Culture is Ordinary

‘Culture is Ordinary’ is the title of a 1958 essay by Raymond Williams in which he compares a Cambridge teashop frequented by ‘cultivated’ people with his own Welsh working class family culture. As the term ‘drawing room’ has connotations with large private houses, ‘polite society’, receiving guests and serving tea, we proposed infiltrating the idea of kitchen ‘labour’ into the Drawing Room while sharing skills, knowledge and ideas with anyone who dropped by. As well as conversing over cups of tea, we made Kitchen lithography prints on paper using everyday materials (coca cola, tinfoil, water, wooden spoons). Conversations ranged from people’s discussion of their own domestic and creative skills to opinions about why the gallery is not used more by local people. Raymond Williams suggested that the real effect of societal change on people’s everyday lives is largely hidden and overlooked but the power of everyday voices, difficulties and aspirations can be made visible through art. The Drawing Room was a great space to collaborate and to pursue these ideas in practice.
On the first day of the residency we came across Robert Owen's memorial in Newtown. Founder of the Co-operative Movement, the phrase 'EACH FOR ALL' resonated with our own thoughts about skill sharing and collaborative work.
Some of the objects we found in charity shops around Newtown on our first day of the residency. By buying these objects donated by local residents with their different styles, eras and providences … Royal Albert, Moss Rose No. T432 Wedgewood of Etruria and Barlaston, Royal Winton, Hereford Alfred Meakin Staffordshire, Pontessa Spain, Tams England, Viners International Hong Kong ... we found a space to connect with everyday objects of Newtown's recent past and to converse with the local residents volunteering in the shops.
Millet from the local pet shop. Grown in China. The birds started singing and the shop owner explained that they take a siesta in the afternoon and break into song beforehand.
​We met Martina from Newtown who told us how she feels the Drawing Room is one of the few places in town she considers to be a safe space. Since the Brexit vote, she said, she has felt being treated differently as people are reacting to her foreign accent. This was the first print I made during the residency. Acting as a demonstration of how Kitchen lithography works, Martina's words surfaced intuitively.
Ezma joined us on the first day of the residency and stayed for most of the day. An artist herself working in textiles, she picked up the printing technique in no time. Ezma is passionate about sharing her knowledge of Newtown's textile heritage with local young people, including the life and work of Robert Owen who campaigned for children to be educated instead of working from the age of five. She also introduced us to her two children. Ezma's daughter wanted to make a print but her son didn't. After a while he settled down to play with other objects, games and instruments he found lying around in the Drawing Room and it felt as if in our own ways we were all contentedly learning and creating in a shared living space. As Raymond Williams wrote: ' Culture is ordinary. An interest in learning or the arts is simple, pleasant and natural.'
A Newtown resident came and spoke animatedly about her own creative skills and interests - some came from her farming background, some from her training in catering, and some via domestic crafts. Social circumstances had impacted upon her own career path but she was passionate about the opportunities - including the gallery's education programme, Young Farmers clubs and art colleges - that enable local young people like her daughter to pursue creative careers. Something about the way that this woman spoke reminded me of Raymond Williams' description of his grandfather speaking 'finely and excitedly' about a social injustice that impacted on his life and I intuitively made a print of the relevant extract of text from 'Culture is Ordinary'.
Robin finishing the drawing by adding the chimney to their house which his wife Mairwen had just drawn. Morag then made the prints, a true family collaboration. The printing process reversed the house so that instead of a specific likeness, it became more generic: a typical Montgomeryshire timber framed house or 'Tir Sir Faldwyn'.
Artist colleagues Caroline Wright and Penny Hallas also joined the printing session. They had been installing new work in the Test Bed section of the gallery and also joined us for the artist talk on the final day of the residency talking about various aspects of collaboration and the Drawing Room's engaging atmosphere.


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Sunday, 22 September 2019

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