Category Archives: Exhibitions

Fimbulwinter by David Fitzjohn at Cardiff MADE

I popped into Cardiff MADE this week to have a look at the exhibition/installation they are currently hosting called Fimbulwinter which has been created by artist David Fitzjohn.

The blurb that I had read ahead of visiting the exhibition space was as follows:

In recent work Fitzjohn has used imagery of wilderness and woodland as a metaphor for both a lost ideal (Elysium) and a hoped for future, in order to explore his concerns regarding climate issues and economic imperialism. Fimbulwinter has extended and developed these themes.

This installation has evolved over five years. While its essence remains intact its physical state, like the changing landscape, has morphed with every site-specific experience. Initially conceived as a response to landscape generally, since his relocation to Wales Fitzjohn has become more particularly concerned with the mythic and timeless character of the Welsh landscape. This experience has reinforced his environmental concerns, but also awakened a deeper feeling for the ancient rhythms of nature that remind us of the fluid and changeable state of our reality and the cyclical order of destruction and rebirth embedded in our landscape.

The title Fimbulwinter is taken from Norse mythology, a period of three successive winters without any intervening summer, an environmental disaster that is the prelude to Ragnarok, the end of the world. While the world may not be ending, it is changing and Fitzjohn’s paper-cut is a response to this; his imagining of the end of things as they are, the mutability and adaptability of nature and the hope embedded in possible futures.

Grand eh?

I was all set to get myself a feel for the ancient rhythms of life and to get all worked up about climate change and economic imperialism.

Unfortunately all I encountered was paper-cut trees.

Just paper-cut trees.

Cute paper cut trees.

Fitzjohn’s paper-cut may be his response to the Norse mythological idea of Fimbulwinter, and those mythical tales might well be relatable to ideas about climate change and the end of the world, but unfortunately this paper-cut doesn’t communicate anything whatsoever about these themes.

It’s just paper-cut trees.

I understand that each presentation of the work sees the structure of this paper-cut woodland change to fill a different space and in doing so this might be read as a reflection of our changing world, but you would have to be a Fimbulwinter groupie, following the work from one venue to the next to appreciate this. Instead what is presented at Cardiff MADE is a static installation of aesthetically pleasing paper-cut trees

Ideas about climate change, economic imperialism, environmental disasters, or the hope embedded in possible futures might have inspired Fitzjohn in creating this work but to describe the work as being about these things requires a real stretch of the imagination.

It’s all well and good telling us what themes this work addresses, but if the work itself doesn’t communicate these ideas then it’s a failure in this regard. Isn’t it?

I struggled somewhat trying to figure out what the work was really all about but then I started to wonder if it was actually about the artist himself or aspects thereof…

The installation is not immersive; it is in fact clumps of white paper thin silhouettes of trees that we’re excluded from, forced to navigate our way around them peering through gaps in the entangled branches. We’re required only to observe, not interact with, the work from the outside, peering in, trying to catch a glimpse at what, if anything, might be at the heart of this faux woodland.

I know a few people that could be described by such metaphors, and so it wouldn’t be too much of a leap to wonder whether this is in fact a self-portrait masquerading as something more pretentious.

All said, I actually rather enjoyed walking around the installation. It’s really quite beautiful.

PS: The coffee at Cardiff MADE is not bad.

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Welcome to Roath

We ventured back into the heart of the big city today to visit Milkwood Gallery in Roath, Cardiff, to view their current exhibition, Welcome to Roath (Croeso I’r Rhath), curated by Bob Gelsthorpe.

“Shwmae a croeso i’r rhath, welcome to five responses to the locale of Roath. Welcome to observations of the overlooked, celebrations of the community, the old, the new, the cracks in the pavement and the spaces in between. Welcome to outside perspectives and insider explorations, welcome to an exhibition of CF24 and welcome to Roath” – (via

The exhibition features work by Laura Cooper, Carwyn Evans, Mark Houghton, Tiff Oben & Helene Roberts and Becky Williams. Some of these names are more familiar to us than others with Carwyn Evans having been awarded the Gold Medal for Fine Art in 2011.

There was a mixture of work on display including fabricated steel, wood and glass sculptures by Carwyn Evans, a old table top painted with bands of colour by Mark Houghton and a video ‘installation’ by Tiff Oben and Helene Roberts.

Interestingly the signage on the wall as we entered through into the gallery gave the Curator, Bob Gelsthorpe, equal billing as the artists. We weren’t familiar with his name prior to this exhibition but having done a little online digging we have discovered that he is a recent Fine Art graduate.

