British photographer, artist, and writer, Lottie Davies, who herself possesses strong familial ties to North Wales, has created a large-scale multimedia project that extends far beyond the gallery walls into the seaside town and community of Colwyn Bay itself. Using a variety of media and installations, Quinn: Until the Land Runs Out is a meditation on grief, loss, loneliness, the human search for meaning, and the possibility of redemption through time and landscape. It recounts the eponymous ctional story of a young man, William Henry Quinn, who embarks on an epic and symbolic walk from south-west England to the far north of Scotland, taking in the length of Wales in between, in post-Second World War Britain.
The exhibition at Oriel Colwyn, the third in an ongoing tour across the UK with distinct installations devised speci cally for each venue, presents a multi-dimensional view of the titular gure and his story by using moving image works and large format photographs, ‘personal’ ephemera, text, and installations. Created to be viewed and read side-by-side, it is much like simultaneously reading a novel, visiting the theatre, and going to the cinema. The viewer can use these visual clues as a way of untangling as much or as little of the narrative as they desire. The exhibition continues similarly outside in Colwyn Bay itself, presenting vinyls and moving image within empty shop spaces and other easily accessible public spaces so that Quinn can be experienced beyond the physical and opening time constraints of Oriel Colwyn.
North Wales is of particular personal importance to Davies as her paternal family has strong connections there - speci cally to the nearby Llŷn Peninsula and Snowdonia. In the late 19th century they were involved in establishing the Ffestiniog and Snowdon railways; one of the current working engines at the Snowdon Mountain Railway is named ‘Ninian’ after Davies’ great uncle. Immensely proud of her Welsh heritage, Davies has the ctitious Quinn walk almost the entire length of the country during his journey: through the abandoned slate-mining village of Cwmorthin, near Blaenau Ffestiniog; and to Betws-y- Coed (to where Davies’ own father was evacuated from London during WWII) with Quinn depicted crossing the Sappers’ Suspension Bridge over the River Conwy on the edge of the village, en route from Cwmorthin to Eryri (known as Snowdon in English) where he climbs the summit. Colwyn Bay itself is mentioned in Quinn’s diary as one of the Welsh places he passes through on his journey. Additionally the objects in the exhibition also include a collection of postcards published by the Snowdon Mountain Railway Company and a local guidebook from the 1930s.
As Quinn travels on his odyssey it is revealed to be both a physical and metaphorical journey mediated by the British landscape, a geography that is both changed and unchanged since the 1940s. The ancient byways along which he has travelled remain as they were then, and yet with the immutability of change and the unremitting nature of time passing, lives and memories change and fade. At the exhibition, both within Oriel Colwyn and externally in the surrounding town, the viewer metaphorically and physically walks alongside Quinn and, in learning his story, may come to understand more about their own search for existential meaning and purpose in life.
While ctional, Davies has created Quinn in response to the real experiences of young men and women post-trauma, both in the early twentieth century and now. The life changes imposed on each generation by con ict and global socio-economic collapse, as well as personal tragedy, produces a constant stream of people left untethered in the world, often literally travelling in any way they can, to nd a new home, a new purpose and to rebuild their place in the world. Although Davies initiated work on Quinn in 2014, clear comparisons to the Covid-19 pandemic can be seen in Quinn’s own mourning for his previous life, demonstrating one more way in which Davies’ series transcends time and place.
Davies’ work is concerned with stories and personal histories, employing a deliberate reworking of visual vocabularies with the intention of evoking a sense of recognition and narrative. Quinn: Until the Land Runs Out acts as a natural and signi cant continuation of Davies’ work, further emphasised by showing at Oriel Colwyn and relating to her own personal connection to the North Wales landscape.