Two recent events in Cardiff prove that art can be used most effectively to cause political debate. Throughout history, borders and boundaries have been the focus of conflict, shifting continuously like tectonic plates. People struggle to hold onto their land, but are often no more than pawns in international power politics. Artificial structures like Hadrian’s Wall and the Great Wall of China remain powerful reminders of how imperial ambition will always be with us. Barriers go up and come down – the moment of euphoria when the “Berlin Wall” came down is quickly forgotten while the tragedy of the wall separating the West Bank communities from one another and from their lands continues.
At the MA show at Cardiff College of Art, recent work by Ben Lloyd, a native of Pembrokeshire, engages with issues of heritage and tourism. Using found objects, Fragments from the Landsker line archive draws attention to the Landsker line, which stretches from St. Davids to Amroth. It is defined by the line of largely Norman castles, reflecting the way in which, after the death of Rhys ap Tewdwr, south Pembrokeshire was colonised and the native Welsh pushed north. Ben Lloyd has taken stones from the castles, numbering each one methodically, so they can be returned to their exact place and laid them out on the floor in front of a large map, which shows their exact location. A set of leaflets highlights the way in which tourism appropriates history to tell its own stories often hiding the atrocities committed in the quest to occupy other people’s land. Ben Lloyd wants the spectator to question his right to take the stones away from the sites and open up a debate about ownership, landrights and the authorship of heritage and history. The castles are projected by the tourism industry to create a sense of awe and wonder, even a romantic view of history. In fact they are symbols of colonisation and oppression. The artist says “I am using a local example of colonisation whilst realising that the phenomenon is an experience of people worldwide. It is telling that we sympathise with say, Native Americans, but not so easily with the aboriginal people of the British Isles.”
In a separate installation entitled I’m sorry for the time the dinosaurs ruled the earth, another set of readymades, tea-towels, float gently in space with their lurid images of sea-side towns and commemorations of national events, overlaid with a misquote from a song by Radiohead. These are everyday objects, which contrast with those of the Landsker castles. They are easily collectable – the memento of a heritage experience, the memory of a day out brought home to become the washed-out drying up cloth or rag for polishing one’s shoes.
These two works follow a current trend towards the use of documentation as a means to creating visual metaphors. It is the simplicity with which Ben Lloyd lays out his found materials that gives strength to the powerful messages of his work.