Wales’ capital joins the internet age

Jonathan Brooks-Jones reports on an interactive, multi-media exhibition designed to get Cardiff’s creative juices flowing.

The Big Little City exhibition at the Cardiff Story museum in the Hayes area of Cardiff is a celebration of the city, its people and its creative talent. A fully interactive, multimedia exhibition with work from established and emerging artists it includes photography, film, writing, music, animation, illustration and painting. There are also numerous opportunities for anyone with a connection to Cardiff to get involved.

It is the brainchild of Cardiff-born photographer Dan Green whose first exhibition, Cardiff:Characters, achieved acclaim for its documentation Cardiff’s unsung heroes – the individuals who, in his eyes, make the city what it is.

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While Cardiff: Characters was a resounding success, Dan received comments from a number of visitors pointing to omissions from his collection, and making suggestions for people he ought to include. He decided to take the assignment on, made it a continuing project, and set about taking photographs of everyone who had been suggested. It was around this time that he came up with the idea of a democratised, fully interactive multimedia exhibition with which everyone could be involved.

The Big Little City project is an open invitation to get the city’s creative juices flowing, whether you have skills in painting, drawing, writing, photography, or even football. It calls for impressions and perceptions of the city from anyone and everyone with some connection to Cardiff, whether they are current or former residents, or just visiting. Since January Dan has been collating pieces and has received submissions from over 150 artists.

Established Cardiff artists’ work on display are Charles Byrd’s wonderful kinetic sculptures, photographer Maciej Dakowicz’s Cardiff After Dark series, and the Campbell twins’ photographs documenting the people of 1970’s Butetown. The work of Pete Fowler (of Super Furry Animals artwork fame) also pops up in a number of places around the exhibition.

But the show is anything but limited to established or professional artists. Many of the projects are open for anyone to take part in. For example, anyone can upload photos to the Big Little City Flickr group. The best images will be regularly posted to the Big Little City website and some will be commissioned as prints. There is also an invitation to design your own Cardiff Coat of Arms, choosing the symbols which you think best represent Cardiff, whether it be a Dalek, rugby ball or a pint of Brains. You can also jot down a quick impression of Cardiff – a top tip, favourite place to eat, shop or play, or a memory – anything which gives an impression of your personal experience in a short ‘Postcard from Cardiff’.

The online storytelling project, We Are Cardiff, is also involved, with a number of their entries on display. There is even a designated corner stocked with paper and pens for visitors to write down their story, with the opportunity to tell your Cardiff story, and put it up to make an immediate contribution to the exhibition.

Local independent record shop Spillers Records have also become involved, and are helping to hold a competition to design a limited edition Spillers T-shirt. They are organising live musical performances showcasing some of Wales’ best artists, taking place every Saturday on the second floor of the exhibition, which are free to attend on a first-come-first-served basis.

Aside from paintings, sculptures, drawings and writing, Big Little City has teamed up with animators around Cardiff to devise a project celebrating the Cardiff’ landmark, the Bute Park Animal Wall. With support from Dinamo Productions, Matt Simkins and Luke Hyde will produce a short animated film which will follow the hidden lives of the animals as they roam around the city after dark, while everyone’s asleep. Following the end of the exhibition the finished film will go on permanent display in the Bute Park visitor centre.

Finally, the exhibition’s film project ‘Keep-Up Cardiff’ will see a football volleyed from one side of town to the other, visiting the city’s little-known nooks and crannies along the way.

The exhibition aims to provide expression to a plethora of different perspectives, all united by a single theme – the city itself. It celebrates the diversity and mutli-culturalism of Cardiff, the heritage it retains from the days when it was one of the biggest seaports in the world. In addition to the nine core projects on display throughout the 16 week exhibition, several solo exhibitions which will also be displayed, changing on a five-week rotational basis. The length of exhibition time and rotational system means it will grow organically, and has the potential for it to be different with each visit.

BigLittleCity is at the Cardiff Story museum until 22 July, entry is free.

Jonathan Brooks-Jones is sub-editor for ClickonWales

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