James Richards: Music for the gift
James Richards exhibits Music for the gift, a new body of work including a sound installation, video and photographic works, to represent Cymru yn Fenis Wales in Venice as a collateral event of the 57th Venice Biennale. The exhibition, held at the Santa Maria Ausiliatrice, is commissioned by the Arts Council of Wales and curated by Chapter, Cardiff.
Richards’ presentation is inspired by the space of the Santa Maria Ausiliatrice and the artist’s ongoing exploration of the emotive power of appropriated material. It includes Migratory Motor Complex (2017), a six-channel electro-acoustic installation that explores the capacity of sound to render artificial acoustic spaces and locate sonic and melodic events within these. The work shifts around the viewer, setting up and shattering these imaginary settings. Woven throughout the piece are re-occurring vocal and musical motifs that have been developed in collaboration with Kirsten Evans and Samuel Williams, students of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. The work has then been 'tuned to the room', with Richards reacting to the acoustic contingencies of the site as he constructs a poetic audio-collage. Moving across a range of musical languages, the artist incorporates field recording, sound effects and his own voice, alongside electronically generated and recorded material. The resultant work is a multi-sensory experience — an arrangement of vivid emotional cues to be navigated subjectively.
What Weakens The Flesh Is The Flesh Itself (2017) is a video made with collaborator Steve Reinke. The starting point for the work is a series of images found in the private archive of Albrecht Becker — a production designer, photographer and actor imprisoned by the Nazis for being homosexual — held at The Schwules Museum, Berlin. Amongst pictures of friends and photographs taken whilst serving in World War II is a collection of self-portraits that reveal an obsessive commitment to body modification and his own image: duplicated, repeated and reworked within. The artists have drawn on hundreds of these self-portraits and combined them with medical footage, educational film and text to construct a piece that interrogates what it means to build a body of work of the body, and for the body to become a work itself.
Rushes Minotaur (2017) is an installation of inkjet prints that draws on two distinct images: a close-up of crumbling skin from a medical book and the tarpaulin-shielded façade of a shop. Cut together and then rescanned, these simple visual cues and combinations of found images are disrupted and reinstated through a scanning process that stretches and stacks them into different combinations; subject matter appears to fall away, refracted and recalibrated; the image itself is fragile.
A publication of deceptive economy, present throughout the exhibition, contains an expansive text by the writer Chris McCormack. The narrative moves between the intimate and the scientific and reflects upon the breaking of the male voice. The subject has been a point of dialogue between the two collaborators for several years and McCormack’s words began to chime when Richards spent time in the Santa Maria Ausiliatrice. Moving between first and third person, the text meets Richards’ exhibition at an oblique angle, like his images that oscillate between unfettered documentary and a more neurotic interior territory.
James Richards: Music for the gift is curated by Hannah Firth and managed by Chapter.
Image: James Richards, Music for the gift, 2017, production still. Archive image courtesy The Schwules Museum*