Ahoi! What Grows Here? draws upon the history of the canal as an infrastructure for transporting agricultural produce, exploring the idea of the canal as a slow food highway, and mapping the region through food and geological evidence.
Artists Ella Gibbs and Owen Griffiths have been researching existing food production along the canal, using Junction Cottage at Pontymoile Basin as a base.
Ella and Owen investigated the rich sources of food production along the Mon & Brec, formulating a linear map to plot key locations. We spent the day at Pontypool ‘Party in the Park’ where visitors added their local knowledge of the growers, allotments and wild food originating from the Mon & Brec.
Abergavenny Food Festival
Owen Griffiths created large-scale fabric works combining colour-fields – panels of fabric dyed using fauna and materials found along the canal – with geological and geographical layers of the Mon & Brec region. Visitors to the Abergavenny Food Festival, including speakers from the nearby Farming Matters stage, were invited to contribute to this experiential map, adding their super-local knowledge of growers, producers, surplus produce and community-led food projects. Ella Gibbs experimented with the notion that apple juicing can be seen as a way of mapping and tasting place. She used locally sourced apples donated to the Peak studio to pour into her apple press to produce fresh juice for the visitors to the stall at Abergavenny Food Festival.
Foraging with Adele Nozedar
For our first week of Autumn School, we went foraging with writer and expert forager Adele Nozedar. Adele is passionate about foraging as a way for us to understand our local environment and for children to learn outdoors. She is one of the UK’s leading foraging authors and founder of Brecon Beacons Foraging. She showed us where to look for edible and medicinal plants, uncovering the rich diversity of the hedgerows along the Mon & Brec canal towpath. Afterwards we made jam with the fruits we gathered.
Willow Weaving with Wyldwood Willow
Amanda Rayner of Wyldwood Willow introduced young people and their families to the craft of willow weaving, instructing them how to create a hurdle out of willow and hazel rods. Thanks to Jackie Charlton & the Llangattock Community Woodland volunteer team we were able to use 100 hazel rods that they had harvested from the woodland to create the willow hurdles. The hurdles produced will be used for the nearby allotment garden. After the workshop, we gathered together to enjoy a meal with produce sourced from local businesses – cake from The Angel Bakery in Abergavenny and soup from The Boatyard Tearoom. We also compared samples of soil taken from different points along the Mon and Brec canal – from Brecon and Talybont-on-Usk to Llangattock and Pontymoile.
Clay Oven Making
Artists Sam Mukumba and Owen Griffiths facilitated the week 3 Autumn School, guiding familes in how to build a clay bread oven for the community! Puddling’ the clay with sand, grog and straw is messy, intensive and much like a ritual dance – binding the material & bonding with fellow members of the community. Once the clay was mixed and applied to a willow frame, placed on a brick and tile layer, it needed another week to dry out before firing up.
Autumn Harvest Event
We celebrated the end of Autumn School with an Autumn Harvest event at Pontymoile Basin, inviting local people to share the delicious pizzas made in the new clay oven, as well as freshly pressed apple juice. All the produce was locally sourced from growers and producers along the Mon and Brec canal.
Images by Vaida Barzdaite
Owen Griffiths is an artist, workshop leader and facilitator. His practice is centred around participatory processes which empower and explore collaborative working methodologies which challenge power and normativity. His work is connected to ways of rethinking being and coming together in order to create new forms of resistance; exploring climate and social justice, food systems and pedagogy.
In 2014 he was a British Council Fellow working with artists and community growing networks in California. In 2016 Griffiths was awarded Creative Wales Ambassador role by Arts Council of Wales researching land use, community and participation through placemaking, food systems and regeneration. He has developed projects with 1418Now, National Museum Wales, Cultural Olympiad, Social Services, Natural Resources Wales, Schools, Housing Associations, HM Prison Services, as well as Galleries, cultural organisations and local authorities. Between 2017 -19 he was a co-director of Gentle/Radical a community arts and social justice project in Cardiff. He is a graduate of the School of Walls and Space at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen and a member of Social Sculpture Research Unit at Oxford Brookes University. Griffiths is 2017-19 artist in residence at St Fagans National Museum of Wales. He leads two long-term community projects; GRAFT a soil-based syllabus – an alternative community garden at the National Waterfront Museum and The Trebanog Project a community cultural regeneration project.
Ella Gibbs has a history of working within the Public Art realm throughout the UK and Internationally. Her work is site specific, connects with diverse communities, ‘reclaiming’ public and social space. Through long term engagement activities and commissions she has worked collectively to generate resources to become part of the fabric of community. Documenting and publishing a wide range of media including living archives, websites, magazines, radio broadcasts, film screenings. She has co curated numerous projects including Belt – a space in between (1991) Shave Artists Workshop (1994)
Projects transform disused spaces into lively community hubs, galleries into fully functional production spaces. Commissions include ‘Spare Time Job Centre’ (2003), Laburnum Pilot – a street magazine, made by people who live, work and pass by the street. (2004-07) ‘Common Room Productions’ – working with vulnerable adults to create DIY toolkits for independent living (2007) and ‘Energy Cafe’ – a horsebox transformed into a mobile off grid community kitchen (2007-11).
Ella is currently based in the Brecon Beacons, Wales. She grows food, hosts land-based workshops and runs a seasonal Bronhafod Kitchen.
Arts & Business Cymru
Talygarn Mental Health Unit