppor­tu­ni­ty to re-estab­lish bonds with our col­lec­tive ances­try while reignit­ing a desire to deep­en our rela­tion­ship with the net­work of mat­ter in which we are entan­gled. Even the light of the domes­tic scan­ner, com­bined with rit­u­alised move­ment using the hands, can reveal new meth­ods of think­ing and see­ing through the thick­ness of time. 

Dis­cov­er­ies in the South­ern Hemi­sphere,
And suc­cess­ful­ly per­formed by
In the DOL­PHIN, the SWAL­LOW, and the ENDEAV­OUR:
Drawn up from the Jour­nals which were kept by the sev­er­al COM­MAN­DERS; And from the Papers of JOSEPH BANKS, Esq:
Illus­trat­ed with CUTS, and a great Vari­ety of CHARTS and MAPS rel­a­tive to Coun­tries now first dis­cov­ered, or hith­er­to but imper­fect­ly known.
Print­ed for W. STRA­HAN; and T. CADELL in the Strand,

These dis­tor­tions result­ed in the facial expres­sions of the colonis­ers becom­ing cen­tral — as they gaze out through the dig­i­tal folds cre­at­ed by my body work­ing with tech­nol­o­gy. We see hud­dles of men, look­ing in all direc­tions, seem­ing­ly plot­ting their next move. Bod­ies bulge out of the page, and absences appear in return; spaces cre­at­ed over time through light, move­ment and sen­sors. As an artist, I often see and expe­ri­ence through tech­nol­o­gy, and in turn, the tech­nol­o­gy sees and expe­ri­ences through both me and the data we col­lect togeth­er. Through my artis­tic prac­tice, tech­nol­o­gy has become a cybor­gian exten­sion of my direct bod­i­ly engage­ment with my envi­ron­ment — and with the his­to­ries con­tained with­in it. 

The glitchy space that this method opens up reveals a land­scape of injus­tice in which we can find ravines, sink­holes, earth­quakes, vol­ca­noes, quar­ries and swathes of absence. It also pro­vides a place for the dis­cov­ery of unspo­ken truths, spec­u­la­tive fic­tions, and new futures. Push­ing the bound­aries of the image in this way enables a play­ful decon­struc­tion and recon­sti­tu­tion with­out shy­ing away from the bru­tal­i­ties that the images represent.

These glitched visu­al­i­sa­tions dis­rupt pow­er dynam­ics, sub­vert nar­ra­tives, agi­tate truths and cre­ate oppor­tu­ni­ties for re-read­ings. If we look through the lens of Lega­cy Russell’s Glitch Fem­i­nism Man­i­festo, these works seem­ing­ly dis­sent against cap­i­tal­ism. As Rus­sell states, the glitch cre­ates a fis­sure with­in which new pos­si­bil­i­ties of being and becom­ing man­i­fest”. The images are pur­pose­ful, desta­bil­is­ing errors, and through their dis­tor­tions the ugly truths of his­to­ry are laid bare.

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Through an inter­ro­ga­tion of this object, new works have been devel­oped that desta­bilise its con­tent in a con­tem­po­rary con­text. As mas­sive West­ern cor­po­ra­tions con­tin­ue to destroy com­mu­ni­ties and their ances­tral lands, in the pur­suit of wealth from nat­ur­al-resources such as water, min­ing and agri­cul­ture, I ask how much has actu­al­ly changed. Through the fis­sures of the glitch, we see the stark rep­e­ti­tion of his­to­ry, and asks for cre­ative solu­tions in the con­text of the result­ing eco­log­i­cal cri­sis. In col­lab­o­ra­tion with tech­nol­o­gy, itself a prod­uct of the min­ing indus­try, I work with its geol­o­gy to decon­struct the sys­temic forces that have sought to desta­bilise the human and more-than-human majority.

Maud Haya-Baviera

USSR tourism advertisement

Beyond the Woods

To devel­op new work dur­ing our Artist Res­i­den­cy at G39, I only used doc­u­ments found ear­li­er in the res­i­den­cy, when I was under­tak­ing a focussed peri­od of research at Cardiff Uni­ver­si­ty Spe­cial Col­lec­tions. I reap­pro­pri­at­ed all the doc­u­ments I found, as a way to decon­tex­tu­alise them, uni­ver­salise them and infuse them with a nar­ra­tive charge. 

Archival mate­ri­als have infil­trat­ed my work for years, and the Spe­cial Col­lec­tions was the sec­ond archive/​institution with whom I worked. Yet, for the first time dur­ing this res­i­den­cy, I asked myself ques­tions on the nature of archives, on the types of arte­facts select­ed to become part of an archive and on the ways arte­facts are named and by whom. Staff at the Spe­cial Col­lec­tions (whom I whole­heart­ed­ly thank) are very much aware of the eth­i­cal respon­si­bil­i­ties and ques­tions gen­er­at­ed by the process of col­lect­ing and archiv­ing arte­facts.

When I start­ed to devel­op work at G39, these con­cerns were fore­most in my mind. How words influ­ence and some­times dic­tate the read­ing of an image became the cat­a­lyst of the video work Beyond The Woods, which I devel­oped dur­ing the residency.