Apparently this exhibition was brought together, at least in part, via an open call online:

“Artists/ Makers of any level making work that is critically engaged but also ideally involves the geography, community or idiosyncrasies of Roath. We are currently looking for expressions of interest from artists/makers of any level from Cardiff or further afield in using the Milkwood Gallery as part of a group exhibition, Croeso I’r Rhath/Welcome to Roath” – (via

Whilst the work that was exhibited maybe “critically engaged” at some level there was no apparent engagement between one work and the next in the context of the show. Any concepts revolving around the exhibition’s “Welcome to Roath” theme were also rather lacking which was a shame given that the exhibition purported to present a “celebration of the community“.

Tiff Oben and Helene Roberts’ did presented a video of someone (presumably one of the artists) wrapping bunting around a lamp-post in Roath but we found it rather uninspiring and any ideas that it might have been trying to convey were lost to the deafening silence screaming out from the void between the works.

Becky Williams also presented a locally inspired work entitled the Roath Exploration Experiment. This was a participatory piece that was sloppily represented by a wall of grainy postcard prints curling from all corners. This didn’t do much to encourage us to participate.

Milkwood Gallery is not a large exhibition space and the nooks and crannies resulting from the old architecture of the building would present a challenge for any Curator. In this instance however, there was a sense that the Curator had selected work for the show without any real consideration of how the works would work not only with one another but with space in which they were being exhibited.

The exhibition appeared not to have been curated but roughly assembled.

To suggest that the exhibition had been curated would imply that there was a dialogue between the works on display with regard to the overarching exhibition themes. Unfortunately we found the show lacking in dialogue and any engagement, critical or otherwise, with the exhibition’s central themes that were alluded to in the press release.

That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy some of the work. Mark Houghton’s painted tabletop, for example, was appealing but in the context of this exhibition it was difficult to get a handle on the work at a conceptual level. The work would appear to be a part of a wider practice which say nothing to us of the “geography, community or idiosyncrasies of Roath“.

We’ve complained before on this blog about the all to free and easy use of the word “Curator” and derivations thereof and this exhibition was a prime example of the way in which the term has been dumbed down to be nothing more than a fanciful word for an “organiser”, “administrator” or on occasion “collector”.

Whilst we’d certainly look out for an opportunity to view work by these artists in a different context, on this occasion we were left a little cold as a result of the (lack of) presentation and curatorial nous.

The show continues until the end of the month so there’s still time for you to visit the gallery and make your own mind up.

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Art & Design Masters Exhibition 2012

We took the opportunity to sneak into Cardiff School of Art & Design at Howard Gardens earlier this week in order to have a look around their 2012 Masters exhibition. With smaller numbers of students studying at this postgraduate level Masters courses are held up as the flagships for their parent institutions. With this in mind we were looking forward to seeing whether this latest crop of students had produced any memorable masterpieces.

Those familiar with Howard Gardens will know that visitors are welcomed into the main gallery. This is a dedicated gallery space that hosts a programme of monthly exhibitions by both established and emerging artists. As with school’s undergraduate degree show earlier this summer this gallery space was given up to the exhibiting students for the duration of the Masters exhibition. In fact the main gallery housed an exhibition of work solely by MA Ceramics students.

We’ll come back to this exhibition space later though and instead start with a look at the work in the exhibition space behind the gallery. After all it’s better to finish on a high isn’t?

The exhibition space behind the gallery accommodated a mixed exhibition from students studying MA Fine Art, Masters of Fine Art, Masters of Design and MA Art and Design – no we don’t know quite exactly how all these courses differ from one another either.

With there only being nine students exhibiting across all four of these courses students work was scattered around the exhibition space making use of spaces that was most suitable for their work rather than being clustered together by course title as is sometime the case with the more jam packed undergraduate exhibitions.

The first body of work we encountered, by Jan Williams, was perhaps the highlight of this second exhibition space. We’ve come across Jan’s work once before but the work here was quite a departure from the traditional painting I’d experienced last time. One large wall was painted with geometric forms all in shades of white and the back wall was lime-washed. In the middle of the space hung a white painted wooden frame which could well have been the stretcher for a painting.

According the blurb accompanying Jan’s work she is interested in architectural forms and their relationship to memory and identity. This is quite apparent in the beautifully subtle work presented and in fact we found that the most engaging piece of work that she presented was a video documenting the lime-washing. Seeing the time spent working to repetitively wash the wall gave a good understanding of how the process could help the artist to contemplate her own identity.

