Cymru Culture

Articles / Erthyglau

Artes Mundi 7

(February 16, 2017)

Last chance to see:


Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Caerdydd - National Museum Cardiff
& Chapter, Canton, Cardiff
Runs to 26 February 2017


With the prize being staged in Wales, with a Welsh artist on the shortlist and that being, Bedwyr (he wins everything) Williams, to boot, you’re thinking it, I’m thinking it, everyone’s thinking it... shoe in.

Artes Mundi, however, isn’t a product of self-congratulatory Cymraeg pandering. A celebration of contemporary art, it genuinely considers art from every continent, this year from an open submission nomination pool of over 700 different artists.

The biennial contemporary art prize exhibition features all six shortlisted artists: John Akomfrah (Ghanaian-British); Bedwyr Williams (Welsh); Neïl Beloufa (French-Algerian); Amy Franceschini and Futurefarmers (US); Lamia Joreige (Lebanon); and Nástio Mosquito (Angola/Belgium).

Three selectors, different people each time choose the shortlist and the winner. This is no academy anointing their own. Artes Mundi, with Victorian plant-collecting vigour, gathers exotic plants. If a seed of introduction falls in the fertile soil of the selectors it may well grow, but in the crowded undergrowth it may well falter. It’s no surprise that the resulting exhibition and prize always contain something you’ll never have seen before.

The exhibition is held at two Cardiff venues: the Contemporary Galleries at Amgueddfa Genedlaethol - National Museum; & Chapter Canton.

I was lucky enough to attend the Artes Mundi conference at the Reardon Smith Theatre, which is worth going to any event here as the Lecture Theatre is so well designed, every seat feels close to the stage, you can hear well, the seats are largely comfortable, and the interior styling transports you to the era of Dead Poet’s Society. Each artist was given stage time, followed by a panel discussion where they were joined by Rachel McKinnon and two of the three selectors. This gave a further opportunity to understand each artist’s practice and hear from the artists directly.

Bedwyr commanded the lectern and gave us his Reverend Williams, by way of the perfect observation of domestic society and angry ranting of Rhod Gilbert. He took a pulpit Rickey Gervais-like stance and managed to be more likeable and on occasion somewhat funnier than he.

The stand up performance piece was like a brilliant turn by the intelligent sixth former at the leaving assembly: we knew the references; we heard the parody of an Eisteddfod trained recitation rhythm; we cringed at knowing criticisms; and laughed. “Performance artists beat you before they start by eating a vine leaf or some other ‘look at me’ food and proffer one with an oily hand.”; “I noticed the board under their kitchen surface had fallen, revealing a paper plate and discarded party popper, I considered crawling in and living there, these people would probably pay me.”

His work in the bar at Chapter works well, making the café users a live tableau against his dark dystopia. Bedwyr Williams’ Tyrrau Mawr/Big Towers in the museum shows the same scene in 4k, Cadair Idris in a modified landscape rendered like scenic matte painting to become a modern city, I see hints of iconic towers of the modern East and international art galleries. Bedwyr’s narration here is just that, in contrast to his performance voice it lends itself to listening as if you are reading it yourself. The story of the banal lives of the inhabitants would be just that, aside from his choice of characterisations and juxtapositions, dripping with knowing wit.

This is one of the two most visually rich of the work presented. The scene including the water rippling and steam rising, city lights and the dawn rising and the quality and size of the image, probably best viewed recumbent on one of the huge white bean bags provided, is quite overwhelming. This won the Derek Williams prize, and the work will be purchased and entrusted to the National Museum of Wales to take care of. It is a great addition and I think will be popular with visitors for years to come, I wonder what influence it may have on future artists, maybe a step towards digital art becoming more mainstream as part of an artist’s choice of media.

Nástio Mosquito chose to greet us in the dark. He sang a cappella with a bold, clear voice. He shouted and exclaimed ‘Depression needs me.’ ‘x needs me’ ‘y needs me’ and gained our narked attention. It was a performance piece, but the context was not shared with us. His gallery piece in Chapter feels similar. There are messages, but without a clear context it’s hard to distil any real meaning or feel anything. Like a stack of road signs in the factory waiting to be installed; yes I agree with your message but who is it to and why? His work for Chapter’s lightbox could literally do with more illumination, a brain, and an advert for his suppositories that list special properties rather like a snake oil advert in the Wild West. The boxes of these in his gallery piece can be taken away by visitors. Scattered on the floor in their red boxes they did bring to mind discarded life jackets of refugees. It’s hard for me to read his work, it's always talking loudly so you feel it must be powerful, but at once it seems both glib and sincere. Note: Nástio Mosquito: Transitory Suppository: Act ♯III Light.Boxed runs at Chapter to Sunday, 5 March 2017

Lamia Joreige’s work was about living with conflict. She lives in Beirut and examines the affect of Lebanese wars over the... I couldn’t help but realise, forty or-so years of my lifetime. She makes films that are close to documentary with a very observational rather than didactic tone. She makes choices in what she shows but it seems like a huge collective diary rather than news or documentary. It’s a collective of the human experience of the conflict, making it easy to relate to the experience and at the same time, because of the vast collective information, you feel the abstract absurdity of human suffering being meted out for so long.

