Beachcombing @ Oriel Colwyn

Beachcombing @ Oriel Colwyn

Oriel Colwyn (Upstairs at Theatr Colwyn) (map)

The latest exhibition in Oriel Colwyn is by Jon Pountney, who has focussed on Splott Foreshore for the past three summers. The unloved and little-documented foreshore (Cardiff's only beach!) is made up of landfill, rubble, bricks, coal, and the slag waste of steel manufacture. Through the 1950's, 60's and 70's it was used as a dumping ground for many buildings in Cardiff, including the slum clearance of the Portmanmoor area of Splott, the massive Eastmoors steel works, and (if you believe the rumours) the beautiful victorian Queen St Station.

"I can't really remember my first visit to the Splott Foreshore, but I definitely took a few frames of film down there on my mother's little Agfa camera in 2007. The pictures are of the skeletal remnants of a long-dormant car, the chassis separating back into the elements that made it. In taking those photos, I had no idea of the steel making history of the area; or that the slow dissolution of the car was emblematic of the demise of the nearby East Moors steel works. I also had no idea that I was stood on the remains of the steelworks- demolished and pushed into the sea in 1978, the year I was born. 

In 2014 I suggested it as the location for a shoot with a local band, and it was while taking those pictures I was struck by the unconventional beauty of the beach. Being there in the golden light of a sunset transformed the scene; the wide, flat expanse of water seemed to capture the light of the sky, and hold it there in a way that was almost physical. The dark smudges of shale, brushed off to the left and right, formed the mouth of the beach, terminating in a squat building of uncertain purpose. Crowding these bankings were piles of brick, concrete, rusty metal, and scraps of nylon and polyester. I made a mental note to return and explore further, but did not manage it until the following spring. 

I think that sometimes you only really discover a place when you are ready to take it in. When I returned in 2015, I was amazed at the wealth of fascinating detritus that lingered around the beach. My first 'light bulb' moment was finding a brick imprinted with the name 'Burn-Axe'. Then another, 'Thistle'. And then, 'Little Mill', 'Abersychan', and 'Newport Star'. Suddenly, the beach had become full of traces of places, and people; a jumbled three-dimensional map of history and industry, intimate in it's detail. As I looked and wandered, shapes and topography became clearer to me; what looked like lava was a cliff formed of pure slag; and huge metal buckets rusting at the waters edge were known as 'skulls', mounted on railway bogeys they were the bowls that tipped the unwanted slag (impurities from steel production) into the sea itself. Burn-Axe and Thistle I found out were types of fire brick, and the other red bricks around the shore were from the brick works that accompanied many coal mines in South Wales. 

The work you see here is not meant to be just a strict historical record of a place, but also a personal reaction to a fascinating man made environment. The Foreshore is the past made solid, a place that is a portal to a story about men, companies, buildings, money and how, in the end, it all goes back to the same nothing that it all came from."
Jon Pountney


The show preview opens 6.30pm Thursday 17th August in Oriel Colwyn - all welcome.

Check Oriel Colwyn's website for more info and opening times
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