From September 8, 2011 to November 20, 2011 – BAWAG Contemporary – BAWAG Foundation
The artist Bethan Huws’s practice is grounded in a complex process of reflection laid-out to evade all attempts at pinning it down. Language is the predominant theme. In its intense exploration of linguistic issues, Huws’s oeuvre fathoms possibilities of displacement – from one space into another, from one culture into another, from one medium into another. With this approach, the artist succeeds in bringing the original idea of conceptual art up to date; she creates an open space situated between all media, genres, and disciplines without subjecting herself to conventional rules.
Bethan Huws’s work comprises text pieces, drawings, installations, sculptures, performances, and films. The exhibition at BAWAG Contemporary presents the five films the artist made up to now.
Singing for the Sea from 1993 is Huws’s first film. Its impressive choreography merges the voices of eight women and the rhythmic motion of the sea. In a gentle bay, the women from the Bulgarian mountain village of Bistritsa sing to the sea. They sing of shepherds, woods, and young girls while they asynchronously dance anticlockwise in a circle. Their archaic polyphonic song meets with the dancing waves, the ancient sounds from the mountains with the sea. The subtle geographic shift brings two different cultural worlds together and, at the same time, suggests an enigmatically coded communication which, through its poetic form of sending and receiving messages, brings American Indian smoke signals to mind.
ION ON (2003) was originally conceived as a drama for the Yorkshire Sculpture Park to be performed in the open under a big Lebanon cedar. The film is set in a deserted Sardinian landscape of ruins and the surrounding fields. It fathoms the nature of art from Michelangelo to the present day by presenting an actor reciting forty-five scenes of fictitious dialogues between an artist and a curator. The self is replaced by at least two voices, each of which suggests different rhythms and tones through the actor. Rich in thoughts and allusions, the text moves across a variety of places and discourses, fictions and realities in associative shifts.
The Chocolate Bar from 2006 is a short film, whose script confronts us with three characters, three locations, and many different camera perspectives. Rhys Ifans plays himself and two other characters. The film centers on Duchamp’s Bottle Rack hanging in the background like an alien. The script is based on a text by the artist that plays with the various meanings of Mars and bar and the resultant misunderstandings between the characters. The reflection on Marcel Duchamp, Welsh culture, and the failure of communication charges everyday things with a lot of humor and art-theoretical irony.
Fountain (2009) is a visually powerful attempt to present the subject (fountain, source, origin of life, symbol of love, married life, etc.) in its many meanings and within the context of the allegories and myths with which it is interwoven. It combines speaking about Duchamp’s ready-made from 1917 and the waterfall in Étant donnés with the sound of rushing water and spectacular pictures of forty-nine Roman fountains. While seeing these many Baroque fountains, we hear the artist’s voice reciting nine figures of speech which she thinks to have come upon in Étant donnés. Each single fountain describes a new concept and warrants new meaning. Again and again, the flux from one meaning to the next seems to hold the promise of meaningfulness – a promise that is, however, not fulfilled. Metaphorically, Fountain investigates how the sound of rushing water resembles the process of thinking and speaking and the passage of time.
A Marriage in the King´s Forest from 2009 documents a young couple’s wedding reception and transfers it into the fairytale King’s Wood near Challock in Kent in a subtle geographical shift. The original venue of the social ritual – with its souvenir snapshots and the entry of the newlyweds, the cutting of the first piece of the wedding cake and the dance – is an Edwardian ballroom in the Winter Gardens in Margate on the Channel coast. We move around the wedding party in slow takes. The eye of the camera is searching and roaming; it pans into different directions and zooms in on a face or some detail, before it focuses on other persons again. The record of this social choreography in picture and sound confronts inside and outside, culture and nature, time and timelessness – and, all of a sudden, turns the real event into something strange and unreal. (Christine Kintisch)