We are delighted to host a set of art works from a follow-on project to Song Lines (2017/18) here at It’s called Song lines on the road – Life lines on the move! Of course, the works by Valerie Walkerdine, Steve Pool and Amelia ‘Unity’ Thomas speak for themselves (see below), but we’d like to introduce the project from which a range of artworks on this site emerged. We shall start a little of the back-story. From the beginning we planned to invite artists to be with us on the Songlines tour.

In March 2018, we Dr Geoff Bright (PI for the original Song Lines project) and Professor Gabrielle Ivinson, both of the Education and Social Research Institute at Manchester Metropolitan University were awarded an MMU Research and Knowledge Exchange Flexible Award to bring our work together. Our proposal was to ‘multiply’ the impact of our separate work by connecting our independent strands of arts-based research: Geoff’s, conducted with de-industrialised coalfield communities in the north of England (and, of course, represented throughout this website), and Gabrielle’s, with de-industrialised communities in the south Wales ex-mining valleys.

Independently of each other, we have been fortunate in being awarded successive amounts of ESRC/ARHC Connected Communities funding to develop research into the impacts of de-industrialisation in coalfield communities over the last dozen years or so. If connected, we felt our respective projects had the potential to reach across the related, but quite different, bi-national Welsh and English settings and demonstrate the affective power of art for social, personal and, at least, micro-political transformation. We also felt a certain urgency given the emergence of what is now being called the community ‘health and wellbeing’ agenda, which is evident in both national settings, but particularly in Wales.

The Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2016, and all party Creative Health Report (2017) compel public bodies to consider wellbeing in all of their actions, including an annual 'wellbeing assessment'. We know from our various community partners that there is an appetite for new tools to help communities and public authorities to carefully negotiate (rather than diagnose) complex and, sometimes, dissenting wellbeing needs. Arts based methods will, we believe be central to those processes and our Ghost Lab inspired events offer an innovative, creative, non-threatening and community self-determined route to engagement. Ghost Labs enable buried hurts of coalfield communities to be surfaced and considered and can inform what kinds of support communities need. The art works shown here are obviously central to this as an imaginative multiplier that speaks beyond the usual dreary jargon of policy documents.

Supported by our project partners East Durham Artists’ Network in Seaham, the Co-operative College, Manchester, the Llanhilleth Miners’ Institute, the Gurnos Media Centre and Thaetr Soar in Merthyr Tydfil we orchestrated sessions to‘ gift’ films made with coal site communities and young people in the north and south of the UK and share playful Tarot readings.

Our aim was to achieve multiplication through a series of community ‘laboratory’ events at which we invited an artist to attune to the affects that emerged and circulated as participants reacted to the films and shared memories prompted by the Tarot cards.

The films were the song/image cycle Giving Up The Ghosts written and recorded by folk musicians Ribbon Road and available here and a selection from Light Moves available here and Graphic Moves available here and Life Line, short films made with young people living on the Gurnos Estate in Merthyr Tydfil. Coming together to eat and exchange the crack and banter was also key. The artist brief in each case was an open one of responding freely, each through their own chosen medium, to the events that they specifically attended and, in particular, to the Community Tarot reading.

Events subsequently took place at EDAN in Seaham, Co. Durham; the Co-operative College, Manchester; at the Gurnos Media Centre and Theartr Soa, both in Merthtyr Tydfil; and at Llanhilleth Miner's Institute in Llanhilleth.


photography by Jess Daly


photograph by Jess Daly

Unity grew up in mid Wales and lives just outside Cardiff. She has a background in youth and community work and uses a variety of art forms, including spoken word that can be site-specific, written freely, or connected to music. Having cut her teeth performing with Rufus Mufasa at the end of 2017 as writers in residence for Tactile Bosch’s Lost Vegas Hotel and at Cwmdonkin Drive in Swansea, Unity won Swansea’s poetry slam in 2018. She went on to support Hollie McNish and Clare Potter as the opening act for Swansea Fringe Festival. A regular at Voices on the Bridge Pontypridd, Unity is a founding member of Ladies of Rage, a collective of females into Spoken Word, Hip-Hop, Grime and Drum & Bass. Her poem Self Medication is available on YouTube.

unity brexit

Responding to the call out for artists, Unity attended the sharing event at the Gurnos Media Centre. Her spoken word piece Unity Brexit was site specific and developed from the process of collecting words from conversations she had at the event. Unity felt that the theme of connecting the de-industrialised areas of northern England and South Wales resonated with her, as her father grew up in Sheffield and she grew up in, and works with, communities in Wales.

