Artes Mundi Exhibition – Cardiff Museum

I love Wales, all the museums are free and full of amazing things. A trip I had last weekend to Cardiff’s National Museum to see the Artes Mundi Exhibition proved it once again. It is a collection of this year’s selected seven contemporary artists from around the world. I would argue that it in fact is an exhibition of six artists, as stated in the booklet and on the website:

Tania Bruguera consciously rejects the use of the gallery space and uses a combination of installation, social intervention and most prominently performance to explore the role art can play in the politics of daily life.”

It goes on and on in some kind of super art speak, that flaps off your tongue like a wet fish going nowhere in a river of self indulgent rot. In more simple terms, she is exhibiting nothing in the gallery and sticking some posters up around Cardiff and has made pin badges. All for a good cause but not my idea of good art more of a marketing campaign. Should a marketing campaign, even if it is for a good cause, sit next to other thought provoking, beautiful and inspiring artists?

When you walk into the exhibition you are met with an amazing tapestry that shimmers and makes the room into an other-worldly space. The 12m-wide piece fills an entire room and you can walk all the way around it. It depicts figures in fragmented mirror like forms and your imagination brings it to life. I imagine this is a different story for everybody who views it. This was my second favorite work of the exhibition, by Miriam Bäckström.

Miriam Bäckström Tapestry from the Artes Mundi exhibition

Miriam Bäckström’s Tapestry, her Artes Mundi installation inside the National Museum in Cardiff. Photo by Tom Martin © WALES NEWS SERVICE

The next piece I visited was a collection of interesting objects all selected from Wales’ National Museuem’s by an artist Darius Miksys. I liked looking at the objects but found nothing special about the curation, instead interested in each item such as a large fossil, an old fine art illustration and a ticket to a historically significant cricket match.

The third room was filled with an oil barrel and tarpaulin sculpture by Sheela Gowda. I have appreciated artist such as Carl Andre and found his work has previously helped open the door to this kind of art to me. Alas, the door was only slightly ajar for this room’s offerings.

The next installment was an educational and eye opening piece about Cardiff Bay regeneration starting with building the barrage. It focused on the people and organisations involved with and opposed to the development. It is fascinating to think about how the space around us and the environment we live in shapes our lives and enriches our communities, or not. Apolonija Šušteršič will certainly be an artist I will keep an eye out for, I wish her all the best in spreading this important social argument.

The highlight of the show was the installation by Teresa Margolles. This exciting, thought provoking, sensational art consisted of three pieces, all related to death from her training in forensic medicine and work in a Mexican morgue.

The room was dimly lit and from the ceiling, slow, consistent, never-stopping drips fell onto hot iron plates with a satisfying sizzle and puff of steam. It can not be explained in words or images but experienced, so go and see this if you can. The description only made the work more interesting and hit a personal chord with me on my addiction to all things morbid.

Teresa Margolles with her Artes Mundi installation  inside the National Museum in Cardiff.  PIC: Tom Martin © WALES NEWS SERVICE

Teresa Margolles with her Artes Mundi installation inside the National Museum in Cardiff. Photo by Tom Martin © WALES NEWS SERVICE

Another piece in the installation was a tiled floor which someone was murdered on. I read up on morbid tourism for my university studies so felt very fond of this piece, it brought the event to you, an interesting concept. People do go and visit murder sites it is common practice, as I found out, especially serial killers, mass murders and genocides.

Teresa Margolles with her Artes Mundi installation  inside the National Museum in Cardiff.  PIC: Tom Martin © WALES NEWS SERVICE

Teresa Margolles with her Artes Mundi installation inside the National Museum in Cardiff. Photo by Tom Martin © WALES NEWS SERVICE

I noticed a solitary set of headphones hung on the wall as I finished looking at the other two installments. I put them on and listened to the noises, then read the plaque along side them. It was the sound of the autopsy of the murder victim in a morgue, the same one who had died on the tiled floor next to me.

The final artists work to see was Phil Collins who had a whole carousel of photos clunking from one to the next, in a dark room at the very back of the exhibition. I sat through the whole reel of dated -ooking personal shots of holidays, birthdays, weddings and events. He got people to send in unprocessed rolls of film and developed them for them, in exchange to use a few for his art. As a regular visitor to Chapter Arts Centre I also saw the other section of this entry to the Artes Mundi prize, which was two small caravans all done out 80s style with videos playing in them. I enjoyed the retro style of his work and the way he captured a friendly and warm look at normal people, I would have been happy to give him rolls of my old film.

Contemporary art can feel like a load of pretentious tosh, or it can inspire and stick in your mind forever. This exhibition combined the two together elegantly. The prize winner Teresa Margolles from all discussions I have had with fellow viewers, falls under the latter. If you can make it to the exhibition, it is worth a look to even just decide; Art. Not art. Art. Not art. My score was around 4 out of 7 to be brutally honest, over 50% art and a very enjoyable afternoon.

The Artes Mundi Exhibition @ Cardiff’s National Museum is on now and until the 13th January 2013.

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