Emma Geliot's picture

Tabletop best

One of the most critically acclaimed exhibitions at the 2013 Venice Biennale, Bedwyr Williams The Starry Messenger has just ended at Cardiff s g39. Francesca Donovan steps into a parallel universe.

Trip headfirst through the dark corners and lofty heights of the galaxies of Bedwyr William s mind. His alien artwork from the Venice Biennale 2013has crash-landed on Planet South Wales and inhabited Cardiff s g39 art space.

The Starry Messenger transcends time, space, geography and our sense of the terrestrial, to bring us a cosmic induction into the weird and wonderful world of the hobbyist astronomer. The exhibition was first shown as the Welsh offering in the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013. The Starry Messenger wasn tpart of the curated Biennale. Massimiliano Gioni s Encyclopaedic Palace was a catalogue of all history s thoughts, ideas and notions(think Sherlock Holmes mind palace). Williams show, in tune with the spirit of 2013 s biennale, promises to blow your mind and bump your brain.

The brain-bumping can be literal as well as figurative, if you don t allow your eyes to adjust to the gloom on entering the gallery. Once in this murky world, let your eyes adjust or brace yourself for direct collision with one of many towering dark ominous masses just inside the door.. Disclaimer: This exhibition, as with all brilliant displays of artwork, is a genuine threat to your mental and physical health. If anything, a good knock on the head, and the consequential concussion, can only serve to clarify the psychedelics that await you, as you follow the path Williams art has carved out.

The first landscape, Obelix, looms overhead, 10 feet tall into the cavernous heights of g39, low-lit and painted with rich deep blues and purples. Bruised and broken. It is as though you have just been dropped head first into the remnants of a Martian war, a crater of destruction from which all life has fled. UV lights sweep the terrain, searching out angles and edges that get momentarily absorbed into the blackness.

Admiration for Williams imagination, his love for impassioned fanatical individuals and its manifestation, mingled with a strange sense of peace and isolation, is quickly replaced by one of quasi-claustrophobia as you walk through The Starfield Corridor. The exhibition is undeniably beautiful; it s a love letter tostargazers and terrazzo. But in this thin sliver of pitch-black space, studded with microscopic pinpricks of light, a slight sense of unease washes over you, niggling away in the back of your head. Where on earth (or not) is the artist taking you?

This is the way Williams engages us. He creates a tension, an energy in his curated spaces that is so tangible. His unpredictability leaves you in a perpetual state of the unknown. What lurks around the next bend, you wonder. Caught up in the structures and objects in The Starry Messenger, it is easy to forget that you have a job, a brightly lit house, family that exists extraneous to this crazy Williams-burg.

As your eyes settle into the darkness I recommend eating a daily carrot in the week preceding your visit, as the rare moments of bright white light shot through the black hole that is The Starry Messenger will only serve to disorientate you and force you to blink away purple and green blobs, burning behind your retinas and as you continue your journey, the nervous laughter begins. I found myself quietly chuckling about the absurdity of the experience. But persevere, as feelings of discomfort and unsettlement quickly dissipate and subside to genuine childlike delight.

Deeper into Williams mind, you find yourself in a small Zen room, centre-pieced by a pond befitting the palaces of Egyptian pharaohs. The Depth is ornately lit with cool calming underwater lighting, the water meanders around concrete blocks submerged in the liquid. Enjoy the tranquil moment before the mildly traumatising experience of the following room.

 Chris Brown at g39 The Depth, Bedwyr Williams, The Starry Messenger. Image: Chris Brown at g39

Here, a sheet of floor-to-ceiling terrazzo patterned gauze confronts you, which is reminiscent of the work s original situation and Venetian traditional interiors. Beyond this transparent barrier of reference is Wylo [trans: to weep, to cry, to blubber]. A white shiny silo shape stands solitary in the centre of the otherwise empty space. A door in what turns out to be an amateur astronomer s observatory, stands ajar.Inside, a chair left vacant and a cup of tea abandoned and the sense of eeriness returns. Quietly, barely noticeably at first, your ears sense despair. An undercurrent of wailing travels through the void and it is impossible to pinpoint the location of the man from which this harrowing noise emanates. Is this a test? Do we move on or do I help the poor thing? I question myself and in the same moment realise the sound is not real. I am the butt of Williams joke, his tomfoolery and his artistic trickery. I resent him but in the same second, find him to be existentially shrewd and astute.

 Chris Brown Wylo, Bedwyr Williams. Installation shot from The Starry Messenger. Image: Chris Brown

Relief again as I move on into blistering clinical light. The white room is dominated by a gigantic wipe-clean symmetrical table. I have apparently stepped into Wonderland. I am Alice and I have taken the small phial markeddrink me andshrunk to the size of an ant. The towering structure dwarfs everything that passes beneath its glassy surface,a jumble of objects strewn, seemingly suspended, overhead. They appear to be the contents of Williams mind man-drawer; prescription lenses, miscellaneous rubber tubing, spare pegs and coat hangers. These familiarities are a shock to the system. The mundane items become strange in the surroundings of The Starry Messenger, unexpected and just out of reach. They are an alert of realities and the distance between normality and us.

After this jerk back to the realm of the real, we come into the daylight, underneath some wooden high school bleachers pointed toward a video projection. Perhaps viewers will be offered a break from this walking rollercoaster, a chance to take the weight off and make sense of the tangle of the realms we have just escaped from.

Gaze upon high definition colour and sound and life. Pristine animation and film clips are cut with Williams monotone dry witticisms, as he talks us through a trip to the dentist, a near fatal head trauma. His face is covered in mosaic as he speaks from beyond the camera gaze, an artwork himself, fragmented like terrazzo. Images vividly break down our physicality and we are left to feel fractured and fragile. The bleak narrative is peppered with bass beats and bizarrely humorous anecdotes from his early childhood and adulthood obsessions, giving the video some light touches. Images of bodies as specks of matter; unlikely edible companions moulded into jelly terrazzo ; nature and volcanoes in one big explosion as the film heads for the big finish and the crashing cymbals that mark the final bars of the Williams symphony.

 Chris Brown Bedwyr Williams, The Starry Messenger. Installation shot at g39. Image: Chris Brown

The labyrinthian exhibition is a feat of wonder architecturally, aesthetically and emotionally and great credit is due to the processes of construction and upkeep provided by g39, who have facilitated the marvellous mind of Williams.

Perhaps the cosmos, the S&M dentistry and the vegetable jellies make sense inside there. Perhaps Williams is The Starry Messenger, this beautifully-minded fanatic, trying to convey otherworldly notions that are unattainable to us mere mortals. Regardless, this exhibition is a rocket to the moon and everyone wants to be on board, if only for the view.

The Starry Messenger was co-curated by Oriel Davies and MOSTYN and commissioned by the Arts Council of Wales. It will tour to The Whitworth Gallery in Manchester, dates tbc.

www.g39.org

All Images Chris Brown at g39