As a part of our constellation subject, we were asked to meet and view the new Artes Mundi exhibition at the National Museum in Cardiff. I visited the previous iteration of this art fair, and was blown away by the work shown at that point; hoping to find a similar level of work at the current fair, I was extremely excited to view it; but when I got there, some of the works did nothing for me, if not made me quite annoyed at the pieces. The first artist that one encounters when you enter through the doors is ‘Theaster Gates’, a Chicago based artist who creates artwork to fund his inner city project; in which he buys old, disused buildings and turns them into places that help the community to grow and thrive. An example being that he bought an old, disused warehouse, that he then turned into a functioning library, in which residents of the city can go and visit, and take some time to relax and improve their own knowledge.
This is a touching story, but some of his work does not seem to resonate with me; there was a piece that focused on the rituals required to be undertaken when joining the free-masons, but it was so literal, and so amateur in it’s execution, I could not gain any affection for it. However, another piece that he crafted, seen above, I loved, but not for his involvement. It involved a spiritual statue crafted by families in Africa, surrounded by packaging material and some form of ‘cage’ crafted by the artist. The pieces of it that the artist had made were immensely overshadowed by the black, amorphous statue held within; and although I am aware he is trying to promote some concept of western cultural appropriation in our society, once again, the execution is something I did not like. The ‘being’ however, was absolutely fascinating to me; the tour guide explained that these beings were crafted by families over generations, consisting of anything the family could find; feathers, blood, spit, other bodily fluids, bones, dirt, stone etc. anything they could get their hands on, would be added into the mix. These beings were then kept around the house and out in the fields, the owners believing that this spiritual being would drive away danger and those who would steal/damage their crops and home.
Gats also had a video installation in the same room, depicting a homeless man from the streets of Chicago singing a version of ‘Amazing Grace’, and singing it in a powerful, albeit strangely hypnotizing, performance. As he nears the end, we hear a band start to play; and then a contemporary jazz artist comes in and starts to sing another iteration of the song. His voice is at once frightening, as it fluctuates and transcend different vocal ranges; he wails and screams, he does not sing, almost as if he has entered some kind of trance. There is an ongoing theme within Gates works of religion, and the effect it has on a person hoping to enter it; this trance-like singing reminds me of the trances that voodoo practitioners fall into during their rituals. I believe that the connection between the two singers is the later singer seems to mock the previous singer, almost parodying his style of singing; but i’m not sure.
The next artist in the exhibition, and the one that had the most effect on me was Carlos Bunga, a Sculptor with no formal architectural training, that manages to create monumental, spiritual spaces with nothing more than cardboard. It’s interesting, fascinating even, that he is able to create such a structure with such a bland materials, one that most people will often disregard because of it’s use as nothing more than packaging. Inspired by the pillars in this section of the Museum, Bunga created a structure that ‘bridged the gap’ between the pillars, and a stury one at that; if one is to push the wall of the object, it will not bend, nor will it even move. Through the use of mundane materials such as cardboard, sellotape and glue, the artist is able to create structurally sound ‘buildings’ just like this. He also painted the outer walls of it white, but as the time has aged the structure, it has begun to crack the paint at the points where it has been joined together; creating these beautiful, delicate cracks, reminding one of the concept that ‘nothing shall last’. There was also a series of drawings of humanoid beings with buildings as heads, which were nice, but I did not feel they held any relevance to my own work or practice, nor did they really garner any extra attention from myself.
The next piece to hold a resonance with me was a work by Rencata Lucas, a series of construction mats often utilised to bridge gaps and faults created by construction work within the city. There is a level of interactivity in the work, a level of play; each floor panel can be lifted up or folded over in order to create a new landscape for the viewer to traverse. The artist has described the work as ‘each module of the floor is like a work in a language, that can easily be reconfigured or translated to create new meanings. This is incredibly interesting to myself, as I often find myself remarking on the hidden language in sculpture and in objects, coinciding with the idea of an object holding all the memories that it has throughout it’s existence, much like a sentient being; an example is that of a rock on the beach, it was once a far bigger rock, and more than likely has been broken down and down over the years it has been on this earth, but still intrinsically linked to the earth, and has seen so vey much, as it cannot die. These objects hold a language all their own, and they allow us to change the way it conforms and speaks to us, as the viewers. There is also an interesting aspect to the work in the fact that it has been changed by the health and safety laws that have gone rampant in our country; prompting the work to be changed in order to fit into these supposedly ‘safe’ precautions. the outer ‘ring’ of the floorboards are in fact fastened down and unable to be moved, as they feel that in a fire, they would need this space to be open to get those who are disabled or who have prams out. I see the reasoning, but ti ruins the work’s concept, although, the boards are incredibly heavy and therefore it isn’t entirely interactive. This could be reflected in the title, which means failure of fault, which would be a deeply poetic title for a work like this, and quite humorous in it’s outlook.