21 January 2013

Y Mynyddoedd Grewyd Gan Ddyn - Man Made Mountains

A word of advice before you watch this video – it has a rather slow burn effect (which may be a nice way of saying it takes a minute or two to get going and for things to become clear).  Yet bear with it – because your jaw may well be a little slack by the end.  Some background first – North Wales dominated the world slate market for over a century but that time is now over and only a tiny fraction of the slate industry is left.

Yet this bastion of the Welsh language is (literally) littered with the remnants of this immense and intensive engineering and manufacturing period of cymric history. For every tonne produced over thirty tonnes would be discarded as waste product. My family on my father’s side hail from North Wales and many of my visits there in my youth were slate associated. My father’s great Aunt Ginnie’s house perched precariously underneath one of these huge man made mountains. I used to wonder what would happen if it all fell at once.

The sight of these gargantuan piles of industrial detritus is, indeed, at once glorious and disheartening.

This piece, with information in both Welsh and English, is a collaboration between artist and photographer Bob Mitchell and the filmmaker Jonny Maxfield.  Huge – and I mean huge – photographic images were created and displayed at windswept installations around the old industrial sites and then simply left to merge with the environment. 

The artistic process as well as that of slate production as it is today is captured by Mitchell and Maxfield with some wonderful time-lapse and still photography. It fills me with hiraeth and, I must admit, with what can only be called anti-hiraeth at the same time. The slate industry was the economic power house of North Wales for a long time but it is for many, too, a symbol of Welsh oppression. Yet this film celebrates the people not the politics.

This project was supported by the Arts Council of Wales, Gwynedd Council, Snowdonia National Park, The National Slate Museum, Llechwedd Slate Caverns and Tudor Lodge – Porthmadog.