One of the things I needed to do for my constellation group was go to the Artes Mundi exhibition and then select one of the pieces to write about but before I write about my selected piece, I wanted to write a little about the exhibition as a whole.
My favourite work was Bedwyr Williams’ piece called Big Towers. It wasn’t just the super comfortable bean bags that I liked about this piece, it was the whole idea of it. It showed on a big 4K screen this big city that had been built in North Wales. It was a city that could likely never exist but has been made to by the imagination of Williams. The whole thing is very subtle, it can take a minute so realise that there is a very slow transition from day to night and then an audio comes on and details snippets of the daily lives of the people living in this big city. It was so captivating and compelling that I found myself searching for the people and things that were being described because there was such careful detail in the visual aspect that I wondered if I might start to see people wondering around this city. However there weren’t any people in the video which made for a somewhat eerie feeling.
My only complaint really about the Artes Mundi 7 was that so much of it seemed to revolve around films. I really would have liked more variety.
The piece that I wanted to talk about is the A/V piece by Neïl Beloufa called World Domination in which the artist invited some people who were not actors by trade to take on the roles of a war council and discuss, well, world domination. This was not all there was to it however because the ‘screen’ that this video piece was projected onto was all bumpy and it distorted the faces of the characters. The other thing to note was that the screen was on a rail system that went from side to side every now and then which meant that you could only see one half of the room the people were having their discussion in at once.
I think that this piece could have been really interesting and might have offered some insights or viewpoints into geopolitics that I have not seen or heard before. The problem that I had with it is that the whole thing felt really, really clunky and not at all that intelligent to me. It was like it didn’t want to assume any knowledge at all from the viewer and so it felt like it needed to spell everything out. This frustrated me because it felt like it was trying so hard to be edgy and intellectual about world affairs but it wasn’t in my opinion. I think this is because they would always go for the obvious line of discussion which for me just killed any kind of tension or danger that might have been building up. One of the main examples of this was when they started discussing whether or not to invade Asia. Now to me, this topic of discussion is a really interesting and extremely important one because there is a war of some sort brewing in the east whether it be between China and Japan or China and America and even more elements that I don’t have time to discuss here, there is something bubbling away that will have enormous effect on the whole world. But rather than discuss the possibility of going to war on Asia (I was wondering if it was trying to infer China without directly stating it more maybe it did actually mean Asia as a whole to which I would want to know why and how?) it would have been a really interesting discussion and maybe more insightful but no. All I got were words to the effect of ‘no we can’t do that they have all the money’ end of discussion. And that’s kind of how the whole thing felt to me, it would lead into some interesting topics but it resolve the discussion on said topics before it even got into any of the meat which is why it seemed so superficial to me. Maybe it would have been better to have been more focused on a discussion about taking over one part of the world. Or maybe they (the actors or the artist) were too afraid to go into depth and reach a potentially controversial topic in which case I might ask why bother?
Perhaps the laugh is on me though. Maybe I’m missing something that would make this piece way more interesting to me, I don’t know. There were some elements of the piece I really liked though. I liked that some of the subtitles were cut off the screen because the screen would have needed to be wider to fit them all in. I liked that because it meant you couldn’t grasp the entirety of what was being said although there were plenty of times were you saw enough words to make sense of the discussion (hence how I was able to comment on it) which is good because it means you could follow what was being said but maybe it could have been interesting if the artist played with the idea of cutting sentences in half like this a bit more, perhaps get it to the point where you can’t follow the full story very well at all.
On a similar vein to the subtitles, I liked that you couldn’t see everyone in the room all at the same time. It meant it was hard to gauge people’s reactions to things that were being said. I liked the ambiguity and that I couldn’t entirely trust the people in the film because I couldn’t see them in order to judge their intention.
As for the distortion of the screen however? I’m sorry but I just found it to be such an obvious borderline immature metaphor that it just annoyed me more than anything. There are way more subtle and interesting ways to show ulterior motives and untrustworthy people like the cinematography, set composition, body language and more.
I liked some of the aspects of this piece but I just think it needed a kind of maturing or something like that in order to make it into something that really is daring and bold and not generic and trying to be all ‘ooh look at me I’m being geopolitical’ which to me it felt like it was. Like I said, I could have been missing something, maybe the overall leader in the group was some kind of dictator and the other people in the group were afraid of going against him or were indoctrinated into having the same belief system, it’s hard to say but I’m not totally convinced by that. Maybe it wasn’t any of those things and I totally missed the point.
I think it should have taken more of a page from Williams’ book and had more faith in the viewer to infer things and take things away and really think about it rather than try to serve everything on a plate and allow itself to delve in the depths of interesting topics like I so badly wanted it to.