exploring art and writing

The Unseen and the Unspoken: Rhian Haf Jones.

In Fine Arts, Site Specific on April 27, 2011 at 7:41 am

Rhian Haf Jones 'Sense of Place' 2010

Growing up in the small rural village of Gwytherin in county Conwy North Wales, it is easy to see how artist Rhian Haf Jones became fascinated with the historic complexities of ancient ruins and the age-old landscapes surrounding them. Pastoral, site-specific sentiments pervade her work, or rather it is her artwork that permeates each chosen site. With a craft based predominantly around the construction of glass objects, by installing the crisp forms of each piece of glass into an archaic context Haf Jones is drawing the viewer’s attention to both the ancient and the contemporary.

The placement of glass objects into environments that are a far cry from the conventional white cube is a method of challenging the traditional occupation of space typically associated with glass artwork. In the installations Blue Blind and Red Blind, in which strikingly linear pieces of glass were positioned in the empty windows of the ancient Hiraethog Mountain ruin Bron Haul, Haf Jones created stunning aesthetic contrasts that derived symbiosis from the very polarities that they each represented: the rugged, dilapidated ruins of a working farm alongside the clean elegance of glass artwork, placed strategically in the empty margins where windows would once have been placed. Each delicate line of glass transforms what was an unoccupied frame into a new ‘window’, a space to peer through as it responds to the transience of its environment. It is fitting, then, that centuries ago net curtains were referred to as ‘glass curtains’, something that Haf Jones has evidently and eloquently responded to in her artistic practice.

As a Masterclass Artist for the Women’s Arts Association, Haf Jones is currently exploring the development of her approach to site-specific work from a digital perspective. A very specific challenge that this presents is the documentation and portrayal of another major theme within the artists work: light. Its subtlety, its relationship with shadows, the patterns it forms, its ambience and its transience. This in turn evokes themes of the unseen and the unspoken, also reflected by the ancient, derelict buildings that Haf Jones utilises, themselves reminders of past time and forgotten events.

One such building is The Old Salthouse, a 16th Century ruin located in the renowned beauty of the South Gower coast. For her latest project Sense Of Place, in a similar fashion to Red Blind and Blue Blind Haf Jones has appropriated the voided windows of The Old Salthouse, but unlike the previous artworks the passage of time – and consequently the unseen and the unspoken – is addressed using a less precise and more untarnished aesthetic; each plate of glass, painstakingly placed in its window frame, appears eroded. Using time laps photography with the intention of graduating towards video she has digitally documented this synthesis of glass, brick and the resulting play on light. The transformative nature of the outdoor environment is both literally and emblematically reflected in each clouded pane of glass, forming momentary shadows and patterns that often remain unobserved. Haf Jones’s time laps photography is a determined attempt to give these moments a greater level of permanence; it is a search challenging whether such transient qualities can be successfully translated into a digital object.

The efforts behind such a project require copious amounts of preparation and research. Haf Jones has evolved a practice with foundations based in the tradition of glass-making, but to date Sense Of Place has also required extensive research fuelled by her fascination with windows found throughout Europe, in addition to a historical awareness of the antiquity of each chosen site (for instance, the swash-buckling pirate myths surrounding The Old Salthouse), and an ever-increasing appreciation of digital photography and video. Her practice is loaded with Welsh and nautical history and with the natural and the manmade. It offers us a view into an unfamiliar combination of materials: perfectly formed, ornamental glass with rugged stone, simultaneously encompassed by the unforgiving brutality and beauty of the natural elements. Rhian Haf Jones’s artwork accentuates each of these components through the documentation of the light and shadows that ensue; every piece of glass that she constructs, and consequently each digital photograph that documents, is a window allowing us to perceive a previously unnoticed and revitalised, albeit fleeting, moment in time.

  1. Just caught up with this post. You write beautifully, I wish you posted more often. This article is so interesting; and I like the idea of art that’s philosophically modernist but which carries almost anit-establishment atavistic tendencies.

    Right… that’s my pretentiousness quota for the week taken care of – so I’ll finish by saying that ‘Sense of place’ is purrty. Tom.

    • Hi Tom,

      thanks for your comments, they’re much appreciated! The women I worked with for the Women’s Arts Association were amazing and I loved writing about them.

      I keep meaning to post more but things just seem to happen…I do weekly articles for another website now so that’s got in the way, but I will definitely be posting more soon. I often read your blog by the way, and it’s great – except it makes me want to read dozens of books and then my brain gets confused! At the moment I’ve gone for some old school Russian literature, which is generally my favourite 🙂

      I’m going to select the next novel I read from your blog – any particular favourites? I’m tempted by the Jennifer Egan…

      • The Jennifer Egan book is really good. Since I read it, it’s won the Pulitzer Prize (the American version of the Booker – but much more respected, and not so middle-of-the-road).

        But out of all the books I’ve read recently, I think you might like ‘Remainder’ by Tom McCarthy the most; given that you’re an artist. 🙂 McCarthy is a conceptual artisit-turned-novelist, and ‘Remainder’ is full of symbols, tableaux, motifs and visual/image-based metaphors. It’s great. It actually became famous in Parisian art galleries, after being rejected for 7 years by UK publishers. Fools. 😉

        If you really want to get your teeth into something though, you could try Freedom by Jonathan Franzen; it’s an absolute door-stop of a book – but it’s very good. I don’t usually like that kinda of hyperrealistic, middle-brow, state-of-the-nation stuff, but ‘Freedom’ is just so good. I’l try to review it soon; but, to be honest, I find review writing incredibly difficult (I’m no natural) and some books just defeat me.


  2. (sorry, there’s a tense confusion in my last comment. What I meant to say is: I wish you would post more often. 🙂 )

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