Capturing Cardiff – Ffosfforescence

10 12 2009

Last weekend, young and old alike gathered on Penarth’s seafront to witness Ffosfforescence, a light installation devised by Bristol-based artists David Boultbee and Ruth Essex.

With the help of artists and local residents, David and Ruth filled balloons with LEDs and displayed them in the sea in a project designed to use light to articulate hidden spaces and shadows of famous landmarks.

Ffosforescence was born after the duo were asked by Ffotogallery, a local art gallery based at Turner House, to come up with a large-scale installation to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Penarth Pavilion.

“One of the aims of the project was to demonstrate the might of the sea,” said Ruth,

“The length of time that the balloons stayed visible was determined by the tide, so the work we did shows how powerful it really is.”

And the balloons were not the only things fighting to survive.

Piering back into the past

Penarth Pavilion, one of the main focal points of the town, has been a major landmark ever since its grand opening in 1929.

But a series of setbacks, including a fire in 1931, have meant more than one generation of Penarth’s public has been unable to see the pavilion in all its glory.

Now, with lottery funding proving more than just a distant possibility, locals may be able to take in the delights of the building sooner rather than later.

The installation was visible from far away, and was able to draw in passers-by (Photo: David Drake)

The redevelopment project, which is set to include a cinema and a number of restaurants, will not be cheap.

As the appeal for lottery funding is only at an early stage it is difficult to estimate just how much things will eventually cost, but it is fair to say the town’s £400,000 annual budget would fail to accommodate such a large-scale development.

Councillor John Forbes Fraser, the mayor of Penarth, claims that the project is “essentially” the responsibility of the Vale of Glamorgan Council, but he has pledged his (and Penarth Town Council‘s) support towards all the work done towards the pavilion’s redevelopment.

“We are 200% behind the project,” said Coun Fraser.

“I would love to see it come off. One thing we can do as a council is lobby.”

Ffoto opportunities

The ‘save Penarth Pavilon’ project is being supported by two major art galleries in the centre of the town, Ffotogallery@Turner House on Plymouth Road and The Washington Gallery on Stanwell Road.

And many locals, including adults and children of all ages, flocked to Ffotogallery on Saturday where they filled balloons with LEDs under the guidance of experts from Dorkbot Bristol, a group who describe themselves as “People doing strange things with electricity in the West of England.”

After a few hours’ work, and a few mince pies put on by the gallery, the willing volunteers then helped take the light-filled balloons down to the sea-front where they would produce a visually stunning display.

Volunteers from Penarth (and further afield) help set up the display on the seafront (Photo: David Drake)

Anne Siegel, digital arts project manager at Ffotogallery, was very pleased with how things turned out on Saturday night.

“I have been so busy with the project over the last few days and weeks,” said Anne.

“And on Saturday night it was basically us against the tide, so it was good that people could stay out and see the installation until about 8.30 or 9.”

Map showing Ffotogallery and the surrounding area

The artists themselves showed their appreciation for the effort put in by the volunteers, and recognised how difficult the installation would have been to set up without the help of the townspeople and experts who devoted their time throughout Saturday.

“Loads of people came down to help out,” said David Boultbee.

“I was impressed by the number of families that came along, it seemed that a lot of the town was happy to get involved.”

“Also, I think the fact that you could see the lights from the top of the hill helped bring more people in. Maybe even people who were just passing by with no intention of coming to look at the installation.”

Looking to the future

It seems that all involved are pleased with the impact made by the Ffosfforescence installation. As well as demonstrating the artistic vision and capabilities of David and Ruth, it has the potential of achieving a more long-term goal.

If nothing else, the installation has made more people – across South Wales and beyond – aware of the campaign to save and redevelop Penarth Pier Pavilion.

And with the first barrier crossed in the journey towards lottery funding for the project, it is surely only a matter of time before the building is returned to its former glory.

To find out more about the Penarth Pavilion Project, visit

If you want the audio of the above video clip, click below