Carla Manfredino was on site to soak up the atmosphere and catch the artists at this year’s bigger-than-ever LLAWN, the Llandudno arts festival.
Now in its seventh year, Llandudno’s Arts Weekend, LLAWN, which means ‘full’ in Welsh – has been curated by artist Megan Broadmeadow. This year’s festival lived up to its name; Llandudno was filled with visual art, digital installations, experimental music, puppetry, and a participatory dance performance on bikes.
The only free arts weekend in Wales, LLAWN is organised by Oriel MOSTYN. Funded by National Lottery through the Arts Council of Wales, Mostyn Estates, Conwy County Borough Council, Arts & Business Cymru and Llandudno Town Council, the aim of the festival is to make contemporary art approachable and democratic. Encouraging people to engage with modern art can be tricky if they’re not already interested, it has a reputation of being elitist, highbrow and ‘difficult to get’ (to quote one visitor at the gallery). The ethos behind LLAWN, according to Audience Relations Manager Lin Cummins, is to take the artwork outside, with the hope of initiating a conversation with the public. Art can create a dialogue with its viewer, and as Sarah Manguso said in 300 Arguments, ‘Bad art is from no-one to no-one’.
The theme of the festival this year was ‘A line in the sand’, and rather than marking an ending or a limitation, it was as an invitation for the viewer to step out of their comfort zone, and look at things they might otherwise turn away from. The poetry reading, ‘Sea, sand and sorrow’ at Providero cafe on the Saturday evening, emphasised this point. Glyn Edwards and Steph Lonsdale read work that was both familiar and unfamiliar. Lonsdale’s poem about being a teenager in a nightclub is something we can all relate to in some way, whereas Glyn Edwards’ poem about an older child refugee, who wasn’t heavily featured in the news, is unsettling. The poem ‘a dead boy on a beach’ was one of four poems about washed up things called ‘flotsam/jetsom’, a selection from his poignant debut, Vertebrae. The setting couldn’t have been more atmospheric with the evening sun coming through the café’s windows and the audience an intimate, friendly crowd.
Some acts seemed lost and perhaps created more distance between the performer and the viewer – ‘Culture of Echoes’, a project by electro-acoustic trio Accretion Entropy, performed at Saint John’s church, was difficult to understand. As their name suggests, accretion and entropy are their guiding principles. The music was an accumulation of pieces on the electric violin, digital workstation, hardware and synthesizers, which coalesced into an ordered sound with many layers. The experience was heightened by the visual projections and surround sound, not to mention the choice of setting; a place where you’d usually hear hymns, an organ, or just silence. It was difficult to sustain attention without a narrative or something to follow, and it made the experience seem lengthy. It was interesting to see briefly, but could disorientate a listener over a long period of time. And the projections were very small which could be a problem for those with visual trouble.
Journeys and connections were prominent, a reminder of the ‘line in the sand’ theme of the festival. From the LLAWN taxi driven by Conwy Freewheelers (with tour guide) to the family-friendly Art Safari where ‘Questions [were] encouraged’, led by Clare Harding, participation was paramount. The audience-made Rangoli on display demonstrated an Indian-Welsh connection. Rangoli is an ancient art form, traditionally practised by women of all ages, beliefs and social standing in India. The patterns are made on the floor using coloured rice, flowers and sand, and are said to herald good fortune. The inclusive nature of the act is a journey itself – making connections with others that might not have been made before.
The layout of the festival allowed visitors to make an intuitive journey. The murals around the town encouraged people to look and look again; what was once a familiar building and perhaps part of a repeated journey through the town, was made different. The HAUS building on Augusta Street (formerly an RAF club) was painted by artist Kera, using the same colours as the dazzle ships in the First World War. Trish Bermingham’s exhibition inside the HAUS building was about ‘making sense through turning repetition into ritual’ and explored the notion of making the mundane ‘magic’. There was a bundle of luggage tags for visitors to write on, and many noted the simple acts of kindness experienced from a stranger during the weekend.
LLAWN’s curator, Megan Broadmeadow, exhibited her first virtual reality installation ‘Above the firmament’ as part of the touring series of immersive films, SEEK PRAY ADVANCE, at the Tabernacle. The work asks what an ordinary person would do if they were ‘the chosen one’, which is relevant in today’s culture of the celebrity – those who play the role, and those who watch them play it. Disability Arts Cymru’s ‘Washing Lines’ were popular, and stood out on the wet and grey Sunday. Rows of multicoloured paper briefs with answers to the question, ‘What in the World is Pants?’ were pegged up outside Trinity church on Mostyn Street. Common complaints were about Brexit, the environment and current women’s issues such as the pay gap and menopause. Over two hundred pants were written on during the Saturday alone.
There were sixteen venues around Llandudno with some having more than one act or exhibition in a day. The leaflet and map for the festival were unclear, however, and the events were arranged erratically. The festival would benefit from a more orderly approach for those with access requirements or very young children. Using one venue or a cluster of smaller ones close by, might be easier, if a little less exciting. But the idea behind LLAWN is a fun one – rather than trying to plan which acts they will see, visitors are invited to be spontaneous, to walk around and take it in; view the town in a new light, and above all, see what conversations can be started and connections created, in the familiar made strange.