Ffion Jones is an artist, film-maker, academic and farmer who was brought up on an upland sheep farm in Mid-Wales. Edafedd Dŵr [Water Yarn] (spring 2016) was a moving image commission for Cymerau that considered farmers’ relationships to and perspectives on water; in particular those who farm alongside the Afon Leri around Talybont. This is an area with a complex history of rural ‘industry’ that includes woollen mills and lead mines, with the associated infrastrucure now derelict.
The resulting documentary film (in Welsh with English subtitles) winds together multiple strands – ideas, anecdotes, stories, perspectives – from across the generations; or as Ffion described it in a blog entry, it “weaves narratives which complicate our perhaps black and white view of farming activity”.
In doing so, the film sensitively considers the tensions between so-called ‘expert’ and local knowledge; between national agricultural policy/legislation and the everyday embodied experience of local people; between recommendations for nature conservation and the needs of those who must make a living from the land. As two participants – a father and son – reflect:
“I think we’re guilty as an industry, and as a society, of expecting too much from what we have. There is pressure on us now to make more and more! […] You can abuse nature for a while, but in the end nature will win. It’s better to work with her rather than against her.” – Richard a Jâms (Maesnewydd).
Other respondents make nuanced observations of changes in the landscape and climate over the years reflecting on fisheries, flooding, forestry, sheep dipping and shearing. Narratives extend both to the past – pre-war farming – and to the future with discussions of micro-hydropower, and the contentious ‘rewilding’ debate. The result is a touching portrait of farming in the Mid-Wales uplands as a complex way of life, highly responsive to the changing water environment.
“The past and the future, for me as a rural, farming person, is a non linear thing […] there has to be a look backwards, and a looking forwards. These are not romantic, nostalgic visions of our place in the world, but pragmatic ways to cope with change” – Ffion Jones
ARTWORK(S) & DOCUMENTATION
Edafedd Dŵr [Water Yarn] (2017). 31 mins. Welsh with English subtitles (embedded below).
An interview with Ffion Jones by Sara Penrhyn Jones: Sgwrs gyda Ffion Jones, artist a ffermwraig yn Nhal-y-bont. [A conversation with Ffion Jones, artist and farmer from Tal-y-bont.]
Ffion’s own blogs about her process:
When policy and real lives collide
Edafedd Dwr/Water Yarn
ENGAGEMENT & PARTICIPATION
The project engaged with the 6 participants in the film, but also in a wider discussion with the farming community. The artist’s line of questioning was based on informal conversations that she’d had with farmers from the area.
There have been two public screenings of the film:
Neuadd Goffa Tal-y-Bont – 27th May 2016
National Eisteddfod Genedlaethol, Pabell Prifysgol Aberystwyth University Tent – Cardiff 9 August 2018
There have been 38 views on Vimeo and 173 views on Ffion’s private YouTube channel.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Ffion Jones is a Lecturer in Practical Theatre at Aberystwyth University. She has undertaken her BA, MA, and more recently, her PhD at the department. Ffion teaches practical workshops on the English medium Theatre curriculum. She is also a practising artist, currently working on a film commissioned by AHRC-funded Hydrocitizenship research project, and continuing to work with fellow National Theatre of Wales performers- Rosa Casado, Richard Huw Morgan and John Rowley as part of the performance collective AS. She developed a mode of working with rural-identities and cultures during her BA (2004-2007) and MA (2007-2008) at Aberystwyth University. Work such as her MA solo Fleece, attempted to challenge the idea of the rural idyll with the realities of rural-life through an engagement with mental health issues within rural society. Her experiences of growing up on an upland sheep farm, and her current status as artist/farmer/academic often feature within her practices, as she bridges the gaps between her various life-roles. Her most recent work was the result of a four year practice-as-research PhD (2009-2015: Woollying the Boundaries: Perceptions and interventions into Upland Sheep Farming in Wales. Interdisciplinary Approaches to Rural Research).