Saturday 12th November, 2016, was an OCA study day lead by Helen Warburton and held at the National Museum, Cardiff.
It was a joint exhibition by the shortlisted 6 artists chosen for the Arts Mundi exhibition which has as its theme “The Human Condition”. Although this theme encompasses every conceivable facet of human endeavour, there were interesting threads running through them all, the most unexpected for me was that of language. This was possibly because all the exhibitions I have attended so far have been with images rather than the wider meaning of ‘art’.
The curator of the exhibition is Karen MacKinnon who is also the director of Artes Mundi.
There were five students from different disciplines – photography, print making, textiles and drawing.
The location, setting and atmosphere:
The setting and location were simultaneously unusual and unsettling: the exhibition was split over 2 sites and the reason for this was only apparent to me when we got to the second site. The first site is the National Museum, Cardiff. Traditionally, you cannot touch exhibits in a museum so when this happens, you are immediately wrong-footted. You are allowed to take photos, you are allowed to lounge on bean bags to watch and listen to a story about urbanisation of the countryside, you are allowed to move the furniture. Very unsettling. I did not have time to see the rest of the museum but, from what little I did see, it was pretty run-of-the-mill museum: bright lights and dinosaurs.
The second site, called Chapter, is a former boarding school, now exhibition space. You are not aware of it at first, but the piece on the outside of the building, looking like an over-sized billboard, is actually one of the exhibits and therefore part of the exhibition. When you look at it in that light, you understand more about what it is perhaps trying to say.
I wish I had read the exhibition catalogue before the visit.
Examples of the work:
The first exhibition was of Lamia Joreige in which she takes us through an anthropological investigation of post war Lebanon: ” Beirut Forever – Suspended Space in Suspended Time.” A refreshingly open view of the artist’s perception of post-war Beirut in which she started looking, imaginatively, through a hole left by a bullet in the wall of the museum.
The bullet hole sculpture for me symbolised part of the rebirth which the artist is depicting in her film of the concrete river bed. Its symbolism is in the fact that it looks like a cross-section of an umbilical chord which the images of the river also seem to reference.
Details of the ‘settlements’ on the river banks signifying an organic
rebirth of the city.
The film with narration by the artist, takes us on a psycho-geographical and potential gentrification tour through the city via The River .
I found this a wonderful interpretation of the artist’s investigation of the state of what had been her communities. I loved the river representations and the pinhole camera , continuing to shoot through the bullet hole idea;
The facets I enjoyed the most were the pinhole camera images and the organic rebirth of the city drawings.
The second exhibition was a CGI by Welsh artist Bedwyr Williams who narrates a fictitious story of a huge urban landscape rising out of a Welsh landscape. The CGI was complex with changing light and moving clouds and water surfaces. Sadly the acoustics in the huge room were such that I could catch the occasional sentence but I could not piece the whole story together so I could not catch the humour or the shades of meaning of his narrative. There were huge beanbags on the floor from which people could watch the changing scene.
The Power Politics in Neil Beloufa’s “World Domination” are portrayed through language and through imagery which reflects how old the power tactics used today are. He records interviews of people trying to articulate their ideas and solutions to national problems in languages not their own. The 3D model is of a dinosaur onto which the interviews are projected. It is a very unsettling piece which makes you think about how political hierarchies are manipulated based on dominant languages.
Amy Franceschini: “We don’t need a museum to preserve varieties. What we want is to plant them in the soil.”
This brings together traditional and current farming practices; traditional community sharing and growing; people going on a journey to deliver their message of preserving old seed stock. The grains or seeds, represent the shared knowledge and experience, monocultures and diversity. The current exhibition started in Oslo & will finish in Istanbul where the community will plant the seeds in a walled garden. The flat bread made by communities brought people together to share and learn . The charcoal which was left behind after the ovens had cooked the bread were used to present a message in morse code:
The art work was telling the story of the ‘futurefarmers’ project of which Franceschini is a member and leader.
