Wild Wales

Elen Bonner

Test Bed | 21 February 2009 - 25 April 2009

Wild Wales is a series of scripted conversations looking at stereotypes of Welsh rural life and considers the relationship between cultural stereotype and identity. The artist offers a parody of Welsh rural life as a way of discussing her own identity and that of those around her.

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inFocus hosts Wild Wales by Elen Bonner, a series of short film ‘skits’ alongside text inspired by travel writer George Borrow’s book ‘Wild Wales’, published in 1862, from which the title of this work is appropriated. The work is exhibited on a monitor whilst the sound and specific atmosphere fills the space. The series of texts and short dramatic skits, performed by amateur actors, takes us into a small world of humorous anecdotes.

Wild Wales raises questions of representation and cultural identity through a collection of six vignettes created in a village hall in Llangeitho, Cardiganshire. Whilst the acting and props have a lo-fi, homemade aesthetic, its pace and conceptual content explores a complex series of cultural references. Texts visually reminiscent of silent cinema, written by Bonner, retell various incidents whilst local members of the Young Farmers Club act out the scenes. This deliberate style of amateur acting is central to the work, its unravelling of stereotypes and the portrayal of rural Welsh life. Bonner explores and questions issues of cultural identity and the local within a rural community. The self-referential, humorous style is reminiscent of a type of Welsh language humour often seen in sketches at events such as a ‘Noson Lawen’, which literally translates as ‘An evening of fun’, and is perhaps best described as a traditional variety performance. By parodying oneself, Bonner questions what this reveals about our relationships with our cultural identities.

The work evolved from the series of texts written by the artist, inspired by George Borrow’s experiences of travelling around Wales. The texts created by the artist are amusing, transporting us to an era of petticoats and tearooms whilst including modern day references. The style and delivery of the piece allows us to think they were once a real conversation overheard by the artist.

Published in 1862 Borrow’s book Wild Wales comprises diary entries, which map his travels through a rural landscape, his encounters with the Welsh people and the Welsh language. Bonner’s work does more than take inspiration from Borrows text, it’s a work made from a knowledge of his writings, and is in a sense a reframing of an interpretation or introduction to a culture from the point of view of another. Using Borrow’s musings as a source for investigation, Bonner encourages us to evaluate our perceptions of cultural identity. There is a circular process within this work, commenting on the representations and experiences of one person, and a re-examination of that version by another. Like many Welsh artists, Bonner’s Wild Wales questions cultural stereotypes, but by utilising stereotypes she presents a humorous and contemporary work.

Elen Bonner is an artist based in Tregaron in Ceredigion, having studied at University College for the Creative Arts Canterbury she returned to Wales in 2007 in order to further her practice. Bonner is a newly graduated artist, who has returned to Wales, whose contribution to the development of contemporary Welsh art is extremely important. She is currently artist in residence at Aberystwyth Arts Centre.

*In 2009 the In Focus space changed its name to Test Bed.

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Supporting new and experimental work by artists based in Wales and the Borders.

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