Artes Mundi 7: Bedwyr Williams

Bedwyr Williams is one of six artists to be shortlisted for Artes Mundi 7, a prize which focuses on artists who address the human condition. Williams is currently showing The Gulch at London’s Barbican, and will be part of the Artes Mundi exhibition, which opens on 21 October.

Congratulations on your shortlist for Artes Mundi 7. The prize claims to focus on artists who “engage with the human condition, social reality and lived experience.” How do you see your practice fitting with these ideas?

I’m a human and I make work about other humans.

Both yourself and the prize come from Wales. You often reference Wales, wider Britishness and tradition in your work. How do you see your homeland in 2016?

It’s a small country with problems I try not to talk about it too much as I think it irritates English art people. But since you ask, what I think is ridiculous about our country is that growing up in any of the home nations it’s unlikely that you will have been taught any history about each of the other countries. For instance, it would make sense to teach kids about the history of the troubles in Northern Ireland but everything I know about it is stuff I’ve read myself. We don’t know ourselves as a country and our media is very anglo-centric. The Scottish referendum coverage was a case in point. People visit me in Wales not realizing that almost 80% of people in my area speak Welsh. So your average English guy will know more about tattoos and beards and burgers in brioche buns etc. than about other languages or cultures in the UK. That’s the kind of environment where UKIP can flourish. I’m proud to be British on some levels but I think the bubble bath needs to be shared out a bit more.

You’re currently showing The Gulch at London’s Barbican. Can you tell me a little about that show?

It’s in The Curve and it’s a journey through a series of scenarios. There’s a beach with a singing running shoe on it, a boardroom with a film about a depressed hypnotist and a talking goat. It’s my ideal situation when I’m allowed to transform a space and dictate the feel of everything. It’s the exact opposite of being in a crap group show with nine other people.

You often bring small-scale, local stories to the upper echelons of the art world. How do you view or align yourself within this?

I find it endlessly amusing to do that. It’s a world of clever, beautiful, educated and rich people, why wouldn’t you want to tell those people about your neighbour’s cracked heels?

You’ve mentioned before that you don’t like humour to simply mock situations, but more to reveal something previously unseen. Do you think comedic works are more challenging to ‘get right’ than straightforwardly dramatic or emotional works?

It is hard because people are pre-disposed not to like work that has humour. But a work is either good or not and that’s the thing I worry about, not whether it’s funny or not. These exhibitions about humour in art aren’t helpful I don’t think, they seem to be very unfunny. As an artist who uses humour amongst other things, I prefer to be in the mix with everyone else.

How do you begin work on a new project? Are you quite loose with your ideas or do you tend have quite structured plans for where they’re going?

I use the notes app on my iPhone and I write down all my interesting thoughts about every other day. I also take photos. I wish I’d had an iPhone in the nineties. When a particular idea does develop I find it quite an emotional experience and I say to myself ‘Yes’.

And finally, what’s next for you?

I’d like to make a feature length film with no colour grading on it and no middle-aged men who know the fucking lot working on it.

Bedwyr Williams has been shortlisted for Artes Mundi 7. The Artes Mundi 7 exhibition runs 21 October until 26 February. ‘The Gulch’ is showing at London’s Barbican until 8 January.

Bedwyr Williams, Artist Portrait
Bedwyr Williams, Curator Cadaver Cake, 2012, Performance, Grizedale Arts, Frieze Art Fair
Bedwyr Williams, Bard Attitude, 2005, c type Print.
Bedwyr Williams: The Gulch The Curve, Barbican Centre 29 September 2016 – 8 January 2017 Photo: Max Colson © Bedwyr Williams