Advancing on the successes of the previous prize, Artes Mundi 6 has burst into new spaces, challenging the didactics of what an exhibition and prize can be. Each venue and its selection of artists have worked with the space and situation in a way that allows narratives, difficulties, challenges and dialogue to arise within the ‘competition’ complex.
At the National Museum, with the territory, comes a thorough investigation of the language of monument. The interactions with the museum come as overt as Carlos Bunga’s site specific installation ‘EXODUS’ (2014), which encompasses a repeated interpretation of the two pillars in the Derek Williams Galleries made from simple and readily accessible mediums such as cardboard, packaging tape and emulsion, allowing a more conscious human experience of the space. This monumentality is contrasted with maquettes (or models) for works, post-installation drawings and video studies dotted around the space. As a sum of its parts, Bunga’s installation alludes to his foundations in a painting practice, concerning the mapping of a space, human participation and a culture encoded in architecture. With the original space set out with its own idiosyncrasies and rules, Bunga here through maquettes and installations, sets a projected experience for the future, not through any canon, but through an engaged, human interaction.
Renata Lucas, an artist whose past works show a consideration towards public or architectural spaces, opens up a more involved set of factions that go so far as to allow physical interaction with her installation ‘Falha (Failure)’ (2003 – ongoing). A series of plywood boards with adjoining handles are invited to be pulled up or down, continually altering the arena. The boards act as a word in a language that can be reconfigured and translated into new meanings through its interaction. The viewer becomes a pivotal part in the reading of the space, by changing the choreography of the piece in an active and unforgiving way; taking ownership of the language of the monument.
Renzo Martens and the Institute for Human Activities, an organization looking to reap the benefits of critical engagement with art through an emancipation programme in the Congo, have presented a display of sculptural self portraits, originally made by Congolese plantation workers, most of whom are members of the Institute. The sculptures have been 3D scanned and re-cast in chocolate, which has been provided by a high-class Belgian chocolatier, possibly a remark about the exploitation of these workers. The work itself is a catalyst for conversation not only about the situation in the Congo, but how to change it; here through Martens ‘collaborative practice’ he is inviting aspects of gentrification through economic diversity. Arguably the most challenging work in the entire exhibition across all three venues, Martens’ work sits at an uncomfortable junction, where socio-politics, gentrification and human rights all meet.
Adverse to Martens, Chicago-based Theaster Gates rejects ideas of gentrification; presenting an activation of the National Museum of Wales archive of objects, presented as a site through Gates’ own objects and works. ‘A Complicated Relationship between Heaven & Earth or When We Believe’ (2014) roots itself in a less hierarchical system - Gates’ practice instead uses his personal and shared space (although displaced from his home in Chicago) to invite reinvestment, freedom and generosity based on constant evolution, rather than advancement to attain a certain goal.
Translation and interpretation appear to be key traits in Sanja Iveković’s Museum piece ‘Monument to Revolution (after Mies) (work in progress)’ (2014) a small display unit outside the main exhibition space dedicated to a proposal re-imagining Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s destroyed ‘Memorial to Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht’ (1926). Unlike the use of the maquette or blueprint employed by Bunga in order to utilise the language of a ‘monument’, Iveković offers a detailed text format, with key points highlighted. The final highlighted point ‘6. Creating A Platform’ speaks volumes of the modus operandi of Iveković’s practice and her correlation to the history of the monument, and the history of revolution as a whole.
‘Continuity’ (2012), a 40 minute film shown at the rear of the museum by Omer Fast, typically plays with fiction, presentation and the politics of cinema. On the projection we see a repeated scene of a middle-of-the-road, middle class German family, who it appears are picking up their son after conflict, as suggested by his army fatigues. However as the film progresses, we realise that their “son” could in fact be a male prostitute, actor or some other hired person to embody a slightly warped version of him. Maybe they never had a son at all, maybe this is a way to spice up their marriage, (as Fast suggests in an interview about the work). It is that very act of suggestion that is so vitally captivating within Fast’s practice, the role of storytelling and its ability to dive and dart seamlessly between fact and fiction.
The Artes Mundi 6 winner will be announced on January 22nd 2015, however, when viewing the exhibitions the selection of a winner feels completely arbitrary. It is rare, but the very fact that the difficult themes within each of these artist’s work are being dealt with, looked at and put in the faces of the public to consider and at the least to inform, is the real ‘win’ here.