Making the video work

The video work nar­rates let­ters writ­ten by sol­diers about their expe­ri­ences of the front dur­ing the First World War. I tried to cap­ture the essence of the let­ters, but rewrote them slight­ly, in order to make the tes­ti­monies both a‑temporal and dif­fi­cult to locate. I want­ed to ampli­fy the hor­ror of wars, while using qui­et words and lan­guage. The con­stant dis­junc­tion between what is heard and what is seen con­verge into an emo­tion­al place of unease. 

The video work went through many iter­a­tions and con­tin­ued devel­op­ing many months after the end of our res­i­den­cy at G39. I spent time re-work­ing the archival images that were to become the visu­als accom­pa­ny­ing the video work Beyond The Woods. All images were dig­i­tal­ly manip­u­lat­ed, so that I could erase build­ings or hand writ­ings. I also trans­formed all visu­als into post­cards to accen­tu­ate the dis­crep­an­cy between what is heard and viewed. Post­cards are asso­ci­at­ed with leisure, writ­ten small talks about the weath­er and oth­er banal­i­ties, but in the video work, they become the sup­port of short and poignant testimonies. 

Ini­tial­ly, to cre­ate the sound­track, I nar­rat­ed all the sol­diers’ let­ters used in the video, but I felt that my strong accent was too much of a dis­trac­tion, so I employed actors to do the voice over. 

Actress Vic­to­ria Mar­rett — pho­to: Ben Collins

Beyond The Woods pits grav­i­ty against lev­i­ty, through the sub­tle appro­pri­a­tion of archival images and let­ters writ­ten by sol­diers, to explore con­flicts and their long-last­ing emo­tion­al impact.

Joanna Whittle
A ruin created from a variety of sources found in the archives. Graphite on paper

A ruin created from a variety of sources found in the archives

Method: The Phantom Had Dissolved

The Master & Margarita
The Mas­ter & Mar­gari­ta, Mikhail Bulgakov 

And here the swel­ter­ing air thick­ened before him, and a trans­par­ent cit­i­zen of the strangest appear­ance wove him­self out of it.

A peaked jock­ey’s cap on his lit­tle head, a short check­ered jack­et also made of air. A cit­i­zen sev­en feet tall, but nar­row in the shoul­ders, unbe­liev­ably thin, and, kind­ly note, with a jeer­ing phys­iog­no­my. The life of Berlioz had tak­en such a course that he was unac­cus­tomed to extra­or­di­nary phe­nom­e­na. Turn­ing paler still, he gog­gled his eyes and thought in consternation:

This can’t be! …’

But, alas, it was, and the long, see-through cit­i­zen was sway­ing before him to the left and to the right with­out touch­ing the ground. Here ter­ror took such pos­ses­sion of Berlioz that he shut his eyes. When he opened them again, he saw that it was all over, the phan­tasm had dissolved.”

1 The Mas­ter and Mar­gari­ta, Mikhail Bul­gakov, Lon­don Collins and Harvill Press, 1967, London 


In the hot July days of Cardiff I Spent my time at G39 draw­ing. So lit­tle time do I have to draw…the paint­ings absorb this prac­tice into their intri­ca­cy. So on this res­i­den­cy I lux­u­ri­at­ed in the scratch of graphite on paper, sharp­en­ing my pen­cils method­i­cal­ly and often, allow­ing rolls to build up in the cor­ner of my pen­cil tin and those lit­tle spiky shards of graphite grow­ing in between like crys­tals. And load­ing these on to my fin­ger to smear clouds and trees in to being. The ephemer­al gust of the soul defined in the space of graphite removed, of the line erased, so that the soul becomes only an absence. The won­der­ful thing of mate­ri­al­i­ty in which the essence and action of mate­r­i­al repli­cates the act it attempts to define, trans­lates words scratch­ing through his­to­ry into these marks, assem­bling them­selves from both mat­ter and the equiv­a­lent­ly abstract scrib­ble of words, hiero­glyph­ic, like Hen­ri Micheaux’s mesca­line draw­ings, laid like stains between pages. Mat­ter and empti­ness. And brings to my mind the 21 grammes exper­i­ment in which the soul depart­ing the body leaves an absence of 21 grammes. Or Camus, from this inert body on which a slap makes no mark the soul has disappeared.’

And this July heat also brought to mind both the open­ing scene of the Mas­ter and Mar­gari­ta where the dev­il emerges into a swel­ter­ing Moscow, where the air shim­mers and no one believes their eyes, but also the unbear­able heat which tor­ments Pon­tius Pilate in the inter­ro­ga­tion of his pris­on­er, which hinges the book. 

And, an under­stand­ing of time in which all time is present and moments are mere­ly glid­ing against each oth­er. And fig­ures emerge between worlds and between times. Kipp­fig­uren.

Kippfigur/ Witness/ Sentinel first seen on 24th July 1915, 14 x 9cm

Kippfugur seen in Lille, on 19th December 1914

Kippfigur witnessed on 8th November 1914, a repeated motif in subsequent reproductions, 14 x 9cm

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Graves Gallery


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