Cardiff-based artist Charlotte Grayland’s current exhibition Swings & Roundabouts is presented across two locations: the MADE gallery/shop in the heart of Roath, Cardiff, and Oriel Y Bont in Treforest. Megan Evans paid a visit and heard more from Grayland.
Charlotte Grayland’s Swings & Roundabouts, whose initially-planned month-long showing has been extended an extra nine days until Sun 26 Mar, is an ode to her influences of childhood games and her personal relationship with them, acting as an overarching metaphor for how we navigate our lives through interaction with objects. There is also an exploration into how these game structures, and the formation of childhood, help us as a collective towards how we may view things in adulthood.
Reconnecting with gameplay in adulthood seemed a very intricate and unique idea from Grayland, as a way to understand one’s own inner life, and how this can be stripped down through generations. A fine art graduate from Cardiff Metropolitan University, the period after her graduation coupled with the COVID pandemic gave Grayland time to reflect on her past and what she wanted to achieve. Presently, she devised this exhibition with the help of Zoe Gingell, curator of both gallery’s exhibition spaces, and who Grayland was introduced to via the Artist Benevolent Fund Step Change Programme (ABF), which provides recent graduates with studio space and mentoring.
The aim of Swings & Roundabouts is to induce other people to think about their own childhood memories through gameplay structures and rules, whilst making direct links to nostalgic times in Grayland’s life via film footage and looking at how the family dynamic is formed through games. 2D sculptures in particular are like props, similar to that of child’s play: you can walk in through the exhibit, identify and reminisce with the childlike elements, and interact with each piece.
“This sense of interaction through playing with ‘traces’ is exactly what the exhibit lends itself to – the show is formed as pockets of memory, not linear in its curation,” Grayland says. The sense of being a team, and working well, is a conversation that was discussed with Gingell, and became a clear definitive link to Pick A Side, a diptych work across the two sites. One, the ‘blue team’, is housed in MADE, with the ‘red team’, in Oriel Y Bont.
The two-site setup, Gingell says, is because the works are “both about games, and the map of having to travel across the two sites, in turn, acts as a game for the visitor to play along with – one section in one venue, and one section in another. You have to make the effort to travel across the two sites to see the whole piece of work in its completion.” (Badges were also made, one with a swing and one with a roundabout; you collect one in one space and one in another.) There’s also a desire to spread work towards areas of south Wales that may seem underserved artistically: Grayland emphasises the importance of “bridging the gap between art communities, to get people to travel and interact with art shows from across the city, and outside it also.”
Regarding the title, she explains: “Originally in playgrounds you had to pay to go on either the swings or roundabouts – coining the expression about gain and loss, which in turn places the two exhibitions in a playground, relating back to the gain and loss found in life. It is an approach to navigating life, through ups and downs.”
Games were mentioned extensively during mentoring sessions, and what an artist ‘really’ looks like. Chess became a hot topic: Grayland views it as a metaphor for art, portrayed as being pretentious, yet when broken down “incredibly simple. It’s just a game – not political, in a universal form.”
Experiments with scale feature primarily at Oriel Y Bont. Pick Up Sticks (Ascension) is large in size, especially when proportioned with a child; thus a sense of childlikeness manifests, as the works become elevated into either sculpture or game.
Swings & Roundabouts includes wooden games Grayland played with as a child, made in a woodwork shop from offcuts (ergo, sustainable). “My grandad did woodwork, and my dad also did a lot of DIY. That resonates with my childhood. Some of the works really evoke that DIY effect, but with professional underpinning. Working with raw and honest materials to create both clean replicas and objects, was very important to me.”
The theme of memory throughout Swings & Roundabouts is inspired both by personal connections to the past and her own interests. “When studying, I was always fascinated by universal communication: hand gestures, lingua franca, and non-verbal language. Anything that could be used to create a sense of conversation, which wasn’t just through words, fascinated me and my art practice.”
Grayland’s grandmother, who tried to remember things with her when suffering from dementia, also features in the show: a voice recording of her reading a list of the artist’s own childhood memories. “By playing into the use of the two spaces, fleeting between both, you only get one part of memory through one space, and one part of memory through another part. It becomes a larger game of call and response, a test of recollection.”
One important aim of this project was for a wide relatability, including those of different cultures and backgrounds, by involving stripped-down games that people of most generations will have interacted with. “It’s very tactile. The phrase ‘look but don’t touch’? It’s all about transporting to those memories as a child, not being able to touch what you want to touch.”
Grayland likes the idea of ‘dinner conversations’ – getting people to think about their pasts, in a communal scenario. This was the essence of having the work available to the public, within both the Cardiff and Treforest areas, with close audience interaction possible. Gathering communities and groups of people to discuss and feel inspired through levels of gameplay, was always at the heart of her work.
Artists like Rachel Whiteread, and her sculpture work (which takes the form of casts and links to the theme of traces), cast a shadow over this exhibition. Directors such as Alfred Hitchcock also inspired aesthetic elements into her own practice, as she was always fascinated by the composition and dynamics of film; the use of Hitchcock’s The Birds alludes to Grayland’s mother’s fear of birds, and the memories derived from the film with how Hitchcock plays with the audience. Her day job as a gallery invigilator also serves as a source of inspiration, observing how other people view art, and indeed seeing it herself.
“MADE is an established place, and gave [the show] a gravitational purpose,” Grayland says. “It was definitely a challenge to discuss the work being placed across the two sites, and the process of dividing the pieces to give it meaning. It would have been a different show if it had not been in both places.”
Development and expression of ideas through props, 2D structures, film, and physical objects was a labour-intensive process, with Grayland working hard from mid-October to the exhibition opening. “It was very emotional to have it all come out. The installation took two and a half weeks, but I liked the fact I had the opportunity to move things around, and the use of both spaces within the time, to consider how and where to place things so that it all linked nicely. I’ve never worked on a scale this big, with so many pieces in a show, using materials in this way. I learnt a lot of skills during the making process and made some new personal connections and relationships.
“My chess piece Abstract Strategy was the most laborious work I have ever made: it took just over a year to make, as it needed to have a purpose, to be precise. The piece was produced through working with reclaimed wood, which was hand-cut, sanded, painted and then varnished.”
Concluding our discussion of Swings & Roundabouts, Charlotte outlines its meaning to her, professionally and emotionally.
“I am so lucky to have had this opportunity and to champion these ideas. The artistic community in south Wales is such a springboard of ideas and a good place to play around with new ideas and materials with good support around you at all times. The chaos of planning and developing this project showed clearly how my brain approaches new scenarios, and how the pressure of having a funded show can pan out. It’s really helped me on a professional level.”
Charlotte Grayland’s Swings & Roundabouts is showing at MADE, Cardiff and Oriel Y Bont, Treforest until Sun 26 Mar.
words MEGAN EVANS
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