The rest of the work on display in this second gallery space unfortunately left us a little cold.

Donna Lee Downe presented an MFA archive to which visitors were invited to contribute. This appeared to be cut up slices of paperwork and notes that she had collected throughout the course of her studies. The archive as presented was clearly a document of Donna’s MFA experience.

There was however, no direction for visitors; we were simply asked to make a contribution. As outsiders to the work we couldn’t really get our heads around the way in which shoe-horning visitor’s contributions into this archive was of any value to the project without any form of guidance. It seemed ill thought out and simply an act of audience engagement for the sake of it.

Paul Appleby presented a collection of photographs printed from glass negatives he found at the bottom of a cupboard full of junk. The act of presenting recently re-discovered images like this is hardly new and this presentation certainly wasn’t very inspiring. Of course there is a Romantic quality to old images like these but presenting them as the work of art themselves is tiresome. It’s a shame that Paul didn’t feel inspired to create some new work of his own as a result of this discovery.

Shaun Featherstone had created an installation based upon his Great Frock ‘n’ Robe Swindle newspaper which was an anti-Queen’s Jubilee publication. Obviously this exhibition was several months too late as the Queen’s Jubilee has been and gone and the work would have no doubt had more of an impact if exhibited at the height of the celebrations..The installation relied on a punk aesthetic to convey Shaun’s stance. This might have been effective in the late nineteen seventies but with the aesthetic having been popularised and made palatable by the fashion industry the impact of the work was questionable. We left the exhibition still undecided as to whether Shaun’s work was a serious stab at the monarchy or whether it was a tongue in cheek dig at those voicing their anti-monarchy opinions.

In addition to these art installations there were a number of other works by students who took a more design based approach to their practices. Unfortunately these were all let down by atrocious presentation.

Steven Coleman’s poster was slapped loosely across the wall whilst his panels of text were horribly mounted with grotesque bubbles of air between them and their foamcore support. Bobby Alkady’s name was hand written on his information plaque: clearly the student had forgotten to include this (some would say reasonable important) piece of information on his exhibition literature. Chris Moebus’s printouts were also horribly mounted.

There was also one sculpture constructed from magazines standing in the middle of two exhibition spaces that we were unable to attribute any credit to.

Fortunately our spirits were lifted as we headed back into the main Howard Gardens gallery. The MA Ceramics course in Cardiff is well regarded and it’s not hard to see why.

When recalling the show Sharon James’ ceramic sculptures are the first to jump into my mind. The sculptures were developed using 3D CAD software which produced the vividly coloured organic looking objects presented to us here. They were fair sized and somewhat surreal looking objects which gave us the feeling of entering into a strange world akin to Alice wandering through Wonderland.

Conor Maguire’s large black installation also made a lasting impression. It was great to see some work in this exhibition that really went some way to explode the idea that ceramics is ‘merely’ craft. The jet black sculpture was as far removed from the traditional pottery that the uninitiated may have expected to see as one could get. The work was comprised of elements including what appeared to be a brain alongside what could be read as a laden crucifix or even a pyre. This allegorical work provided a lot of fuel for thought.

The rest of the work on display fitted more closely with our preconceived idea of what a ceramics exhibition might look like but was totally engaging throughout from Alaa Abdullah’s Arabian influenced spheres to Laura Lillie’s objects exploring the processes involved in the creation and development of her work.

The exhibition of ceramics in the Howard Gardens gallery was produced to an exceptionally high standard as was the work on show. One can understand why the gallery was given over to an exhibition of work solely from this one course.

When the other courses involved in this postgraduate exhibition start to aspire to achieve the standards set by their Ceramics counterparts Cardiff School of Art will have surely have a Masters exhibition to be reckoned with.

Until then…

Cardiff School of Art & Design
Masters Exhibition
7 – 14 September 2012

You can view a digital copy of the exhibition catalogue as a pdf by clicking here.

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We stumbled across Becoming… at The Old Library in Cardiff this weekend having seen the sandwich board at the steps of the building enticing us away from our retail therapy. As we discovered once inside the exhibition features work by graduates of the Masters of Fine Art course at Cardiff School of Art and Design from 2008.

When it comes to what’s going on in the visual art world in Cardiff We like to think we have our finger on the pulse but this exhibition had slipped under our radar. With that in mind we were intrigued by what we might find in the gallery having not been armed with press releases and such prior to our visit.

