“I wonder whether people don’t value their own stories or are just out of the habit of telling them?” – Jane Lloyd Francis.
Ar Lan y Leri was a project centred on the notion of bardic pilgrimage, conceived and performed by artists Jane Lloyd Francis and Gwilym Morus-Baird. At its heart was a three day walk along the Afon Leri from its source at Llyn Craig-y-Pistyll in the hills above Bontgoch to its mouth at Ynyslas.The journey (8-10 May 2016) was a means to investigate relationships to the river in those communities that live and work along it. But in the months before and after the walk itself, there were also significant ‘satellite’ happenings that sought to stimulate dialogue and share stories about or reflections on water.
Leading up to their journey, Jane and Gwilym hosted two ‘Siop Siarad’ [Talking Shop] events, in the Leri villages of Bontgoch and Dol-y-bont. Bringing together ‘water experts’ – from Dŵr Cymru, the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust amongst others – with the equally ‘expert’ knowledge of the local communities, these novel engagement events sought to unearth stories, memories and stream-of-consciousness thinking about water and its meanings. At each event, Gwilym would move between discussion groups, capturing something of the essence of the talk, then singing it back in mesmersing verse at the end of the evening: a unique way of summarising and documenting the complexity of group discussion.
After the walk , all of the rich material that had been gathered – much of it audio recordings, spoken word or song – was distilled and woven into what Jane describes as “a river-shaped audio response to be performed”. There was an evening performance event “Beached the final landing” and a podcast was also produced that remains freely available online.
Ar Lan y Leri was a work rich in deeply felt – and generously documented – ritual process. For example, in preparation for their journey, Jane made and fired her own clay costrel – the rounded vessel with distinctive lugs used by mediaeval pilgrims to carry water – that would carry some source water from Llyn Craig-y-Pistyll along the river to the sea. She also visited various river sources in the Pumlumon mountain range, read extensively and shared her process through numerous blog posts (see below for links).
In their documentation of the walk itself, both artists reflect with eloquence and humility about the privilege of making such a journey and how it serves to reconnect a sense of awareness with deep time:
We talk of deep associations with the landscape, entwinings and entanglements before the days of becoming disconnected observers – at a loss with how to feel the earths thrumming.
Gwilym takes out an instrument, a small primitive harp on a drum, he begins to improvise with the rhythms of the water…
In this moment everything becomes right, we are joined with the earth and the air. It seems that he […] is a magician, capable of joining land and water and life” – Jane Lloyd Francis.
ARTWORK(S) & DOCUMENTATION
An audiowork combining some of the stories, sounds and music from the journey is availble on Soundcloud with an accompanying text by the artists:
A selection of images is below. Image credits: Jane Lloyd Francis (1-14), Caroline Freeman (15-18), Katherine Phillips (19-22).
Jane Lloyd Francis documented her research and process extensively through blogs on this site and also the Hydrocitizens community:
Take me to the Source [a quote]
In her Element [a quote]
The Crow and the Pitcher [a poem]
Gwyn ap Nydd
Heraclitus, change and flow
Wrecked in the mouth of the Leri [shipwrecks/local history]
Making a start [early stages of project]
The Vessel [making a vessel to carry the water]
Talking Shop/Siop Siarad – Bontgoch
Meeting the Leri [walking along the river]
Gwilym Morus-Baird wrote blogs on his own website.
Caroline Freeman and Katherine Phillips also wrote blogs reflecting on their participation in the ‘Beached’ event.
(Blogs are also available as PDF documents below).
ENGAGEMENT & PARTICIPATION
There were two preparatory Siop Siarad dialogic workshop-style events – November 2 2015, St. Peter’s Church, Bontgoch and April 28 2016, Capel Babell, Dol-y-Bont – with approximately 50 participants in total across both events.
The walk along the Leri took place from 8-10 May 2016. On the walk and in additional research and recordings around it, the artists conducted approximately 55 interviews.
The final sharing – “Beached – the final landing” – was a performance at Ynyslas Visitor Centre on 27 May 2016 to an audience of approximately 40 people.
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Jane Lloyd Francis
My practice has been developed by theatre and live performance. I produced and directed Equilibre Horse Theatre for 15 years, a company known for its unique and diverse work. Horses were central, their mythic and symbolic presence permeating all the work.
I like to create performances and interventions that are visually led and I am interested in exploring the space that exists between theatre and the visual arts. My work is eclectic; I welcome the synchronicity generated within process, I embrace stitching together a patchwork of ideas to create responses that are textural, detailed and emotional.
In 2012 my long running interest in Medieval Welsh poetry resulted in a doctorate from Bangor University. I have also worked as a research fellow at the Library of Congress, Washington DC, comparing international performance practices. I currently offer online courses in Welsh Mythology (whitedeer.earth) and fulfil music commissions.
Commissions include an album of songs responding to art works at the 2011 National Eisteddfod; music for television (f.e. Y Tad Deiniol by Pixel Foundry), for puppet shows and for art installations (f.e. a piece included in Jony Easterby’s For the Birds). I am currently working on a commissioned piece for an arts consortium making music out of bicycles, and a collaboration with the painter Laurel Gallagher on her extensive project Feral State.
Since 2005 I have released several albums of original material, and was lead singer and percussionist for a twelve piece afro-funk outfit called Drymbago. I have also released popular versions of folk songs such as Ym Mhontypridd and Tra Bo Dau that are played occasionally on BBC Radio Cymru. I have also been responsible for collaborations with musicians from Palestine. My music is online at mwncinel.com and gwilmor.com.