Cloudy with light rain showers
Wind: 4 mph
After spending an amazing week packed with visitors’ stories, immersive environmental sounds and iconic imagery, the time has come for us to depart from our slate-built Geoffrey Grey on our last day at CAT.
Today we placed Geoffrey on the water powered funicular train that takes visitors up the hill to the beginning of the centre. As we ascend, the water-heavy carriage coming down from the top of the hill passes by, its weight pulling our carriage up the hill. This is the setup for our final shot, with Geoffrey listening to the creaking train tracks and water flowing sounds as we travel up and downhill, marking the beginning and the end of our and everyone else’s journey at CAT. As we reach the top station, the last vibration of the carriage clicking into place draws a crack across Geoffrey’s fragile structure. While the rest of the carriage is emptying out, we are collecting the slate pieces that were once part of our stories-gatherer and gently pick up the remains, heading towards his final dwelling in the polytunnel.
We end our piece with Geoffrey’s placement on the top of an ivy covered slate wall, where he will be reclaimed back into the environment.
It has been an inspiring and emotional week with so much shared knowledge and experiences by visitors, volunteers and staff at the Centre for Alternative Technology. Today we stand in awe before the generations of people whose lives have been shaped by this truly remarkable place whose experimentation, lived expertise, passion and dedication continue to drive and evolve this unique place in the Welsh wilderness as a centre for true inspiration.
At CAT we like rain.
When the sun is shining everyone heads for the long, white sandy beaches of Borth and Aberdyfi, or to the panoramic mountain views of Snowdonia, but when it rains there is nowhere better to spend an afternoon than at CAT. Today being a fairly sunny day meant there weren’t many visitors for Geoffrey to interact with, but he did have one cheeky winged visitor to keep him company under CAT’s sleek photovoltaic roof. Tina and I caught the little wren on camera stealing little pieces of strategically placed flapjack (kindly donated by the café) from the grooves in Geoffrey’s slate skull.
Finding a moment to ourselves I read to Geoffrey from the pigment journal I kept during my residency at CAT last year. Part journal, part abstract map of the centre the work entitled My Earth is an intimate insight into my time at CAT through the collecting, processing and creating of 32 earth pigment colour swatches that encourage us to look deeper into the world around us.
With no one left to speak to, Tina, Geoffrey and I brought our filming day to a close ready for our final day of filming at the Centre for Alternative Technology tomorrow.
CAT was unusually quiet today, so after filming the breath-taking view over the valley from the top station Tina and I took advantage of the silence, moving Geoffrey around site to capture CAT’s environmental sounds. Inside the Sheppard theatre our slate head was plunged into darkness as the ceiling eclipsed the sun. The mechanical whirring high above his head hummed into a meditative drone as the ceiling disc pivoted on its axis, sucking the solar glow from the room.
Summing all of our strength Tina and I carried our slate head around the back of CAT and up the steep, loose slate path up to the new Woodland Walk that skims the edge of Llwyngwern quarry. Placing Geoffrey precariously on the edge Tina read a poem written by a local schoolgirl Jessica Lumley entitled Man’s Destruction of the Environment. We then moved him even higher up the steep sloping quarry to the reservoir where we sat in silence watching dragonflies flit and bob around us and fish leap from the dark water.
Tina, Geoffery and I started our day with CAT’s Building with Straw Bales short course. Setting Geoffery down on a slightly wobbly stack of bales we watched as the students stripped off their boots and socks and jumped into a pile of deep red clay, sand and chopped up miscanthus straw, stomping and churning it to make a strong, eco plaster mix. Grabbing great handfuls they slopped the mixture onto the straw bales structure they have been building together all week, smoothing as they went.
The muddy, miscanthus mix has inspired Tina and I to create a Cob Geoffery for a future Switching Heads project, but that we will leave for another day.
Out into the rain we headed for Head Gardener Roger’s shed where we planned to interview him but spotting gardening action happening inside one of the polytunnels we quickly stacked up some empty plant pots topped them with our slate head and captured a behind the scenes moment with CAT’s gardening volunteers.
After a short tea break we got back on track and set Geoffery and Roger up for a chat in a gardening shed stuffed with tools, pots, gardening paraphernalia and with a powerful scent of garlic in the air. Roger told us of his many years at CAT and how it has shaped his life and the lives of his family. He confided with Geoffery that he had said he would retire but can’t seem to bring himself to do it.
