Seven artists in the running for Artes Mundi 5 at National Museum Cardiff

By Ben Miller | 05 October 2012
© Thierry Bal
Exhibitions: Artes Mundi 5, National Museum Cardiff; Phil Collins: This Unfortunate Thing Between Us, Chapter Gallery, Cardiff; October 6 2012 – January 13 2013

In a caravan outside Cardiff’s Chapter Gallery, a German telesales channel blares from a TV. A twinkly-eyed dandy, dressed in tin foil, is touting for orders, a band jangling plaintively behind him.

Occasionally the shot flicks to three make-up caked assistants awaiting calls in a phone booth which looks straight out of 1975. On offer is an experience – lucky viewers can try to buy a Stasi-style investigation, a role in a porn film or a chance to tell family and friends their true feelings from their deathbed.

“I had a heart attack two years ago and some of my family members didn’t show up,” rages one caller, as ads for fake jewellery, gardening tools, electric blankets and upholstery whiz across the top of the screen. “I want to show them what’s up.”

He never got to. This was all a very real ruse by Phil Collins, a 2006 Turner Prize nominee who based his offer on the themes of interrogation, sex and death that he feels art embodies.

The in-house band was led by Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals, and the entire thing – including the "experiencers" – was broadcast live for two nights on a German digital channel using actors.

In the city centre, at the National Museum, Collins is one of seven artists vying for the fifth Artes Mundi Prize, a biennial with a £40,000 reward. It usually takes place in spring, but this year organisers have picked a busier date, coinciding with Frieze and the Turner Prize.

It’s different to the Turner in all sorts of ways: less wilful provocation and a greater emphasis on the inclusivity the London show is routinely accused of lacking are two of them. And where the 2010 Artes Mundi had a rather heavy feel, this display has a great balance to it.

Aside from Collins’ engaging, funny slideshow of photos donated by people across Europe in the darkened final room, the entrance stirs with the work of brilliant Swedish artist Miriam Bäckström.

Bäckström's conceptual photography and films have shown her to be an innate storyteller. But here she’s made a huge tapestry of cotton, wool, silk and lurex into an arc of what looks like hundreds of mirror fragments glinting under the lights.

This illusory start paves the way for works full of surprises, including one – by Cuban artist Tania Bruguera – which isn’t there at all, choosing instead to leave a petition in support of immigrants’ rights, a cause she is championing on the streets of Cardiff.

Darius Mikšys – the founder of the first cricket club in Lithuania, no less – deals in boxes of curiosities, namely a large Pembrokeshire quartz crystal next to a stuffed seabird, a doll standing before a boxed VHS tape and a ticket to a Test Match three years ago dwarfed by an old safety sign from a local mine.

There are pictures of miners, a faded seacard once owned by a seaman, a blueprint for a locomotive and a beautiful central section of fossil.

Apolonija Sustersic is consumed by architecture, which is not difficult when the vast regeneration of Cardiff Bay since the 1980s is the subject matter. She invites us onto an artificial turf for a video capturing the reflections of those closest to its evolution, contemplating its multicultural impact and future possibilities.

Places and memories are also pronounced under the watch of Sheela Gowda and Teresa Margolles. Gowda has stacked brown oil crates in columns or leaned them against each other, setting them in random formations against the back wall or forming dislocated tunnel sections.

They’re made from flattened tar drums used by workers in India and contrasted by sheets of yellow and blue tarpaulin of the sort migrant construction personnel build. A print of an insurgent against the Indian military has been framed opposite.

Margolles drips water from a Mexican morgue onto a row of disguised hotplates, hissing and steaming as each droplet falls from the ceiling. In the middle of the room, a section of tiling comes from the studio of a close friend of the artist who was murdered.

The square was removed from near the scene of the crime, and the sounds of an autopsy scrape through a set of nearby headphones. Margolles’ contribution is grim, powerful and brave.

  • National Museum Cardiff open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm. This Unfortunate Thing Between Us is outside Chapter Gallery 12pm-6pm (8pm Thursday and Friday, closed Monday). Follow the Prize on Twitter @ArtesMundi and Chapter Gallery @chaptergallery.
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