First impressions count for a lot, especially in the world of visual arts, and unfortunately Becoming… stumbled at the first hurdle. As we entered the exhibition space we were greeted by photographs mounted onto folded corrugated cardboard supports hanging limply from the wall. The first work we encountered was a shabbily cobbled together shelf of what we can only presume were supposed to be plastic bottles filled with urine. Things didn’t get much better as we explored the rest of the exhibition; poorly constructed light-boxes were hung with so many cables sprouting from them that we weren’t sure as to whether this was an aesthetic statement or a lack of professionalism on the part of the artist.

We can’t tell you whose work this was because none of the work was labelled at all. The only information about the artists and their work that was available took the form of a horribly produced ‘catalogue’. The copy we picked up featured a small amount of information about the artists involved. Clearly each individual had produced their own entry for this publication as the fonts change from serif to sans-serif and back again throughout and there are only one or two pages that share the same lay out. One artist’s page in the middle of the document had even been printed on card in contrast to every other page.

The information within the catalogue wasn’t in the slightest bit useful since the images accompanying the artists’ statements it didn’t necessarily match the work that was on display. As there were no labels next to the artworks we were left to entertain ourselves by trying to match the artists listed in the catalogue with their work. This wasn’t an easy task as some of the artists named on the list of exhibitors were not featured in the catalogue at all.

We tried to put the poor presentation aside, and having had a good look around the work on show we found three artists whose work we felt stood out above the rest:

Chris Short’s black and white photographs of the sea had a beautiful ethereal quality to them that drew us in to the work. Despite the mechanistic qualities of the media he successfully manages to capture the deceptively benign force of the water.

Ben Lloyd’s installation, Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing, features a large number of pre-owned soft toys that have all been dipped in building plaster. The objects allude to a sense of time passed and the preservation of intimate memories of our childhood. However, there is also a somewhat sombre undertone to these mummified toys as result of their bringing to mind an archaeological find. Whilst transporting us back to our childhood the objects also remind us of those memories that have been lost and of a time in our lives before our innocence was lost and we weren’t burdened by the stresses of modern living.

Kimberley Adams’ contribution to the exhibition was minimal. We almost passed by her heavily embroidered pieces of canvas that were simply tacked onto the ends of some exhibition panels. Adams’ practice explores ideas of identity. The work shown at Becoming… features portraits that only show a part of the sitters face; there is an eye on one wall and a nose and mouth on the other. The labour intensive method of production used suggests that the artist spent a lot of time studying her subject but we are only given small visual clues as to the identity of the persons pictured. Adams asks us to question How much visual information contributes to a person’s identity?

It’s a shame that the exhibition hasn’t been produced to a high standard as all the works on display would certainly benefit from a stronger exhibition environment and some curatorial nous. We would certainly like to see some of the work by the artists mentioned above in a different context to fully appreciate them.

This years exhibition by current students on the Masters courses at Cardiff School of Art and Design opens later this month. We will be fascinated to see how they compare to the class of 2008.

Becoming… continues until the 28 September 2011:
10:00am – 5:00pm Monday to Saturday
10:00am – 4:00pm Sunday

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I Know Something About Love: Part II

I know Something About Love Part II 30 August 2011

We took advantage of the long bank holiday weekend recently to take ourselves off to Swansea to see the current exhibition, I Know Something About Love Part II, at the Glynn Vivian Gallery. The exhibition, initiated by the Parasol Unit Foundation, brings together the work of three international artists; Shirin Neshat, Yang Fudong, and Christodoulos Panayiotou.

The first work we came across was Yang Fudong’s three channel video installation Flutter, Flutter… Jasmine, Jasmine. The film focusses upon the relationship between a young couple in the city as they are interviewed in on roof tops by an anonymous interviewer who remains behind the camera. Although initially sweet and seemingly rather innocent the interview becomes slightly discomforting as the line of questioning leads towards the couple’s sex life which they clearly are not so comfortable discussing so openly. Following this the couple both sing along to, what we have since discovered is a very successful Chinese pop hit. This reference was unfortunately lost at the time of viewing the work.

The film presents an interesting exploration of the innocence and naivety of young love although it was not easy to engage with the film. Of course, some subtleties are always lost in translation when watching foreign films but it was actually the camera work and presentation of the work that distracted from the content. It could be argued that the naive nature of the camera work reflected the naivety of displayed by the couple but unfortunately we found that the simple camera work something of an obstacle to really engaging with the work.

