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Review: The Starry Messenger, Bedwyr Williams

(July 12, 2015)

Review: The Starry Messenger - Bedwyr Williams

Starry Messenger, Bedwyr Williams

Bedwyr Williams wins everything. He has been successful both with artistic juries and by public vote time and time again. See his work and you will understand why.

In 2011 Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales, Cardiff hung the still of his bardic performance piece directly next to The Bard, by Thomas Jones (1742-1803); the 1774 oil painting that had inspired it. Williams was dressed in a white sheet with sandals and a harp on a hillside. This immediate juxtaposition was witty and engaging, communicating to people directly.

The Bard by Thomas Jones © National Museum WalesThe Bard, by Thomas Jones, 1774
oil on canvas, 114.5 x 168.0 cm

Image: © Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales

If you are Welsh you may get all misty-eyed at an oil painting of a bard in a beautiful landscape and have a feeling of pride, nostalgia; hiraeth even. When presented with his contemporary interpretation of the same scene, however - combined with the knowledge that we still have bards in this country - you consider how this artistic heritage is being lived now and question yourself on how contemporary that oil painting felt when it was created. It punctuates the snobbishness and rarefied notion of classical art, at the same time as respecting and honouring it.

Williams manages to do this throughout his work. He makes serious points. He communicates with you in a non-condescending way. And he makes you smile - a winning formula that he does not make formulaic.

In 2013 he represented Wales at the Venice Biennale. The installation he showed there, The Starry Messenger, was at the wonderful g39, Cardiff in May and June 2015.

In this installation Williams celebrates the hobbyist, through an artistic take on amateur astronomers. The title itself is a translation of the title of Galileo Galilie's 1610 text Sidereus Nuncius. Again, illustrative of the spirit of making respected classical works relevant and accessible to any audience.


Starry Messenger, Bedwyr Williams Starry Messenger, Bedwyr Williams

The show itself is a labyrinth. You move from dark to light spaces. You hear babbling brooks and see banal objects seemingly rarefied in a temple. Look up and you strain to see and feel awe and wonder. It feels influenced by a mixture of classical architecture; the grottos and rockeries of grand garden design and the visual effects and scale of 60s movies like Clash of the Titans. You feel immersed, and small, and intrigued.

Starry Messenger, Bedwyr Williams

Starry Messenger, Bedwyr Williams Starry Messenger, Bedwyr Williams

Venetian architecture has developed its own solutions to its environmental needs that have created signature details. One of these is the terrazzo tile, these small pieces of marble can move with the building whereas a full marble floor would crack and be ruined. Williams uses this motif throughout the show.

If you identify yourself as one of the pieces you can interpret yourself as insignificant as the light from a single star, or as a part of the carpet of the night sky. You may also make the leap that as individuals we can flex and not be broken by changes in the environment that surround us.


Starry Messenger, Bedwyr Williams Starry Messenger, Bedwyr Williams

In the labyrinth, we find an astronomer’s observatory filled with personal effects and the sounds of a middle aged man. This makes you think about the individual experience of a possibly lonely hobbyist. At the same time you are aware of the universal experience and the wonder of a vast night sky filled with stars. As Williams' dad told him; "It is not always good to think about how much is up there, it can make you feel insignificant."


Starry Messenger, Bedwyr Williams Starry Messenger, Bedwyr Williams
Starry Messenger, Bedwyr Williams Starry Messenger, Bedwyr Williams

From this you are then invited to watch a film, in which Williams plays the part of a dentist made of mosaic It is a fun, colourful, surreal film, which leaves you full of ideas and sounds.

All in all ... an experience to remember.

Jennifer Pearce, July 2015

Intallation images courtesy Chris Brown, © g39
Oxford Street
behind City Road
CF24 3DT

This co-curation by Oriel Davies and MOSTYN was commissioned by the Arts Council of Wales and supported by the Colwinston Charitable Trust.

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

If you liked this, you'll also enjoy:
     Interview with Shani Rhys James
, March 2015

Cardiff Carnival 25th Anniversary Exhibition, March 2015

The Lumen Prize, December 2014

To This I Put My Name, Claire Curneen, March 2014

The Albany Gallery, Cardiff
, Christmas Exhibition, December 2013

Eight and a half Welsh comedians
, December 2013

John Gingell Award at g39
, September 2013
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


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