Artist in Residence 2018

Artist in Residence questions - Jon Pountney

  • Jon Pountney Images

  • Jon Pountney Images

  • Jon Pountney Images

  • Jon Pountney Images

Blaenavon was listed as a World Heritage Site in 2000 and represents the transformative effect of industry on a rural landscape and society. Extracting raw materials and converting them into iron transformed the rural landscape around Blaenavon, with mines, quarries, roads, railways and canals. A town developed around the ironworks — the architecture illustrates the social structure and the distinctive industrial working-class culture of the south Wales valleys.

A visit to Blaenavon demonstrates this transformation and provides insights into the harsh working conditions that shaped the lives of generations. This is particularly true at the Ironworks managed by Cadw and at Big Pit: National Coal Museum — the last deep coal mine in the area — where underground tours provide a glimpse into this dark, dangerous world.

Taking all these elements together, Blaenavon provides one of the prime areas in the world where the full social, economic and technological process of industrialisation through iron and coal production can be studied and understood.

To coincide with the 'Man Engine' visit to Blaenavon on the 8 of April 2018, Cadw have appointed artist and photographer Jon Pountney to work in the local community, collecting stories and memories of this unique iron town. Cadw’s Heritage and Arts Manager, Dr. Ffion Reynolds asks him a few questions about his work:

1. What made you interested in the Blaenavon residency?

I visited the Iron Works for the first time in July last year, and was totally captivated by the space. It helped that it was a sunny day and as clear as a bell, and being there quite late, I was one of the few people around. In fact I got locked in one of the cottages by accident! I was struck by the quietude in what would have been a space filled with tremendous noise, and also by the cottages in Stack Square. They are dressed ‘in period’, through a range of era’s up to the 1960’s, and exude a powerful sense of place and time.  

2. What kind of media do you use?

What kind of media don’t I use! For this project I’m using archive material, objects, smells, music, photography, moving image. I’m trying to elicit complex feelings, memories, and ‘hiraeth’, drawing stories from the fabric of place and people.  

3. Is there a running theme to the work you create?

‘Genius Loci’; as in a sense of place that develops through stories, community, history and memory. Blaenavon has all of that in spades, and more. The very landscape is the manifestation of centuries of exploitation of people and natural resources; but there is a magical and almost mystical feeling in the town itself, reminding me of ‘Under Milk Wood’. It is the sharing of those kinds of whispered stories that drives me.  

4. How have you found the residency so far?

I have absolutely loved working in the area, and would love to continue. I think this is a project that defines the many years I have put into learning different skills. I would be happy to continue working in Blaenavon for as long as people want me there.  

6. Do you have any favourite pieces that you’ve created while you’ve been here?

I’m working out of an old Chemist, in which I found some very old soap, maybe from 60 years ago. It was almost perfect, and retained its powerful and nostalgic smell. I started investigating objects that have the power to transport us through experience; the smell of burning paraffin in a miner’s lamp, moth balls, Brasso, and different types of old fashioned loose tobacco. I have photographed each of these as icons, and they all have a kind of universality that we can all share stories about.    

7. What's coming next?

The Man Engine visit on the 8th of April! I can’t wait to share what I’ve been doing with people.

8. Where can we see more of your work?

I have a pretty extensive website at which is home to a lot of my projects and commissioned work.