I found Joreige’s work both gentle and powerful and Lamia herself very sane and comforting in person. The exhibits are film projections and objects, such as a book and a list displayed of all the museum artefacts lost in the conflict. The image of works that the curators had hidden in concrete I found very moving, that people who value culture took steps to protect this as their lives were in danger. A concrete sculpture is actually a cast of a 3D scanned image of the hole in the wall made in the museum, through an historic mosaic. Lamia has made images through the hole and shared them with us, so we can see what the sniper saw, and to live that vicariously.

Neïl Beloufa’s work fills the exhibition space with curiosity. Children particularly responded to his work. His explanation of his practice and work was chaotic and showed a very lively brain trapped in a man who needs art to fully articulate his ideas. It was obvious that being spontaneous and creative in his art making is important to him. He creates and accepts opportunities and parameters and then interacts with them. His sculptural works have film projections and moving parts within them and use sensors to react to the viewer, so you really become part of the piece.

Future Farmers, the farming collective founded by Amy Franceschini, feel that heritage seeds once gathered and stored are of no real use and should be shared and planted to ensure their continued development and contribution to the world. I couldn’t agree more. Their gallery offering somewhat undersold their endeavours and I feel that theirs is art by practice, a performance an experience that has become a way of life. The art is communicated by action and hardly at all by objects.

Beautifully crafted ovens, seed careers, the seed lifeboat are all incidental to the doing. The gallery display is like seeing artefacts as an anthropologist, not like viewing an installation or a documentation of a performance piece. It seems to me that what they do did not fit into the exhibition part of Artes Mundi.

John Akomfrah won the seventh biennial Artes Mundi prize, for which he received £40,000. The artist, director, writer and theorist has been highlighting the legacy of African diaspora in Europe by creating films that explore marginalised histories of European society.

His talk at the conference was beautifully delivered, I would happily pay to hear him lecture on film, a medium he obviously loves and studies himself. In fact I suspect the language of film, cutting, lighting, the rhythm of movement is second nature to him now.

His works included the two channel video projection Auto De Fé, which is ostensibly intended to use the aesthetics of period drama. However, it was lit - and the players dressed - like an interior by Vermeer. A beautiful, powerful and interesting work that should be seen after visiting the Art in the Netherlands gallery; conveniently on site.

The wonderful live guides that Artes Mundi offer and the narrative on the walls help hugely in gaining information and insight into what the artist is trying to communicate and where their practice fits in to contemporary practice. But I am a believer in viewer experience and that art should communicate largely on its own terms. However it’s great that the option to be informed and feel confident to view art - for people who feel they need to be initiated to join in at all - is offered.

Artes Mundi run a wide range of events alongside the exhibition and still to come is their final Family Workshop in February half-term 18th to 26th with three starting times each day; free but booking required. I’d urge anyone to go and view this exhibition and enjoy it for themselves.  

The biennial contemporary art prize and exhibition is on show until 26 February, featuring all six shortlisted artists, admission is free.

Artes Mundi returns to Cardiff in 2018. 

Jennifer Pearce, February 2017


Runs until 26 February 2017 at
Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Caerdydd - National Museum Cardiff
& Chapter, Canton, Cardiff

Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 till 5, admission free
Further details:


Jennifer Pearce is the founder of Art Club and can be followed on Twitter

If you liked this, you'll also enjoy:
     Review: gallery/ten, Debbie Smyth & winter group exhibition, December 2015
     Review: Be More Brando, Thomas Goddard, September 2015
     Review: The Starry Messenger, Bedwyr Williams, June 2015
     Interview with Shani Rhys James, March 2015
     Review: Cardiff Carnival 25th Anniversary Exhibition, March 2015
     Review: The Lumen Prize, December 2014
     Review: To This I Put My Name, Claire Curneen, March 2014
     Review: The Albany Gallery, Cardiff, Christmas Exhibition, December 2013
     Review: Eight and a half Welsh comedians, December 2013
     Review: John Gingell Award at g39, September 2013
     Review:Response, Annie Giles Hobbs, June 2013
     Review: Arcadecardiff, June 2013
     Review: St David’s Hall exhibition space - Triad and Mount Analogue, January 2013
     Review: St David’s Hall Christmas Exhibition, January 2013
     Taming the Drew? Graffiti as art, September 2012
     Review: Nothing Like Something Happens Anywhere - Chapter Arts Centre, Canton, Cardiff, August 2012
     National Museum of Art, contemporary galleries, March 2012


cylchgrawn Cymru Culture magazine
Published by/Cyhoeddwyd gan: Caregos Cyf., 2017


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