Swansea’s High Street, once the backbone of the city centre, is viewed as no-go area for some. With the city centre’s commercial district relocated after the Blitz and the springing up of out-of-town shops from the 80’s onwards the area has slowly suffered, and amid accusations of neglect and mismanagement the area has built a reputation as the disappointing entrance to Wales’ second city.
It is a problem faced across the UK during a time of austerity, with cities and councils attempting to find new ways to balance urban redevelopment with the pressures on the public purse. Many cities are asking the same question; now that it’s passed its heyday as a commercial hub what do we do with the High Street?
Tales From The Bunker, an initiative run by Elysium Gallery, enters the discussion in the form of a regular series of printed and online zines, pop-up arts events and exhibitions, presenting an artist led view of redevelopment from the view from Swansea High Street, offering a platform for discussion about the future of the city.
Tales From The Bunker kicked off last Friday with launch at the Mission Gallery amongst the backdrop of John Powell’s current exhibition of paintings When We Build Again, itself a sprawling meditation on the rebuilding, recuperation, and restructuring of the city. The first edition of the zine was on display (and can be seen online here), along with a host of films, performance and exhibits chronicling the past, present and future of Swansea High Street.
I AmNews presented the first edits of a series of interviews with people who acted, DJ’ed and danced at the Palace Theatre whilst it was still open. One of the only purpose- built music halls left standing in the uk, The Palace has recently been drawing attention in the national press after the Theatres Trust listed it as one of the most at risk theatre buildings in the UK. One of the most iconic buildings in Swansea, in its early days it played host to the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Lilly Langtry and Marie Lloyd. Becoming home to Jingles gay club and several dance clubs before its closure, it now stands as a reminder of the important social gatherings High Street played home to, waiting for life to be breathed into it again.
Swansea based alternative clown troupe Kapspike & Goebbels were in attendance and were on disturbing form. Kapspike & Goebbels have been regulars
at Elysium’s Disruption events, where they’ve darkly played with unsuspecting audiences, infamously piling what appeared to be wrapped up body parts into the boot of a car in front bemused passers by on High Street. For Tale From The Bunker
they had perched on a scaffold draped in white rag, an uncanny hooded figure overlooking the event with a mirrored face on the attendees. Slowly moving in a conversation with itself, the ever present learer demanded your attention only to reflect your own image back at you.
Tracy Harris along with Chris Rushton is the creative team behind Gritty LTD, producers of SWANSEA: BACK ON THE STREETS, an emotional, intimate, and at times upsetting 9 part BBC documentary series which followed the lives of roughsleepers in Swansea. Donning a hood and Blasting Bilida Carlie at unsuspecting victims, Tracy staked out the evening inviting passers-by to a secluded nook of the Gallery. Her character reflected on misspent nights trawling the streets, drunken escapades both experienced and witnessed, offering a lighthearted derailing of David Hughes’ “Ambition is Critical’.