Similarly we struggled to understand the purpose of the three channel presentation. Perhaps if we hadn’t been reliant on the work’s subtitles we would have been able to focus more on the imagery. It didn’t seem that there was a a particularly cohesive pattern to the way in which the video channels had been cut until the final scenes in which she danced in the street whilst he posed on his motorbike.

Christodoulos Panayiotou’s video, Slow Dance Marathon, explores the social construction of love through song and dance. A ramshackle stage has been erected on which couple after couple take it in turn to slow dance together to numerous love songs and power ballads.

As a concept we really warmed to the this work but the execution left us a little frustrated as the marathon had been condensed to a video just 4 minutes and 22 seconds. In this format the temporal way in which we treat love in the modern world is brought to the fore but we couldn’t help feeling that if the documentation of the performance presented in the gallery was more of a marathon it would have been a more powerful piece. To have seen the couples having their 3 or 4 minutes on stage slow dancing together in the context of something much greater would certainly have conveyed the transience of modern love whilst reinforcing some of the concepts of time passing that the idea of a marathon conveys.

Perhaps that the marathon suggested in the title was negligible was the whole point of the video, or perhaps the video should only be seen as a documentation of a public performance. We were left wanting but the work certainly raises a lot of questions.

The final work that we encountered was Iranian artist Shirin Neshat’s Fervour which is a two channel video installation. From the credits we watched roll it was apparent that this was a well funded film and it clearly showed. The film was beautifully shot in black in white and explores the theme of forbidden love in the context of Islamic society.

We watch as a man and woman pass one another at a cross roads and appear to share a connection, walking away from one another tentatively as he looks back at her walking away. We then see the pair as they attend a sermon where men and women are segregated yet their intangible connection seems to transcend the physical obstacle that is placed between them. On occasion the two channel projection is used to reinforce the physical barrier between the couple whilst it also facilitates their interaction as they gaze at one another across the ethereal cinematic void between the two screens.

Neshat’s film is a powerful poetic piece of work that warrants repeated viewings.

I Know Something About Love Part II is on display until Sunday 4 September 2011 at the Glynn Vivian Gallery, Swansea. It’s an exhibition that features three very different approaches to the examination of love through film and video and we’d definitely recommend it.

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CSAD Masters Exhibition

We took ourselves over to the Howard Gardens galleries at Cardiff School of Art and Design last weekend to have a look around the Masters Degree shows. The exhibitions feature work by students studying postgraduate degrees in Art and Design, Ceramics and Fine Art.

The main gallery space through which we entered the exhibition housed work by MA Ceramics students and we were pleasantly surprised. I must admit that we had fully expected it to be an exhibition of ceramic vessels and figurines. What confronted us instead was an array of abstract ceramic objects and installations that certainly bucked the notion that ceramics is craft and not art. Work by Julia Rempel and Michelle-Rose Quinn in particular stood out as we explored the gallery.

One of Rempel’s exhibits consisted of oversized salt and pepper shakers fixed high up on the gallery wall with piles of salt and pepper beneath them apparently having fallen forth from the perforated letters on the top of the vessels. There was something of a fantastical quality to these shakers that perhaps could have been exploited even further. As we stood beneath them we were reminded of tales such as that of the Borrowers or even Alice in Wonderland as she shrinks before falling down the rabbit hole.

Quinn’s work consisted of what appeared to be items cast in clay which included a pair of boots, a pair of gloves and an empty coat hook. The objects were not coloured but all presented in a white ghostly finish. There was a really lovely subtle suggestion of presence without presence. There was a definite sense of time, and to some extent place, about the work that certainly set our imaginations wandering. Our only criticism would be not of the work but of the space allocated to it. Quinn’s work would definitely have benefited from having more room to breathe. This feeling was exacerbated by the apparently disproportionate amount of space that was allocated to the Fine Art and Art and Design students.

You would have to be beyond blind to miss Dom Williams’ work as you enter the Fine Art exhibition space. The giant, hot pink, plush toy in the centre of the studio space towers over visitors. The creature has an amplifier installed inside it and so could be heard grumbling and rumbling as its tail was agitated by visitors. Accompanying this was a graffiti wall upon which gallery goers were invited to make their own contribution to the exhibition with Posca pens and markers. Williams’ work seemed to us to be indicative of a trend that we’ve seen in the arts over that last year or so which has seen more urban art forms encroaching upon the world of fine art. It is something however, that until now we have not really seen within Welsh art.

