Saturday 8 January 2022 - Sunday 20 March 2022
10:30 am - 4:00 pm
Glynn Vivian Art Gallery is delighted to announce a new commission by Swansea based artist, Fern Thomas (b.1983, Neath), whose work explores mythmaking, folklore and imagined inner landscapes.
This exhibition has been programmed to coincide with the Hayward touring exhibition, Not Without My Ghosts – The Artist As Medium, currently on display at the gallery, which explores the changing terms of artistic engagement with mediumship.
For this new installation, Thomas is creating a series of interventions using text, sculptural forms made from beeswax, and archival objects, which will be installed alongside works selected by the artist from the Gallery’s Permanent Collection.
Central to this exhibition is Thomas’ fascination with local suffragist, politician, philanthropist, and spiritualist medium, Winifred Coombe Tennant (1874 – 1956), whose home in Neath was originally located close to where the artist grew up. Winifred Coombe Tennant was a patron of the arts and advised the Glynn Vivian on the purchase of many of the Gallery’s best known works including paintings by Gwen John, John Elwyn, Kyffin Williams, and Evan Walters. In addition to this, the remarkable Coombe Tennant acted as a spiritualist medium under the assumed name of ‘Mrs. Willett’, practising automatic writing, whose scripts received from spirit guides were sent for analysis to prominent members of The Society for Psychical Research, such as Sir Oliver Lodge and Gerald Balfour. The catalyst for Coombe Tennant discovering this capacity was the death of her only daughter, Daphne, at just seventeen months old, with whom she continued to communicate with after her death.
The exhibition responds to themes of motherhood, spiritualism and connection to other realms, as well as to the broader esoteric context of Not Without My Ghosts. Thomas uses her process of research-as-art to weave together many archival objects, such as wool samples belonging to Coombe Tennant used for her National costume; place-based research connected to Coombe Tennant’s life; details of angel wings drawn from Blake prints; the conjunctions of stars and mythological wanderings. In addition there are animal-like spirit guides on top of tall towers, and a ‘spirit mirror’ formed from pure beeswax, a significant material for Thomas as it can be transformed through the warmth of the body. Beeswax is also symbolic of the bees which in folklore can be associated with being messengers able to move between the spirit worlds. In this sense Thomas is exploring what she calls ‘energy points’ or vibrations of past, present and future; thresholds and veils that can lead us to other worlds.
Works from the Glynn Vivian’s Collection include a portrait of Winifred Coombe Tennant and her sons Alexander and Henry by Swansea artist Evan Walters (1892 – 1951), as well as previously unseen works by William Blake (1757–1827), who was much admired by Coombe Tennant. Also on display are etchings of mysterious castles and ghostly landscapes by renowned French author Victor Hugo (1802 –1885). These works were purchased by the Gallery’s founder Richard Glynn Vivian in 1885.
From all these objects and the works in the Collection, Thomas creates a stage set or perhaps a set of tools ready to be utilised with movement or performance. This exhibition will be accompanied by a series of artist interventions and performances, while on display. See the full programme on our website.
Essay by anthropologist and folklorist writer Amy Hale, in response to Fern Thomas’s exhibition, Spirit Mirror.
Listen now to artist Joan Jones and musician Rhodri Jones, as they perform a response to Fern Thomas’s exhibition, Spirit Mirror.
Born in Neath, South Wales in 1983, Fern Thomas’ practice is rooted in the processes and principles of Social Sculpture. Recently Thomas has been developing a fictional set of islands, Springtides Archipelago, which is a polychronic research space in which all of her work can unfold. Recent projects and commissions include The Hidden Noise: Tinnitus and Art at OVADA Gallery, Oxford, g39 Fellowship with g39 gallery, Cardiff as part of the Freelands Foundation Arts Programme and was part of CoDi, the Tŷ Cerdd Experimental Sound Programme in Cardiff. She is currently artist in residence for Ancient Connections, an arts and heritage project based in Pembrokeshire.