- la Biennale di Venezia
You step off the bright sunny canal-side of Via Garibaldi and walk into a darkened world; the invigilator greets you with a nice smile under UV light. You can hear birds tweeting and a man sobbing. Through a terrazzo print gauze curtain you see a small white observatory, all bright white and glowing. Once through the curtain you see it is very small and must follow Bedwyr’s love of the hobbyist astronomer. Your eyes become accustomed to the dimmed room. You make out it is a church of some sort.
Ben: ″Why was the astronomer crying? ″
Bedwyr: ″I’m not going to answer that.″
Through to the next darkened room; the recorded sound of a hollow clinking/clunking noise accompanies the installation of a carpless Koi carp pond. Chunks of plastic in blues and whites, looking like an ice-floe styled contemporary dinner service, are bobbing about and knocking together on this glowing pond. The mind wobbles like you have just stepped off a Vaporetto and you consider the scale of things.
Further in, an ink-dark corridor with pin-prick lights leads you to a large dark room filled with what appears to be a huge cromlech. Lights glow and flicker from above its cap stone, as if a mysterious movement is occurring. Your mind now stretches for connections between all these chunks and Galileo’s telescope – microscopic to astronomic, terrazzo to starry heavens.
Ben: ″You have been interested in hobbyist astronomers for a while and the exhibition takes its inspiration from Galileo. Can you explain the moment when you connected this to terrazzo flooring?″
Bedwyr: ″I’m interested in hobbyists and amateurs in general – astronomers more in this project. I don’t think there was a moment where I made the connection. I think I’ve always made that connection and this was an opportunity to make a work about it″
In a light filled room you see a huge glass topped table with big white square legs. You are very small, perhaps as small as a mole. You look up through the glass and see lots of household stuff. A lamp, some plants, a colander, a clock, a badminton racket, a ladder with a plant on it; a fan gently moves a coat hanger on a clothes airer. All is still. You ponder on this domestic constellation – a model of the universe made by an eccentric astronomer at a house party.
Ben: ″If you were a mole, what kind of mole would you be? ″
Bedwyr: ″Like a quiet one, that would lay half way in the group, somewhere in the middle…and be a little taller.″
The penultimate chamber is filled with a seating stand and a projection screen. You sit down, put on the headphones and take the plunge midway into a video that at once seems to explain and muddy the narrative of the show. Videos and films like Talking Heads’ And She Was, Cerith Wyn Evans’ Degrees of Blindness or Gruff Rees’ Separado spring to mind. This shifting terrazzo cosmos is told in a trippy narrative.
The clearest part of the story is of a mosaic dentist in a City Hall corridor. You are informed that his teeth are single chunks of tile though ironically one has fallen out. This dentist comes to life as Bedwyr wearing the dentist’s mosaic face, one of Bedwyr’s trademark hats with dentures stuck on forehead and just crazy looking eyes peering through; looking like some Mayan artwork. He finds himself in the inevitable cycle of death and birth, being caught up in demolition debris and becoming a terrazzo mix within a new compacting contracting floor universe. The Cromlech is now better understood as a massive magnification of some of the ″flecks, chunks, slivers″ that now press into the dentist. ″You are in serious flapjack my friend, you don’t even have space to twitch″.
Here the film footage riffs on ideas and the sense of an overview is lost. These parts of the film are crazier, a bit disturbing and certainly put some of the audience off. Whether this is down to collaborative freedoms, or Bedwyr’s choice, is unknown. Perhaps it refers to chaos in the shifting terrazzo floor universe, but it does feel a bit obscure for obscure’s sake.
You leave through a Fischli & Weiss looking janitor’s room that appears to actually be a real janitor’s room. Here, as with all the rooms, there is an accompanying soundtrack. As you leave again you see the observatory; perhaps you have just experienced what the astronomer observes.
Ben: ″The hobby size observatory in your exhibition appears to be a uPVC, off the shelf product. This seems at odds with the hobbyist’s materials. I read somewhere that one of your favourite home-made telescopes was made from baked beans’ cans. Can you shed some light on this? ″
Bedwyr: ″I think like all things, amateurs come in all sorts, some make their own tools, some buy the most expensive thing. My work is about their passion, not the way they do it. Hobbies, in my experience, are all about buying ‘the very thing’ from the back pages of an enthusiast’s magazine. The dome was a kit that was a pain in the arse to work with, like all good kits.″
The exhibition is fantastic, mesmerising, confusing and inspiring. If you are able to go and see it, you should definitely do so. It is a chunk of marble, glinting in the ″risotto, terrazzo″ cosmos that is the Venice Biennale. It does Wales proud, without resorting to Welshness to do so.