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International Art English in Wales - the New Welsh Review Blog

BLOG João Morais

NWR Issue 99

International Art English in Wales

Ever been to a gallery and found yourself confused by what is on the walls or on the floor, only to read the accompanying literature for some help, to find that you are now even more befuddled? You will be pleased to know that you are not alone. Two academics have recently written for the online magazine Triple Canopy about the phenomenon, which they termed International Art English or IAE. In essence, this is an elitist form of pseudo-communication which aims to bamboozle the reader with extraneous words in order to indicate the presence of art. According to the writers of the article, IAE ‘has everything to do with English, but it is emphatically not English.’ And I couldn’t agree more.

You see, I am a regular visitor and reviewer of art exhibitions. Whilst I love the visual aspect of art, I often find art literature in the guise of exhibition catalogues and artist’s statements to be barely readable. There are countless examples of Wales-based practitioners of IAE. Artists don’t collaborate anymore. Earlier this year at ArcadeCardiff, Brychan Tudor and Joanna Young instead had a ‘physical manifestation of an emerging dialogue between two distinctive creative practitioners.’ In the same vein, artists no longer respond to the work of other artists, and cannot be inspired by one another. Instead, there is a ‘dynamic interplay between the artists’ interventions.’ as witnessed by Swansea’s Elysium Gallery show at last year’s Hay Festival. And what is the point of creating video art when instead you can make a ‘film installation’? Gideon Koppel must be doubly talented. Go to Chapter Arts Centre all this month and not only can you see his film B O R T H, you can also see how he placed a projector on a wall, too.

If you were also at Chapter’s bar last month you may have seen a deceivingly ambiguous bit of IAE. Robert Kennedy, last month’s Art in the Bar resident, is, according to Chapter publicity, ‘governed by his environment… the work he produces is less about statements and more a loose archaeology of situation.’

While you might find Kennedy’s statement puzzlingly uncertain, at least it is not totally baffling for the sake of being totally baffling. This is the only reason I can find for Shaun James’ statement for his show in Cardiff’s Milkwood Gallery this spring. Why else would you want to ‘reject the static in favor {sic} of an ontological approach to objects in their permanent states of flux,’ I wonder?

One of my favourites is last autumn’s Artes Mundi winner, Teresa Margolles, whose work at the National Museum in Cathays Park ‘examines the economy of death through sculptural interventions’. Why she can’t just examine death through sculpture I will never know.

Some statements seem drawn up to misuse words, and seem to inspire the very work that they are meant to explain. At There Will be Words, the group show at g39 in Cardiff this spring you may have seen the artist Laura Reeves, who ‘works with found analogue photography which she uses as a starting point for research and to revive and activate lost stories.’ It is hard to work out how a story that hasn’t been created yet can be ‘lost’ exactly. The story Reeves chooses to interpret on her work is created the moment the photograph was found; to be lost, the artist would have to have known the original narrative. A better definition of the work would be that the artist finds photos and asks us to use our own imagination to construct narratives from what we see.

And IAE is affecting the work of recent graduates, too. Graddedig was a show of the best graduate work from the last academic year at the Wales Millennium Centre, shown last September. Hugh Williams billed his work as ‘an exploration of aspects of the bird and the concept of space in relation to sculptural form.’ I don’t know about you, but to me a sculpture by its very definition will always be an exploration of its subject, as well as a continued appraisal of the form and its meaning. So it would have made a lot more sense for the young artist to instead state that he simply makes sculptures of birds. Evidently, such clear language just isn’t good enough for today’s whippersnappers.

At its best, IAE does nothing to help in our appreciation or understanding of the art in question. At its worst, it serves as an elitist signifier that this is an exclusive club only for those in the know. Either way, the sooner that artists and curators try to engage with their audiences instead of alienating them by showing off, the better.

João Morais publishes his story ‘The Anatomy of a Beating’ in NWR 100 on 25 May. He is this year’s winner of the Terry Hetherington Award for writers under thirty.


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