The Attraction of Onlookers: Aberfan - An Anatomy of a Welsh Village
40 years after the Aberfan disaster, internationally acclaimed American artist Shimon Attie was approached by a friend in Wales to create an exhibition marking its anniversary.
After five months working and living in the village, he created The Attraction of Onlookers: Aberfan - An Anatomy of a Welsh Village.
The video piece features local residents and represents the village as it is today. Giving voice to the people of Aberfan, it reflects their hopes and aspirations for the present and future.
Seen for the first time in New York in September 2008, the five-channel, high definition video installation will be at National Museum Cardiff from 6 December to 22 February 2009.
The exhibition is a fresh, forward-looking vision of Aberfan that competes with the poignant, resonant archive of existing imagery.
Listening to the Village
On 21 October 1966, a coal waste tip slipped down the mountainside above Aberfan, burying its only elementary school and many homes. As a result, 116 children and 28 adults lost their lives.
The Attraction of Onlookers: Aberfan - An Anatomy of a Welsh Village explores the relationship between place, memory and identity.
The artist began his interpretation by simply listening to the village. The result is a representation of Aberfan and its people as they have never been portrayed before.
Attie’s work aims to enrich our perceptions and conversations about Aberfan and its weight of history, challenging our expectations about what it means to be a ‘victim’ or a ‘survivor’.
It invites us to consider the competing elements of loyalty to the past, and loyalty to the present and future.
Looking to the Future
Following the disaster in 1966, the village was forever fixed in the public eye. Aberfan became synonymous with this singular, tragic loss.
It has suffered from an identity reduced to this one event, over four decades ago. The endless recycling of images shot on that tragic day contributed to the village’s struggle to move on, and look to the future.
The camera’s glare and the understandable outpouring of public sympathy worked to prolong the grief, leaving Aberfan frozen even further in space and time.
The Attraction of Onlookers: Aberfan - An Anatomy of a Welsh Village is part of Aberfan’s continuing journey, 40 years travelled, to again become a Welsh village among other Welsh villages.
Observing Aberfan - Then and Now
Most of them are still living in a state of shock, in a village which remains an open wound. The aftertaste of the Macabre which still affects the village is strengthened further by its attraction for sightseers.
-from The Village that Lost its Children, Laurie Lee (1967)
Life stops for a moment
and refuses to stay still.
I live in a different time from the world.
I see them watching me.
Here, not here.
Now, not now.
-poem from The Attraction of Onlookers, Gwyneth Lewis and Shimon Attie (2006)
The Attraction of Onlookers book, published by Parthian, will be available at National Museum Cardiff during the exhibition, through the Welsh Books Council.
The Attraction of Onlookers: Aberfan - An Anatomy of a Welsh Village is one among a number of exhibitions from artists living and working today. It forms part of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales’ aspiration to promote more contemporary art within dedicated areas of the Museum.