Exhibited alongside these bright bold works were some more traditional drawings and paintings from Hilary Wagstaff and Cathryn Lowri Griffith. These works were interesting but ultimately didn’t grab our attention. Dan Griffiths’ video installations however, divided our opinions. The first that we saw was a dark room in which broken skateboards and old skate shoes were suspended from the ceiling. The floor was littered with reclaimed TV screens on which were playing videos which had been recorded whilst the artist had been skateboarding around Cardiff. On the wall was an inscription indicating the number of skateboards and shoes that Griffiths had been through and also suggesting that all of the recordings being show had taken place over a two year period. Although engaging, the presentation of the work did nothing to convey the passing of time that the title suggested was of importance and ultimately the work felt somewhat fragmented.

The second video by Griffiths was a reel that was over twenty minutes long showing him trying to perfect a hop on his skateboard. One could imagine some visitors dismissing it far too quickly (as we witnessed) assuming that because it featured skateboarding it wasn’t for them. However, the endless repetition was fascinating. It is something that most all of us have experienced at some point in our lives: repeating an action to perfect it, and after having spent some time sat watching the video we actually found that it became somewhat soothing.

Minna Oberg’s work was also rather fascinating. Entitled Failed, the artist presented a number of photographs of an installation that didn’t quite happen. It was clear that photographs had been taken in the space in which they were presented. It was lovely to see that artist had been able to see, and accept, that the work she had intended to present was failing and that she had the confidence to react to this situation and still produce something note worthy for the exhibition. It was a shame since we are rather partial to a little installation art but the photographs presented the possibility of such a work of art and in some respects allowed the visitor to imagine the finished work themselves.

There was further work on display on the fourth floor which included prints, paintings and drawings but unfortunately these left us a little cold. The fifth floor was occupied by just one artist; Alan Goulbourne. His exhibition consisted of a number of abstract paintings and prints alongside some large installations which included an effigy of tree assembled from the branches of felled trees. If nothing else you can clearly say that Goulbourne is prolific but ultimately he failed to inspire us on this occasion.

Overall we enjoyed our little excursion to Cardiff School of Art and Design for their postgraduate exhibitions. There really is a little something for everyone on display whether your passion is for ceramics, painting, sculpture, print making or drawing. There is far more on display than we have managed to covered here as some of the work was just not to our taste and some was unfortunately so poorly labelled that we have no idea whose, or in some cases even what, it was.

You should definitely go and check it out for yourself whilst you can. The exhibition is open now and will continue until the 24 September 2010.

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Artes Mundi 4

We finally got around to visiting the Artes Mundi 4 Prize exhibition at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff this week. It’s an interesting project; the prize is awarded every two years and at £40,000 it is one of the largest arts prizes in Europe. However, rather than being established to promote the work and talent of artists in Wales it’s aim is to bring art into the country from all across to globe to highlight the cross-cultural impact that art can have. As a result Artes Mundi 4 features work from as far away as Peru and from little known countries such as Kyrgyzstan which is sandwiched to the east between Kazakhstan and China. Needless to say, having taken in some of this information prior to our visit we were looking forward to an exciting array of international arts.

The first work we encountered was that of Peruvian artist Fernando Bryce. The room‘s walls had been covered with framed hand drawn copies of pages from newspapers from the turn of the twentieth century. Bryce has meticulously copied the pages from newspapers and books in Indian ink and re-presented them to us here in the gallery. The majority of these newspapers were European or North American and due to the glut of information that was presented it took us some considerable time to make our way around the room.

Unfortunately we are not a linguistically gifted bunch and so we had to decipher what we could from the content presented in foreign languages through the accompanying images and the occasional recognisable words. It was certainly an interesting exhibit. Reading the propaganda and stories about political and social upheavals that were appearing in the newspapers at the time with regard to what is happening in the world today gave us cause to pause for thought. However, the display felt more akin to a museum exhibit than a work of art. We struggled to understand Bryce’s need to have spent what must have been some considerable amount of time copying these articles. There was nothing apparent in his drawings that appeared to suggest that he had added anything to them physically or philosophically, and Artes Mundi’s claims that his “process of copying, highlights the ways in which facts are constructed, culture is described and history is reported” seem somewhat unfounded. We felt that he could have highlighted these points equally as well by presenting the originals or even photo copies thereof.

Having examined Bryce’s drawings we moved on to a look at a series of photographs by Olga Chernysheva entitled “Cactus Seller”. The images appeared to have been taken inside a natural history museum of sorts. The monochromatic series featured shots of empty spaces and taxidermied museum exhibits that were interspersed with images of an old man looking after a collection of cacti with a small stall in the foyer of the museum. The man in question was not posing for the photographs but going about his business apparently unaware that he is being observed. He is presented in such away that he seems as if he is as much a part of the museum’s exhibit as the artefacts featured in some of Chernysheva’s other images.