The spoken word piece Unity Brexit combines Unity’s spoken word piece with a soundscape made by Jude Thoburn-Price a sound engineer, producer and composer who performs with electronic music in many genres including jazz and occasionally theatre theme music/sound and spoken word. Her approach to the soundscape drew on her friendship with former coal miners and the themes connected to the storytelling of her Nan. Notes to accompany the production of Jude’s soundscape Haunted Cacophony can be read here.

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Steve Pool

Collodion Plate. Copyright Jonathan Turner

Following the Ghosts

by Steve Pool

“If ghosts exist they will be analogue.  I can’t imagine that the presence of the past will naturally manifest itself in a series of noughts and ones. Ghosts would not be foolish enough to be captured by the sensor of a digital camera or be encoded within an MP3 file. Ghosts of the past and the future will be analogue.

A polaroid camera allows the world to fall onto light sensitive chemicals, then swiftly shaken for effect, develops.  Small particles of iron are magnetised within the line of a quarter inch spool of audiotape. The stop starting of the motors and the positioning of the tapeheads generate pockets of electrical energy later reconstituted as sound. The analogue talks of the past, of an older technology, but more than this the analogue can capture things in the raw. It presents back the world in amounts that represent themselves rather than sets of numbers. If ghost exist they will be analogue.

To limit the amount you can collect focuses the eye, the hand and the ear to the task of recording.  It reminds the witness that however much you gather in can only ever represent a glimpse of what is actually there.  All the relations within a room sew us with threads into space. Our past, present and potentials resist most efforts to represent them. The world can only be skimmed. The ghosts are fleeting; they are a flash in the pan, the rattle of a window, the fingerprint in long dry paint on the windowsill, the worn desire-line across the office carpet. If ghosts exist they will be analogue.”


Following the Ghosts (Manchester)


Following the Ghosts (Seaham)


Valerie Walkerdine works across a number of media: from photography to drawing, film and video to installation. One of the ‘New Contemporaries’ after graduating in 1991, she currently works across these media, as well as writing and researching. She has written a large number of books and obtained considerable research funding. In 2012-15 she was Leverhulme Major Research Fellow which involved, amongst other things, creating a number of works on loss, memory and intergenerational transmission.

Having grown up working class in the industrial Midlands of England, this sensibility featured and continues to feature in her approach to her artmaking.

In this commission, she paid close attention to the affective experiences in the meetings held by the Song Lines project. Drawing both on what came to her and what came through her, it is this which guided her response to the diverse pieces that resulted from this experience, which was in parts moving, joyful, harrowing, anger-provoking and determined.

Snapchat - response to session with young carers, Merthyr Tydfil

“When I first worked on the feelings that came up after this meeting with young people, I felt very disturbed but I could find no way to present that disturbance outside deeply disturbing images themselves. I was struck by the contrast between the animated way that the young people were and allusions that disturbed me greatly.

But then I remembered that they all talked about communicating via Snapchat and Instagram. I had never used either, being far too old to be a digital native. But I tried Snapchat. At once, I understood that Snapchat was the place in which they could have fun, be children and, in the isolation they must often find themselves in, still communicate with others in an instant and incredibly fun way.

I discovered it was possible to draw on Snapchat. I am sure that my images are far less polished than anything done by children and young people used to using it, but I decided to stick with that – feeling that there was something about the childish nature of the drawings that seemed to convey the creative ways in which young people coped with the situation they were in.

Each of these images or sets of images is a response to issues they discussed about their town on the one hand and the Community Tarot cards they picked, on the other. It is the contrast between the playful medium and the devastating content, that so disturbed me.”

Till Receipt

600cm print, made in response to ghost labs in Merthyr Tydfil


Llanhilleth: Guiding Light

Llanhilleth: Guiding Light is conceived as a short video in black and white. Read about the concept here.

The following plays with notes made during the ghost lab session in Llanhilleth, and could form the basis of a sound track to accompany the film.




Academics Dr Geoff Bright; Professor Gabrielle Ivinson

Education and Social Research Institute, Manchester Metropolitan University

Artists Steve Pool; Amelia ‘Unity’ Thomas (with Jude Thoburn-Price); Valerie Walkerdine

Project Partners East Durham Artists’ Network in Seaham; The Co-operative College, Manchester; Llanhilleth Miners’ Institute; Gurnos Media Centre and Thaetr Soar in Merthyr Tydfil

Funding MMU Research and Knowledge Exchange Flexible Award