PEAK: PLATFFORM 2 | ART PREVIEW
Helping to launch the month-long Art Night 2021, filmmaker Alberta Whittle’s latest work will be shown at Peak’s new space in Abergavenny Railway Station. Peak creative director, Melissa Appleton, leads John-Paul Davies through a history of this very individual organisation and previews Platfform 2’s opening weekend.
Peak has a unique approach to arts in the community. How does your style of engagement reflect the needs of the community and surrounding natural environment?
Melissa Appleton, Peak: Our work starts with people and place. We work from our Old School site in the Brecon Beacons, where we run studio activity like pottery, drawing and creative writing – and, from summer 2021, from our new site at Abergavenny train station, Platfform 2.
It’s vital that both these sites are a resource for different parts of the community living and working nearby. For instance, at our Old School site we’ve just closed the car park and we’re fundraising to make a garden as well as improving our kitchen and pottery room. We want this to work as a hyperlocal space that local residents can feel ownership of. It needs to feel useful, open and welcoming enough to be used for everyday events and meetings, not only for arts-based activities.
How did the idea of appropriating Abergavenny station begin?
Before I started working for Peak as creative director I spent ages looking for a studio in Abergavenny, where I live – asking about all the empty spaces above shops on the High Street, and so on. I had a conversation with Alan who runs the Whistle Stop Café at the station, after spotting an empty building along the track – he suggested I contact Transport For Wales, as they were actively seeking community groups and local organisations to activate empty buildings at stations all across the network. This is a fantastic part of the partial renationalisation of the train network in Wales; the programme is run by Hugh Evans, Transport For Wales’ Head of Community Rail.
The train station is an interesting ‘third place’, distinct from work and home. I’m excited to see how this place of journeys and encounters creates a unique energy and atmosphere, for experiencing and making artwork and having conversations about the urgent issues of our time: racial and social equality, environmental collapse and the role of small nations like Wales in addressing these issues.
The opening event is part of Art Night 2021. Do you see Peak taking a greater role in national initiatives in the future?
Our aim is to work internationally and hyperlocally, and to embrace the tensions and possibilities between these two scales of working. I think working across these two scales in a technologically connected world is a powerful way of working for a small arts organisation in ‘rural’ Wales.
Being able to work with the Art Night team and to host Alberta Whittle through this collaboration is amazing – it brings incredible artistic practice to Platfform 2. But it also creates opportunities for artists and young people living locally through paid invigilator opportunities. We’ve also commissioned Wales-based writers, poets and artists to respond to Alberta’s work through a bilingual publication. These responses – and those of visitors – create a conversation with the work that loops back into a wider dialogue too.
The work from Alberta Whittle [pictured, top] that will be exhibited is very striking; talk us through what we can expect from Art Night 2021 at Platfform 2.
Firstly, you can expect a very warm welcome from the invigilators on Platfform 2. You’ll encounter a space, directly on the train platform, where the trains and people using the train station are part of the experience of the work. Although the space is quite utilitarian – it’s a former storeroom – we’ve worked with Alberta to add some softness to the space through plant life and other elements. You’ll be invited to sit to watch Alberta’s films and we’ll also have a reading list of books chosen by Alberta available in the space. Please get in touch with us in advance if we can help you to visit Platfform 2: to discuss access, different opening times and helping with travel costs.
Alberta’s work asks us to be present in the last 18 months of ‘socio-political catastrophe’ and the works address protest, power structures, racial inequality, healing and the pandemic. Viewers might find the work [pictured, above] meditative, uncomfortable, urgent, lyrical, joyful, restorative and intimate.
In grouping the works as a trio titled Creating Dangerously (We-I Insist!), Alberta was thinking about the “potential for creative action to become a communion between audience and maker”. I feel Alberta is inviting the audience to both reflect and act, learn and unlearn and be vulnerable and powerful in the space of the work.
Is Platfform 2 the first of many expansions for Peak? What’s next in your new space?
In August we’ll be taking a pause on Platfform 2, reflecting on the Art Night presentation, and then using that learning to start to plan activities for the autumn and beyond. Our lens and guide here for the autumn is the work of cultural theorist, socialist and educator Raymond Williams, born just along the railway track in Pandy. We’ve just held a brilliant trio of online reading groups in May, Walking Backwards Into The Future, drawing on Williams’ work, led by Kirsti Bohata, Kandace Siobhan Walker and Esyllt Lewis, and we’ll be expanding some of the themes and ideas in these into events, residencies, walks and radio shows.
Art Night & Peak present Creating Dangerously (We-I Insist!) by Alberta Whittle, Fri 18 June-Sat 17 July, Platfform 2, Abergavenny Railway Station. Admission: free. Info: www.peakcymru.org/programme / www.artnight.london
words JOHN-PAUL DAVIES photos MATTHEW A WILLIAMS
film still from Alberta Whittle’s HOLDING THE LINE: a refrain in two parts (2021)