From May to September 2021
Kate is Artist-in-Residence
in the Elan Valley.
The 1892 Water Act allowed Birmingham Corporation to purchase the watershed of rivers Elan and Claerwen. These 70 square miles would provide water to fuel the city’s industrial growth.
The WATERSHED LINE, the perimeter of the land claimed, was, and still is, marked by concrete posts.
Today, 81% of the Elan Estate is an SSSI. Ironically, the economic value of its water has protected it from the use of pesticides and other chemicals, preserving habitats for now rare plants and animals. However, harnessing the natural cycle of these valleys was a feat of Victorian engineering that accelerated industrialisation, contributing to the current global environmental crisis.
A comment from a member of the audience
All was black upon entering.
We had to place our phones in a basket. Silently.
An Indian curtain rose to the clanking of chains.
Dark table and chest.
And a silent gloved man, tall and thin as a pole spoke to us with his hands....and waved in Madam Zolde...she slid lace from his coat sleeves and held out her arms and paraded around in silk as black-blue as the empty sea at night...then the bean pole man tied the lace around her eyes and she vanished behind a 2nd curtain
This gloved gentleman now used a cane- lifted a flap in the red curtain behind him and there a white cage awaited. It had a place for a face and shoulders and chest. It had a hole where what looked like a bullet had passed- right through the throat.
Warbling music played, an old gramophone? strings maybe? a voice but no words, steeped in bygone.
And then Madam Zold steps behind this iron mask, placing herself like a jigsaw puzzle into its "fit", her throat behind this dreadful erupted hole. She is lit from below.
The music stopped. The red flap lowered. (I swear the audience stopped breathing)
Then this SCREAM - she screamed! Not shrill - an ugly real scream
Shot through with fear. And you could hear- fear at herself. fear of the world, the scream gained its own force beyond her - releasing, pealing out in shuddering clarity, The scream continued this time almost enjoying itself. She screamed more and a wearying a slight whimpering was heard at the edges and then, slowly, right at the end the scream almost sang.
And that was it. The pair bowed. The audience were silent. I cried.
But there they stood- bewitching, brave and breathing, un-photographed or recorded; survivors, glittering in their greasepaint, on the stage of life. And I cried some more. At the incredible healing.
I have come to the borders of sleep,
the unfathomable deep
Forest where all must lose
their way, however straight,
Or winding, soon or late;
They cannot choose.
Lights Out by Edward Thomas
"I was attracted by the friction between the immediacy of the art form and its ability to capture a lifetime of feeling. I had been thinking of a past life when someone criticised my work, suggesting I would have been more authentic if I had just scraped a hollow in the ground and lay down in it. This throwaway comment had stayed with me for almost 15 years and, after my illness, had gained resonance.
One morning, as the sun rose over the hill, I decided I needed to do what that person had suggested."
The recipe for this piece has been almost 20 years in the oven. Back at its conception I was a farmer’s wife and, amongst other tasks, writing a novel Circle of Morels (destined never to be realised) about farming, food and foraging. In my notebooks I recorded many farming tales, including phrases I witnessed being used by farmers when referring to women, in particular to their wives. The ingredients of my personal experiences, my skills as a food artist, and the influences of Marcel Broodthaer’s Les Animeaux de la Ferme and Rirkrit Tiravanija’s Untitled (Free) combined to create this participatory pie performance.