There was also a reel of Chernysheva’s videos playing at the exhibition although we didn’t stumble across these until later due to the way in which the show had been curated as they had been separated from her photographs by another artists work. There were three videos roughly shot from afar at what appeared to be community events in her homeland of Russia. The most interesting of these was footage of some young boys dressed in military uniforms looking somewhat uncomfortable and unable to stand still. Next to them a troupe of slightly older cheerleaders were performing some rather lacklustre routines whilst a band played a repetitive tune across the top of the whole event. It was the children’s apparent discomfort that was most appealing about this video. We’re sure that it was not the dressing up that was causing them such discomfort but that they had clearly been made to adopt the role of adults for the purpose of this event, for example, as guardsmen standing to attention.

Chen Chieh-jen’s videos explored ideas relating to migration and consumerism with one video relating to each theme on display at the exhibition. The first of these that we watched was filmed at an airport and consisted of a number of Taiwanese women recounting stories about their attempts to get visas to visit the US. The second, “Factory” was a beautifully shot silent film shot in a derelict factory in Taiwan. We found the first of these two videos the more engaging which was perhaps down to the human stories that were being recounted. However, upon reflection it was perhaps the latter that we enjoyed the most. Without the stories as a sound track to the work we felt more freedom to absorb the imagery and give consideration to the spaces presented in relation to the theme that Chieh-jen. Although engaging, both the videos could certainly gone further to explore the themes at their core. In “Empire’s Borders”, for example, the medium could have been used to much greater effect. The static shots of the women telling their stories did to add a great deal to the work and as it stands. We didn’t feel the work would have lost much add it have been just audio.

Yael Bartana’s politically motivated work consisted of three videos and a couple of posters which had been produced en masse and were available for visitors to take home. One of these was a pictogram explaining how to create a wooden tower similar to that featured in one of the videos, “Wall and Tower”, and the second was a manifesto. Unfortunately we failed to fully appreciate the film, “Wall and Tower”, which is perhaps a result of our own ignorance with regard to world history. We’ve since been undertaking a little investigation and will be back to watch it again in due course.

Of the video works on display it was certainly the most filmic and was extremely enjoyable as we watched a group of people dressed as workers march into Poland where they proceeded to construct the said wall and tower of the title. The film clearly shows the creation of this structure in a public space and so the video becomes both a documentary as well as a political statement. Given the level of production in the video we were left in no doubt that the work was being presented as more than just a documentary. It would be interesting to compare the reactions of those people viewing the video with those who encounter the construction of the wall and tower.

Possibly the most disappointing work to be included in Artes Mundi 4 was the work of Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev from Kyrgyzstan. Their work documents life along the silk roads of their homeland along which silk would have once been transported from Asia to Europe. Of course transport has moved on since these times and now the Kyrgyzstani people are left to make their living by any means they can. A number of photographs provided us with examples of the way in which these people do this, for example, by driving caravans of lorries full of scrap metal into china for smelting and recycling. Although interesting to observe the life which these people live the artists really offered no critical insight into their subject. In addition to these photographs we were presented with an enormous five panel video installation. Again we saw images of people working and trucks travelling along the silk roads. As the videos unfolded we got a feel for the rhythm of life along the silk road but from a visual point of view we felt that Kasmalieva and Muratbek failed to make great use of the five video screens.

There was yet more video installation work on display from Ergin Çavu?o?lu. “Liminal Crossing” was one of our favourite works at this year’s exhibition as we watched, what appeared to be, a family pushing a piano across the border at the crossing between Bulgaria and Turkey. It is a very real place and there is real sense of struggle as the protagonists push the piano along despite the grim weather and steadily failing light. There was a magical quality to the film that drew us in as we watched them working together to pass through the border control. The video was edited in such a way that real sense of time passing was created. It provided a beautiful metaphor for life, of the passing from one place, one point in time, to another.

We weren’t so fond of the second of Çavu?o?lu’s video installations which was comprised of three screens and appeared to be shot in the Hebridean islands. It again dealt with ideas of time and place. The focus of this work was a father and son whom we assumed were being played by actors since dialogue between them felt scripted and unnatural.

The final work we viewed was that of Adrian Paci. Having already spent the best part of five hours taking in the work on show we must admit that we only skirted around his large tempura painted “Facades”. These large free standing paintings presented us with a brief story as the panels were divided up into squares each depicting different picture in the manner of a story board.