We were lucky in that, at 12 noon, an actor came in and took the vinyl records out of their brown paper sleeve and played them. In a normal museum setting, this would not be allowed.
The actor read the stories told on the records in English and in Welsh.
Throughout the exhibition and the performance, you were aware of the relevance of past time.
The boat model actually holds the seeds as they are transported on the journey from Oslo to Istanbul. OCA members listening to the story telling.
The actor let us handle what looked like a bit of drift wood but which resembled a bird which was at the centre of both old and new stories narrated.
This was by far the most complex project involving and benefiting a great many people. The artist gives the following reasoning for her project:
“Through farming, I saw the connection of politics and power. I saw how the politics of marketing and trade and commodities all tied in. But I also started to see about the environment. I saw how the chemical water that went into the creeks started making the frogs become deformed and Silent Spring [a book by Rachel Carson, published in 1962, that warned of the dangers of pesticides to the environment] was written, which was a big eye-opener to a lot of people. It’s kind of simple: I want to be alive and I want to breathe.”(1)
The diptych filming of Auto da Fe by British artist John Akomfrah explores the global diaspora started hundreds of years ago. Through it we are conscious of history, colonialism and migration as a consequence of persecution all over the world. Of course it has resonance with what is happening today through wars and famine particularly in Africa and the middle east. Fabulous use of photographic images, period costumes and filming to deliver a very strong massage.
For our final exhibition, we had to trek (willingly!) across Cardiff to Chapter where we were met, outside the building, with the first part of the exhibition by Nastio Mosquito:
The ‘artist’ does not believe in categorising people so he does not call himself an artist. We discussed if and to what extent the billboard was offensive particularly as this was a family centre. The clichéd angry artist, I concluded, chose his what is now banal expression, as his vehicle. The writing was, quite literally, on the walls in the second room – the first room being blank, partially filled by us, presumably used as exhibits – not all of us oil paintings! Were we supposed to be facing a new blank canvas on which Mosquito would paint his version of life / his message? Were we to objectify ourselves as living art objects? Were we to utter profanities at being taken in to a void passing as art vessel?
We did not hesitate in going through the ‘crossed’ entrance – it is put there, I suspect, to make people feel that they are transgressing & as, such, another angry expression. It is interesting how the size of the text and colours used in this room were, in my opinion, to make the viewers cower under the weight of the messages which also appeared to be shouted at them. This was the only text in which there were no expletives showing. We hear the swearing around us every day so it lost its impact for me – I was, if anything, surprised at its use, so banal both in the spoken and the written form. The language here echoed that shouted in the last room of this exhibition where an old TV was placed in a room made to look shabby with plastic stacking chairs.
The suppositories room invited us to reflect on the aid that is forced on people particularly in the developing world – and we could help ourselves to the suppositories if we wanted to.
I appreciated the boldness of the work and approach. I was certainly not shocked by it.
- the collaboration and understated simplicity in Franceschini’s project.
- the original concept of Lamia Joreige to look at her war-ravaged home town through the hole made by a bullet.
- the importance in the use of language to help transmit messages in an art project.
What I took away with me
About art: The relevance of history in contextualising the art was very apparent.
The use of language in various forms helps to convey messages more strongly.
Although art does not have to ‘do’ anything in order to justify its existence, in this case each exhibition had a function: to inform, to educate, to raise awareness through various tactics.
All the artists used a multi-media approach to convey their idea of the human condition. Can you convey it using just one? Probably, but this is an international art competition so in order to make an impact, I suspect the artists felt they had to. It would be interesting to see if any of the 800 artists who submitted work to be considered for the prize used only one artistic medium.
About me: The use of film struck me as being very powerful.
I shall look forward to hearing the 6 shortlisted artists present their work at the Museum on the January 25th 2017.
- Artes Mundi exhibition catalogue.