New Welsh Review
Crossings: Adam Buick and the Legend of Tresaith at Ruthin Craft Centre
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I’d caught Adam Buick’s film Place of Seven on the hop earlier in the year, during the first leg of Crossings: Adam Buick and the Legend of Tresaith tour at Aberystwyth Art Centre’s Ceramic Gallery. Initially attracted by the display of pots, I’d whizzed in. The film had seemed like an afterthought then, playing as it was on a tall, wall-hung monitor. Cursing my lack of time, I determined to see it again.
Shutting the glass door hard against the sleeting November rain outside, it was the rush of waves that I heard first. Blessed with the luxury of space, the whole of Ruthin Craft Centre’s Project Space B has been given over to the screening of Buick’s film. And it’s the sound that lures you in.
An accomplished potter, Buick doesn’t stop there. Using his pots as metaphorical vessels, Buick tells stories. Inspired by the apocryphal legend of the Irish king who casts his seven ‘difficult’ daughters adrift on the Irish Sea in an open boat to land at Tresaith on Cardigan Bay (in south Ceredigion) where they inevitably find marital bliss, Buick made seven moon jars. In collaboration with Aberystwyth University’s Computer Science Department, a tracking device and camera was inserted inside each jar. Then they, like the princesses, were left to their fate off the Irish shore. With elegant, pared-down restraint, Place of Seven narrates the journey and destiny of the jars.
The film begins at dawn in County Wicklow. Seven translucent, blue-white ovoid porcelain vessels stand on the beach [‘Dawn’, pictured]. They throw long shadows as they await the tide. In the next shot they are at sea joined by a tern, as they jostle, roll and tumble in the waves. And in the next, a high aerial shot, they are white dots against the blue. I sit on the blackened-oak bench, transfixed.
Information, when offered, is terse, matter-of-fact: ‘Departure, 5 June 2017, 20:42’. Shot after shot of empty sea follows. Where are they? Gulls swoop and screech. ‘Port Erin, Isle of Man, 7 days at sea’, the titles read, with a grid reference of ‘54.08N 477W’. The camera zooms into a pebbly cove, seaweed-strewn rocks, with the calls of gulls overhead and there’s a shard, unmistakable, that same blue, watery-white. Piece after piece is found, amongst rocks, the flotsam and jetsam, upended on the sand, one with the tracker device still blinking red, and another just a layering of fragments like some piled high tea set. And then finally: ‘Mawbray, Cumbria, 14 days at sea, 54.81N, 3.44W’, a jar is located. It is in one piece, untouched, perfect, whole.
A mother and son come in and stop before the display case containing the Place of Seven remnants. ‘Un, dau, tri, pedwar, pump’, she counts. But there are only three, I want to say. Three found and four lost.
Place of Seven is potent with association: the Vietnamese Boat People of the late 1970s, the migrants of Somalia, Libya and Syria trying to reach Europe and safety, and even more recently the Rohingya refugees attempting to sail to Bangladesh fleeing persecution in Myanmar.
Crossings is ostensibly an exhibition of Adam Buick’s ceramics which also features work by Valerie James, Marged Pendrell and Meri Wells, but it’s the film that stuns. Buick’s exquisitely brittle porcelain jars pitted against the inexorable, uncaring might of the sea, it is an allegory, if ever there was one, for our human condition.
Ellen Bell is an artist and writer living in Aberystwyth.
This exhibition runs at the Courtyard Project Space A & B, Ruthun Craft Centre, until 27 January.