Although we might’ve not given these paintings the time they deserved we were very happy that we’d waited for Paci’s 35mm film, “Per Speculum”, to rewind. It was a beautifully shot and very cleverly staged piece. We were shown a group a children in an idyllic setting in a lush green landscape with clear blue skies above. As the camera pans out we realise that it is a reflection of the children we are seeing in a mirror that is fixed in the ground. This idyll is shattered when one of the boys throws a stone at the mirror mutilating the reflection of the children. We then see the children taking the shards of glass sitting in a tree and reflecting the sun towards the camera. The camera pans out so far that we can no longer see the children but just the reflections of the sun bouncing across the screen. A real sense of magic is created as the light dances randomly across this idyllic backdrop. The work conjures up ideas of worlds within worlds and asks us to question that which we believe to be real. It was a fantastically poetic way to end the exhibition.

The Artes Mundi 4 exhibition is open until 6 June 2010 at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff. Entry is free so there is no excuse not to go and see it if you are in the area, we’ll certainly be back for more. Of course we will be waiting excitedly to hear who will be awarded with the grand prize on the 19 May.

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Chapter: Helen Frik

We went to check out the new Helen Frik exhibition at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff today. Frik was originally born in Worcester but now resides and works in Holland. This exhibition, ‘Difficult’, is her first solo exhibition in a public gallery in the UK and comprises three newly commissioned works which are supplemented by a number of works from the ‘Frik Collection’.

Upon entering the gallery space we were confronted by a rather surreal giant pink inflatable pink hand supporting cut out figure and protruding from a roughly made wooden passageway. This was the first of Frik’s new installations and to be totally honest we paid little attention to this bizarre housing as we were more intent on listening out for the noises that were being emitted through the passageway. The noises hissed and crackled occasionally building to a crescendo as they erupted into bursts of music. Meanwhile out of the other side of the passageway a large sculpture covered by a sheet of fabric was, every now and then, being de-robed by very sudden loud bursts of gas which would give the most prepared spectator a shock. The said fabric was left to fall to the floor exposing the garish, vaguely figurative, sculpture for all to see.

The final new work was tucked away behind a curtain in the furthest gallery space. The room was littered with hundreds of handmade toys all placed around a very oversized lamp in the middle of the room. This was actually the piece of work that brought us to the exhibition in the first place as all the toys had been handmade and donated by the public, including a couple of friends of Culture-Candy. Unfortunately it was a little underwhelming. Although there were apparently almost four hundred toys in the room, they failed to satisfactorily occupy the space and present us with a’ sea of toys’ as the exhibition information promised. The toys seemed to have been distributed throughout the space in a way which suggests the artist was trying to fill it rather than imbue the objects with any kind of energy. The accompanying literature talked of the toys escaping from something unknown to us and being drawn towards the light. The reality was however, that the toys felt static, more like they had been discarded and forgotten about rather than being full of a mysterious energy.

The most interesting piece we found on display as a part of ‘Difficult’ was an older work entitled Happy with Less Visits The Hard Worker (pictured above), in which an anonymous figure sits slumped at a desk under which there is the image of three woman on their knees. The contradiction between the lifeless form at the desk and the sexual energy with which the work is charged; implied by both the image of the women on their knees and the phallic object on the desktop; was discordant and unsettling. The suggestions of impotence and apathy towards life were clear and the realisation of how easily one can succumb to these afflictions was driven home by the clever combinations of very clearly recognisable imagery.

On the whole we felt that the older work displayed in Gallery Three, including Happy with Less Visits The Hard Worker and a number of drawings and collages such as those pictured at the top of this article, was certainly the most engaging part of the exhibition. The newly commissioned works seemed to lack the clear communication that was apparent in the earlier works and relied more upon a number of playful gimmicks to engage the audience. There is no doubt that the playfulness of these new works drew the attention of visitors to the gallery. However,we felt that the work did little more than this and did not give spectators any real cause to pause for thought. Even whilst reflecting upon the work we struggled to understand it’s purpose. Then again maybe we’re trying too hard to find a meaning, perhaps this is the difficulty that Frik talks of and we have been lured into this awkward debate about the work by the artist.

Despite our criticisms we would urge you to go and make your mind up for yourself. The exhibition is worth a visit just to experience Frik’s earlier work alone which, although displaying traits of the playfulness that is present in her new work, is also thought provoking and at times quite profound . The exhibition runs at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, until Sunday 9 May 2010.

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