Bedwyr Williams - The Gulch, Barbican - The Curve

I saw the Bedwyr Williams exhibition at the Barbican and really enjoyed it. I particularly liked the corporate table set up for the video piece, simply by choosing these pieces of furniture the viewer became aware of a brainwashing, corporate, money-orientated environment as they were watching a hypnotist video compilation. I could have easily talked about Williams in the 'Collage' section because of the video piece; the story of a hypnotist (with a Welsh accent) who starts listening to his own tapes. In the video he uses everyday pre-digested images overlaying the surreal with the real, making the viewer laugh throughout and channelling sarcastic yoga techniques. It managed to keep the viewer (or me anyway) in one place for a long time, and I'm always impressed when video manages to do this - it can be quite a powerful and consuming medium when managed in this way. 

I also really liked the racetrack at the back of the exhibition, it all seemed very surreal but familiar at the same time. When talking about the racetrack Williams said he was thinking about the people who wouldn't like the exhibition and  imagined them having to finish it on a running track 'like a rubbish athlete.' 

I wasn't sure when it came to the microphone, drumming, interactive elements - I understood that it was potentially questioning the gallery environment and its attitude towards viewer participation but that's where it stopped for me, after reaching that conclusion the pieces became ineffective and slightly gimmicky. The singing goat, the wigs and the talking spoon provided me with much more substance. 

 

Bedwyr himself says "Things strike me, then they stay in my head and I put them in a piece". I can really relate to this simple process of working and I think that this can be seen clearly in his work. It doesn't take itself too seriously but it still really resonates. It's about the power of the everyday, he is using what we see on a regular basis and turning it upside down, flipping it, putting it next to something unfamiliar (e.g taking a running shoe and making it sing.) The pieces are very naturally funny and he has harnessed the power of humour: "I can't help but use humour. When you laugh it's like an involuntary function; like farting or sneezing. Not many other emotions are so involuntary." 

WSM (World's Strongest Man)

 

The idea for WSM came when I was watching the programme; one of the contenders was lifting a weight over and over again, you could see the sheer agony on his face and yet he continued. I have previously looked a lot at extreme moments of joy and elation and the deception of addiction in its attempt to keep you high for compilation videos (PRIMAL SCREAM and GROUNDED.) As I watched this Strong Man voluntarily push his human body to its limits I realised that there was a similar theme surfacing.

The idea is to have an old television monitor showing the face of a WSM contender lifting a weight endlessly as the monitor itself (attached to some sort of stepper motor) follows the journey of the weight lifters head; up and drop, up and drop etc. I am still working towards this stepper motor installation but the Corridor show, with Lilly and Lulu gave me the perfect opportunity to test the looped video (see video to the right). When collaborating for the Corridor Show we all knew we wanted to find a connection between our work and we found 'Home' to be a common theme, hence the transformation using wallpaper. I knew I wanted to show the WSM videos on an old monitor and I purposely bought an old monitor wall mount, like something from a teenage girls room in the 90's, to display the screen. I was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked, the combination of this stressed weight lifter and the kitsch garish wallpaper behind him made the installation strange and comical. Perhaps it was the combination of a girly, floral pattern with a beastly, masculine face. 

I sourced old World's Strongest Man footage from YouTube and zoomed into their faces following the expression and looping it via Premiere Pro. So far I have collated around 6 video loops showing 6 different men but I intend to continue collecting these, they don't necessarily have to be men. Showing a human face on a screen must have been fresh in my mind but my instinct told me his face showed the viewer everything that was necessary, the rest of his body and the background seemed distracting and excessive. The endless loop leaves each weightlifter with no time for rest; the red faces, bulging eyes, puff of the cheeks, swelling of the veins show us clear signs that the body is being pushed to its limit and yet the ritual never stops. I found with the face that the more cropped it was in the edit the more effective it became on screen, seeing just the features made the the man look almost ape-like. Zooming in on the face and framing it with the television set has magnified an almost obsessive mentality in the context of body image, masculinity and addiction. There is an undeniable sense of humour at play here, the majority of viewers laughed when experiencing the piece and many thought that they were watching something sexual. It is funny but I hope that it doesn't stop at that. 

I have submitted a proposal for doing 8 of these in the windows of Gazelli Art House (see image), simply doing the proposal opened my mind to the potential here, it could be even more effective if there were a number of these heads interacting with one another. My future plans are definitely to try attaching these monitors to moving motors and mimicking the bodies jolting struggle as it lifts and drops, lifts and drops. 

Tony Oursler

The obvious connection between my work and Tony Oursler's is the use of the human face, he's found that projecting the human face (often in conversation) on inanimate objects is humorous and strange. I have found this same humour has transferred to my Armchair Installation, by putting the monitor onto the head of an armchair the monitor turns into a head and the armchair turns into a sitting body. I quite like that Oursler plays around with the 'body' and places these talking heads amongst random, often domestic objects.

“This (video) is the space where people are staring, so maybe I should go into that space. Technology is my pallet. " I have been thinking about my videos like paintings recently too, Premiere Pro is my paint and brush, the screen is my canvas - the possibilities can move endlessly. 

The conversations in Oursler's pieces are often quite vulnerable and involve embarrassing, private language (I can really relate this to the Armchair installation) and his occasionally unsettling characters can provoke embarrassment in the viewer too. By projecting the human face onto different shapes and stretching their features the characters not only become humorous but they suggest a cartoonish evolution that could only really be achieved in a digital space.  

Angel's Den - embrace the humour 

I presented a 30 second clip of 'GROUNDED' to the frightening panel at Angel's den and I posed them with the question : "Do you get a serenity from the video or is it just another high-tempo, attention flicking YouTube compilation?" I've just realised I used the word 'just'. They didn't see the relevance in it being a YouTube compilation because that is where I had sourced my clips from so that is unavoidable, but what was interesting was that they didn't feel serenity from the clip they felt humour. I guess I had become obsessed with this video piece being separate from the playful nature of the other pieces but there is an unavoidable injection of humour in each video/ installation and I'm happy to embrace this. Robert Visani said it quite succinctly in his lecture; "humour subverts the seriousness." 

© 2020 copyright Rosie McGinn. All rights reserved. 
 

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