In contrast we then had a chat with new gardening volunteer Bal who gave us her perspective on life at CAT after just two weeks. She told us that she had escaped her normal life in London for a few months and found a utopian retreat in CAT.
Under a round wood timber framed canopy our slate head listened intently to the morning birds and the ancient sounds of pole lathe woodturning.
Gareth, CAT’s woodturning craftsman, took us through the stages of green woodturning, removing the bark from a split quarter log of ash on the handmade shave horse right the way through the turning process, describing each specific tool as he went until he finished with a beautifully crafted and polished baby’s rattle. He described how, with each bark ring he shaved away he revealed the unique story trapped inside the locally and sustainably sourced log.
As the layers and years were stripped away the sound of the wood being rotated on the handcrafted pole lathe changed, picking up every knot, imperfection and new growth as the wood was smoothed into shape.
With the Welsh sun rising high at midday we gently placed Geoffery next to CAT’s new beehive. He listened without fear as excitable worker honeybees whizzed in and out of the hive entrance often burdened by legs bulging with bright yellow pollen.
Following the bee’s flight path we relocated Geoffery again this time into the sunshine where we were joined by afternoon visitors who were all keen to share their day with him on their way round the centre. It seemed that everyone at CAT was feeling the positive affects of the sun and with it the relaxed atmosphere as many people told Geoffery how inspired they felt.
As the sun sank lower and the visitors made their sleepy way home CAT’s own Sally Carr began to sing. Gliding past our slate head her voice intertwined with the aromatic scents of head gardener Roger’s multi-coloured flowerbeds, bouncing from pollinator to petal.
Sheltering from the beautiful Welsh weather under CAT’s photovoltaic roof our slate head captured lunchtime stories of frogs, chickens and moles from the visiting children.
On holiday these kids run freely through the over flowing gardens, winding pathways and wooden handcrafted play parks of CAT’s site relishing the opportunity to muddy up their knees and discover the creeping, crawling world amongst the flowerbeds.
Brimming with curiosity Geoffery’s mossy tactile surface was irresistible for tiny fingers encouraged for the day to get messy, but with only a few minor cuts and bruises and quite a bit more moss added by tiny hands Geoffery survived to listen another day.
Waiting for the centre to go quiet at the end of the visiting day Tina and I have just moved Geoffery to an idyllic spot under an oak tree where local storyteller and poet Ippy will be performing her poem The Story of the Oak. We have also set up a place beneath a round wood archway and on a bench backing onto CAT’s flowering gardens where she will read You Can Do It and her new, as yet untitled, poem that she wrote only yesterday inspired by our project.
We arrived at CAT this morning in a slightly lighter shade of grey cloud so we decided to brave Geoffery out in the open, picking a spot behind the iconic CAT windmill pump that was creaking and spinning in the breeze.
Placing him on a totem of found logs he was soon joined by passing families who were more than happy to chat away to him about why they were visiting and, in many cases, revisiting CAT this summer.
Tina, Geoffery and I met families today that were several generations strong. On many occasions the Grandparents of the different families explained to us that they had brought their children years ago and they had now brought their Grandchildren back to CAT to share in their memorable first experience. As we chatted to more and more families we began to realise just how many families have a long-standing relationship with CAT, delighting in seeing the site develop and grow over the years. Older and younger family members were only too happy to share with us, and our future audience the intricate and personal relationships they have had with the evolving CAT community over the many years they have been visiting, and in many cases how CAT continues to shape their lives.
Luke, a student, Norfolk seal warden and keen marine conservationist, expressed how his experiences at CAT have inspired him since his early visits as a child to pursue a career in conservation and how he hopes his visit today will give him plenty to talk about at his University interview soon.
Tina and I are consistently humbled by the modest enthusiasm, determination and dedication of the every day people we meet through Switching Heads. Sharing and celebrating their individual stories of hope and positivity is why we consider this project so special and important.
