Ruth Sargeant, Artist

“I first heard about Confluence through a West Wales network of artists that I belong to. And then a friend of mine, Penny,  told me that she had heard about the Riverside studio spaces that were available in Haverfordwest  and, even though I have my own set up, I thought ‘why not?’ as you don’t meet  many other artists when you’re up a track.

Penny got a space, as did some other associates, and there was one very small space left, which was coincidentally exactly the same size as a carpet I made out of tampons for my degree studies.  So, I took the space and put that in there and that was when I met Pip and Guy.

I don’t use the space all that often but it is very important to me because it’s like a ‘virtual thinking space’ which connects me to other parts of my practice and other artists.

I got more directly involved with Confluence when Pip and Guy asked the Riverside studio artists if we’d like to be involved in the art sheds in last year’s Haverfordwest Festival. So I did an art shed with a friend of mine that was called ‘Taking an Impression of Haverfordwest’.  The idea was that we would take pieces of clay to the shed and engage with the public to take mini impressions around the town. We thought it would probably just be children involved and there might be 3 or 4 children in the shed with us, but it wasn’t like that at all!

People of all ages came and they all wanted clay, so we were constantly explaining what to do, giving demonstrations and bags of clay to people who would all go off into town and make their impressions. Then they’d bring it back to us to take latex impressions of those impressions, so they had something to take away. I ended up doing those at home in the evening as we ran out of time and in the end we had 500 impressions!

Without anticipating such a level of interest, I had also promised to make a porcelain piece based on what had come out of the shed activity. I’m still in the process of making a piece of porcelain work that will be shown in the Riverside studio during this year’s Havefordwest Festival in July and it’ll be something for the town.

I also did a project for Platform where I worked with Fenton Primary School to make porcelain vessels as part of a larger installation. The children and staff all did drawings of people, friends or family members, who were important to them, and I transferred one image from every drawing onto a vessel and we had a little ceremony during the Platform event.  I donated the vessels to the school so they could sell them if they wished to raise money, or give them to the children and I believe they did give them to the children at Christmas time.

For me, all of this was a ‘shot in the arm’ for my practice. It was nice to do something that was recognised and supported and also to make all these new contacts in the artistic community in Haverfordwest.  It’s also enabled me to develop a part of my practice that was on hold.

As well as the porcelain piece I’ll be showing in July, there’s another piece I have on the back boiler to show in October, if Platform goes ahead again. It’s basically a wall about 10’ by 10’ that will be made out of acetate bricks, which I have farmed out to some associates, all artists. The idea is that there will be graffiti where the mortar would be, so when you’re facing the piece you won’t be able to see what they’ve written until you engage with it more closely.

Although, I sell my mixed media painting work through a couple of galleries, I’m not so comfortable with the commercial side and I much prefer things like the ceramic installation and the community involvement and benefit that’s associated with it. I also like the fact that for the price of a coffee and a cake anybody can purchase a piece that is part of a bigger installation; I like the fact that you’ve then got a piece of that collective work.

So what’s been nice about Confluence is that it’s allowed me to broaden my interest and work with different materials and people in a way that isn’t just a selfish venture, but is also appreciated by others. It’s also nice to feel supported in being out there, as I’m not comfortable with networking and self-promotion really and I’m very grateful for all the support I’ve had from Confluence.

I was so moved by the shed thing and the kinds of people who came along and got involved. There were’ Saturday dads’ taking stuff home and bringing it back and one week a year isn’t enough for this kind of thing. The emphasis is normally on children and young families and that is important, but there are such a lot of dispossessed people wandering around the town and I think they shouldn’t be forgotten.

I hope the project will continue as it’s only just starting really and I know the huge amount of effort that Confluence put into things, like Platform, and even getting people to recognise that it’s art. I think there have been some pockets of change for the town, but it’s early days and after all Confluence is only an experiment and you need to keep chipping away.

I think that over time when you have a vibrant artistic community it brings people in and it could be a unique selling point for the town. But Haverfordwest isn’t Swansea and it isn’t a small tight-knit community like Hermon, so it has to find its own way. I think Confluence has brought a bit of life to the town and it certainly added to the festival.

I know that engaging the wider community with art isn’t all that easy. But, for example when something ceramic is made from clay it lasts forever and so people know they will have contributed something that will never disappear. And I think people like that kind of thing; they’re desperate to be noticed and feel part of something. A lot of people did say to me that there isn’t enough of that kind of thing going on in the summer and everything is geared towards tourists, so I imagine some of the indigenous population might feel displaced. A week with a few art sheds is a start but it’s also a drop in the ocean and there could be something happening every week.