MORDANT - publicity photograph - Ellen Bell (2)

I said I would write about it, here in my journal. I promised. It seems odd though. I usually work things out in private, in my head. To articulate the process in this way will take some getting used to, I think.

I don’t have a studio, at least not at present. I work in my kitchen and store everything in a white plan chest in my bedroom. It is an odd system. It changes how I respond to my work. Much becomes internalised or is contained in sketchbooks. My work is clean, ordered. It has to be. I wondered how I would manage this project – particularly the testing part – with such a severe lack of space.

We found a plasterer. At least he did. A friend of a friend. That’s how it works in a small town, he said. I liked him. He was open and resourceful, though he did keep directing his answers to him rather than me. They’re all like it, he said afterwards, they’re just not used to dealing with women. We met him at lunchtime. Come to my house, I’ll be in the garage. He mixed up some plaster and I watched rapt as he deftly smeared it onto a plasterboard offcut. Plastering bores me now, he said, I’ve done it for so long. And it’s so messy. I pushed the template into the wet plaster. Gorgeous. It bit, just as I imagined it would. This isn’t so good, he said, it’s old plaster. But it works, I said, that’s the main thing, it works. We’ll have to work fast, with me following behind you, cleaning it up. (I think he used a particular word for the cleaning up bit but I forget it now.) I love working with craftsmen. I want to be them – roofers, plasterers, painters, dry stone wallers – its their dexterity, surety and confidence in their skill. Art is just trickery, mostly. A sleight of hand. I make facsimiles – they do it for real, without the ego and show. I liked him. And he said he would do it. I’ll even bring my laser thing to help with the lining up, he said. Fantastic, I said, fantastic.

There is still so much of the unknown about the project though. I mean its great that I’ve been awarded the grant by Arts Council Wales. I feel so fortunate but it is a responsibility. A big one. I mean there isn’t a right or wrong. It will be what it will be but I want it to be, to become the best it can. Jo, my friend and graphics-mentor has been teaching me about type. I’ve always loved it – though it was a love born of ignorance. She sent me home with two big tomes – type bibles. Don’t use serif, she said. Ok, I said. No twirls. The type needs to be straightforward, utilitarian. I need it to represent the voices, the conversations I overhear. I need a typeface that is universal such as Franklin Gothic Condensed – solid, dependable and weighty. Or there is News Gothic Bold. It needs to be legible. The plaster layer won’t be deep. And Gill Sans, designed by Eric Gill, is beautiful. But I am concerned about how much I will be able to press into the plaster before it sets. 10 sentences, 20, 30 ? It isn’t about the amount but how the dialogue interacts with each other. It is a small space. How much would the walls absorb?

Perhaps I should have introduced the project from the start, sorry. Yes. It’s called MORDANT and it is to be an installation in the TestBed space at the Oriel Davies Gallery in Newtown. It opens on Saturday 23rd May 2015. So what is it about? Well, its concerned with conversation. The kind of conversations that one overhears in galleries. It could be intellectual stuff or just plain chit chat. It doesn’t matter. It’s about the influence of space on the way human beings interact. My supposition is that walls absorb this chatter. I propose to spend a week at Oriel Davies recording what I hear and then using the transcribed discourses to create a piece of text that runs along the walls of the TestBed. A tiny little room. Intimate and cosy. The text won’t be large. This isn’t about shouting. People rarely shout in galleries. And it could end up being very prosaic. But you will be able to read, touch and perhaps talk back to it. That would be nice. Perhaps you will recognise something of yourself in what you see there. I hope so. As I say there as still many unknowns. Creating the templates is no mean feat – something which I hope a very nice man called Tom is going to help me with. Projects like this are all about stepping into the dark, the great unknown and asking for help. Help me learn. Help me to stretch my knowledge and become, better.

I love listening. I love recording what I hear. Usually in a wee Moleskine notebook I keep in my handbag. I wrote a blog for New Welsh Review recently about Shani Rhys James’ new show at the National Library – . I spent two hours sitting and walking around the exhibition space, watching and listening to my fellow viewers. People often whisper when you get near – scared of appearing stupid perhaps, or maybe they are not talking about the work at all. There is often a hush to art spaces, a reverence that stultifies high spirits – even children seem more sedate. Is it the art or the space? It is often just simple statements such as, I like this one, or that looks like – that one hears. Perhaps talking is unnecessary, or perhaps good art makes any commentary seem banal. Its a bit like the current backlash against the taking of selfies in galleries – just LOOK at the work. Do people talk because they are uncomfortable with the silence of engaging, of really letting themselves be open to being captivated? Do we talk when we are not? I prefer to go alone. The most extraordinary things happen then. I am more open, more ready to be enthralled.

Let’s hope you will be.




By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.