Review of Artes Mundi 6, Cardiff

Artes Mundi 6 opened in Cardiff on 24 October at the National Museum Cardiff, Chapter and Ffotogallery, features a varied and thought provoking collection of work from nine international artists. Artes Mundi is an exhibition with a difference – both an opportunity to see bold, original art and also to study the entries in an internationally renowned competition before its closing stages when the winner is announced. A panel of independent judges will award one of the artists featured £40,000 on 22 January.

The effects of global imperalism and the ongoing struggle for human rights across the world is a key theme of this years Artes Mundi prize. One of the most memorable of the exhibitions features Omer Fast’s chilling film Continuity, which highlights the human suffering caused by war on family life. The film is displayed in a darkened room within the museum and its scenes portray a couple’s journey to collect their soldier son from the airport – however, it soon becomes clear that all is not what it seems in this depiction of grief and family mourning. Artes Mundi requires the visitor to engage directly with the exhibitions by exploring what each artist is trying to say about the state of the world we live in.

American artist Theaster Gates’ exhibition A Complicated Relationship Between Heaven and Earth focuses on the influence on society of religious beliefs and features a Malinese boli and a Masonic goat. The artist explains that he wanted to “look at the myths and complexities of belief …that linger around my notions of how I see things”. Gates is also making a statement about the hierarchical nature of society and the influence of religion on class oppression in Europe. Similarly, Sanja Ivekovic examines oppression from the point of view of women with an exhibit entitled Donkey Toys Light Box, which features stuffed toy donkeys on shelves. Many of these stuffed toys have been assigned name tags with names of famous women and socialist revolutionaries – perhaps reflecting the way in which these famous men and women can literally end up as museum exhibits whose ideas die with them.

The revolutionary ideas of worker’s rights are also featured in Renzo Marten’s extraordinary Episode 3 DVD, which features him talking with Congolese workers in the plantations founded by the Belgians. Marten’s has encouraged the workers to make their own sculptures out of chocolate and these rough and misshapen figures dominate the room. The workers involved had been working on chocolate plantations throughout their lives and the home made sculptures are the first time many of them have been able to experiment with art.
Experimentation is one of the key words associated with both Renata Lucas and Carlos Bunga’s exhibitons, Fulha and Agora. Both are examples of how open public space can has been radically changed using basic building materials such as plastic, wood and cardboard. Bunga’s work Agora, made solely of cardboard and tape, appears as a cardboard “tunnel” or line of pillars across the museum floor, cleverly illustrating how even the most open of spaces cab be transformed by a simple design into something very different. Fulha witnesses the installation of plywood flooring across an empty museum room, which makes us question our perception about space, design and structure.
The innovative and original art on display helps to ensure that Artes Mundi plays a key role in revitalising the world of modern art. Bold, challenging and dynamic works such as those on display at Artes Mundi 6 provide us with a blueprint for the art of the future.

Artes Mundi 6, until 22 February, National Museum of Wales, Chapter Arts Centre and Ffotogallery, Cardiff.

Bryony Lanham

1. My Labor Is My Protest, South Galleries and 9x9x9, White Cube Bermondsey 7 September – 11 November 2012. © Theaster Gates. Photo: Ben Westoby. Courtesy White Cube.