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Above and Below

Artist in Residency at Cwm Elan 2022.


My time in Cwm Elan became a kind of pilgrimage, a journey of growth and exploration to reconnect with myself at a watershed and turbulent moment in my life. An opportunity to use creativity and the natural environment of the site as a place to question, reflect and transform.


Over the summer 2022 I embarked on a series of performative walk/swim actions across the landscape of the Elan valley. Embodying myself within the river through a durational series of walks within the and around the riverbed and river edge. These walk/swims, which were filmed using go pros and film cameras became a meditative mindful space from which I could view the valley from the deepest perspective in the landscape. The walks took me below bridges and through gorges, initially occupied with visitors to the valley, surprised as I emerged out of the river before them. The concept of the bridge, and bridging points are an ongoing theme in my work. I am interested in facilitating points of connection, and the analogies and problems of the river dividing, and the bridge connecting are interesting as a metaphor that I continue to explore.


I am using the residency in the valley to explore the area with my parents and children, but particularly my father, discussing the history/archaeology/culture of the land and our personal memories of the Elan valley.


I have walked with my father, an archaeologist, through the passing places of landscape over the Elan valley and explored the dam bed with my children and parents during the summer. We visited the foundations of the kitchen garden of Nant Gwyllt mansion which had become exposed during the summer with the low water levels, in a re-enactment of a moment in my childhood when we had visited the site with her parents and three sisters. I had a half-forgotten memory of parched, cracked soil on the floor of the valley became an important moment of connection between the past and the present. An above and below, where the land and the walls of the mansions garden were exposed after a century below the water. The negative space becoming a positive, exposing unseen memories and histories of the place.


Each of these things is true

g39 gallery Cardiff 6th April – end May 2023

As part of ‘In the Same Breath’

‘Each of these things is true’ was conceived through exploring the site with her parents and children, but particularly her father, discussing the history/archaeology/culture of the land and family memories of the Elan valley and Cambrian mountains thirty-five years ago.


I was interested in how different our memories can be of the same instant; how the adult (parent) remembers a situation differently to the child, but both recollections are ‘real’ to the individual. That we can be living our lives seemingly together, experiencing the same moments, but from different viewpoints and different understandings of those events.


My father often performs as a piano accompanist, and the piano has always been a point of connection between father and daughter. The grand piano that forms the central point of the installation was in the family sitting room when she was growing up. It was an object that she played and hid under and enjoyed playing and listening to. The piano is now tired and broken, but in the recording piano music plays out of the instrument through speakers, an improvised track performed by Alice’s father to accompany the black and white 1931 film of the Cambrian hills ‘Shadow on the Mountains’ (which sits playing from a monitor on the music stand) whilst the piano lid is filled with moss and grasses of the Cambrian mountains and Elan valley.


The Cambrian mountains today have been described harshly as a ‘white desert’, devoid of beauty, nature and life– but for me the mountains are a place of sanctuary and ‘hiraeth’. In our increasingly polarized society, we struggle more and more with the idea of both/and, that one perspective can, simultaneously be as true as another. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so in this case the landscape is both wild/tamed, a desert/sanctuary, a point of extraction/immersion.

Above and Below / Uchod ac Isod (Freelands Gallery, London March-May '23) Alice Briggs’ films move through the Elan Valley, Powys, presenting multiple physical and psychic journeys and interrogating the artist’s longstanding connections to the place. Briggs walks the upper Elan Valley with her father, discussing its archaeology, whilst reminiscing on shared memories; she wades through the river to the point at which it meets the Victorian dam system; and her children stumble through the landscape. The installation includes plaited molinia grass, collected from hills in the area.

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