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Dark history of castle explored through new art installation
Slate or State will be on display in the Grand Hall at Penrhyn Castle from 1 July – 5 November 2017.


GWYNEDD.- The turbulent history of a major quarrymen’s strike has been brought into the heart of Penrhyn Castle, Gwynedd, for the first time through contemporary art.

Slate or State, an artwork by Glasgow based artists, Walker & Bromwich, features a 15-foot inflated sculpture of Bethesda Quarry which is on show in the castle’s Grand Hall.

The sculpture represents the longest running industrial dispute in British history and provides a focus for Penrhyn to tell this emotionally charged story.

It is over a century since 700 men begrudgingly returned to the quarry – while over 2,000 quit for the coal mines of South Wales – after a three-year strike from 1900 – 1903 over rights, pay and working conditions and split the community apart for decades to come.

The bitter memory of the Great Strike of Penrhyn and what the castle represents as a symbol of power and greed has kept many in the local community from visiting.

The sculpture of the raw slate face of the quarry, set against the wealth and opulence that it afforded Lord Penrhyn, concludes a three-year Artists in Residence project with Arts Council of Wales, but is part of a longer plan involving the local community to tell the darker parts of the castle’s past.

Nerys Jones, General Manager at Penrhyn Castle said: “Penrhyn Castle is about more than extravagant architecture and fine art, under the surface lies a dark history of slavery and bitter industrial dispute that changed Penrhyn’s relationship with the local community forever.

“It’s time we discuss these stories openly in the castle and share the significance of our history with the local community and with visitors from all over the world. Over the coming years we will be exploring new and imaginative ways, like the Slate or State exhibition, to do justice to the Penrhyn story.

“Contemporary art has a role to play in presenting the past, helping us tackle difficult conversations, question our surroundings and express emotion by exploring stories in different ways. We hope that our visitors will find the sculpture thought-provoking as they discover more about this important part of Penrhyn’s past and its effect on the local community.”

John Ogwen, local resident and renowned actor whose family were quarry workers during the strike, once publicly vowed he would never visit the castle but has since changed his opinion.

He said: “It used to be difficult for me to visit the castle because of its history, but I was invited there to a book launch by Dr Dafydd Gwynn and the UNESCO World Heritage Site status bid for North Wales' slate industry and I saw that things were changing.

“I'm glad that the National Trust is talking about the castle's role in local history openly and that visitors can finally hear about the Penrhyn Lock-out or The Great Strike as it's known by many. It’s time to move on. It’s old history by now, but one not to be forgotten.”

Artists Walker and Bromwich, well-known internationally for their large-scale iconic sculptural works and participatory events and exhibitions, were chosen because of a strong track record of working with difficult stories and alongside other local artists to develop their work with the community.

To mark the opening of the Slate or State exhibition, the sculpture was transported by procession from Bethesda, along the same route the Quarrymen marched during strike action, up to the castle.

Along with the sculpture, visitors will learn more about the strike through historical facts presented around the castle and a video created by the artists that uses local voices, poetry, choral singing and archive material to explore the story.

One of the artists behind Slate or State, Zoe Walker, said: “The history behind the strike and its influence, locally and internationally, is astounding and resonates with contemporary political issues and struggles between power, wealth and poverty. We wanted to explore this history and give it a place at Penrhyn, to tell the story within the walls of the castle itself and reflect on its relationship with the local community.”






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