Sun, scattered showers
After 5 months nestling in the jungle like polytunnel in the middle of the Centre for Alternative Technology our new site-specific sculpture has begun to crumble back into it’s surrounding. Built from tiny shards of Llwyngwern slate and different moss species collected from the quarry our Welsh slate head looks as old as the hills enveloping the site. Keeping to our strict rule of adding nothing and taking nothing from the environment means the sculpture is very fragile and has already suffered an irreparable injury. However, like our melting snow heads in the Arctic, the projects celebrates the natural qualities of organic materials so we will continue with care and just hope the new sculpture will last out our week of filming.
While Tina and I have been making preparations for Switching Heads-sound mapping the Quarry West Wales has been drenched in sunshine, on our first day of filming at the Centre for Alternative Technology it looked like we were just going to get drenched.
Taking no chances with the blackening sky we carefully installed our fragile slate head named Geoffery Grey underneath a shelter that sits alongside one of the main visitor pathways and above it we raised our Switching Heads flag.
It wasn’t long before slightly soggy families joined us under the shelter, half drawn in after recognising Geoffery from the flyers in their hands and half to share in our dry spot. Our friendly captive audience were keen to chat with us and with a little encouragement began to share their stories with Geoffery as well as Tina and I.
Despite the persistent rain Tina and I engaged with a lot of different CAT visitors on our first day but four young girls stole the show. Regular visitors to the site the girl’s knowledge and enthusiasm for sustainable energy was very impressive and, as their Mum watched proudly, they told us all about solar and wind energy and advised us on the best places to see around CAT.
The more action we had going on around Geoffery the more people clustered around so in between visitor’s stories Tina and I created a slate percussion performance designed to both attract new people to the action and to emphasis the perspective quality of the binaural microphones by tapping, scrapping and scratching slate on slate.
On our final day carrying Fram to audiences in central Paris we first visited the square outside the Hotel de Ville which has been filled with renewable energy and sustainability solutions. We continued to the bibliotheque inside the Centre de Pompidou and from there back to La Gaîté Lyrique for the ArtCOP21 closing ceremony.
As we enter into the final few critical moments of the Paris COP21 we are hearing that there are some positive steps being made on our behalf. As it stands it has been agreed that no more than a 1.5°C planetary warming is the target to stick to across both the global north and the south. However, the action required to keep to this limit has not been agreed, with a suggested review date being as late as 2020. In the next 24 hours we will know what the United Nations are prepared to do in order to slow global warming and who is going to pay.
During these 2 weeks of global negotiations Switching Heads has marched the streets of Paris, connecting creative and alternative events all of which are united in the fight against climate change. We have met many inspiring people who are using their skills to empower the individual to raise their voice in urgency and we are proud to say that our film and action during Paris Cop21 has been part of that movement.
We have heard time and time again that what happens post Paris COP will be critical to the health of our planet and our following generations. During our journey around a capital city that is still suffering grief and fear from the terrible and tragic events of November 13th we have found hope, strength and unity. The fight against our planet's rapidly changing climate is much larger than any divide in language, culture or religion and the people we have met here have proven that. It remains to be seen how our world representatives will conclude COP21 but for Tina and I and many, many others we will keep pushing Fram (forward).
Day 6 and Day 7
I would firstly like to apologise for my silence yesterday. Tina and I have been using our film to connect events through out the city during Paris COP21, however we are finding that many of the programmed art/culture events and direct action have been cancelled, changed or moved with little or no notice. Until yesterday when this has happened we have simply moved on to the next event but unfortunately we found ourselves with a day of unexpected changes and cancellations. At La Gaîté Lyrique instead of a Face to Face with Tomas Saraceno we sat in on the Bear Grylls of France who gave a fascinating and animated course in distopian survival, so all was not lost.
12 noon today Switching Heads were at the Pyramide du Louvre armed with a black umbrella and excited to join in ART NOT OIL's planned action. I don't think I have ever seen so many police and military per square meter. But despite this oppressive presence the action went ahead and whilst we stood together under a canopy of black umbrellas and chanted in unison about the Louvre's oil sponsorship inside a small party spread an oil slick across the pristine gallery. They were of course surrounded by police but the whole action was very peaceful and somber.
Sadly the rest of the day continued as it had yesterday with changes and closures meaning the spaces and audiences we hoped to borrow were no longer available. However we did get a few sneaky photos of our film at the Louvre whilst the police were taking their caffe break.
SH at Pyramide du Louvre during ART NOT OIL's action.
Holly Owen & Kristina Pulejkova