New Guest Blogger - I AM the Prime Minister, by Julia Manser

Date posted: November 20, 2014

Julia Manser’s blog post is inspired
by Artes Mundi 6’s Karen Mirza and Brad Butler works including “You are the prime minister” (neon sign)  – displayed at Chapter and the themes of power, lived experience and identity raised by this exhibition .
This review began in a daydream, which I experienced at the preview, when I considered how everyone’s personal experiences shaped their own viewing of the exhibition. I have assumed another identity for this review based on one of the first pieces I viewed which was called “You are the Prime Minister”. This blog is me, channelling the power, lived experience and identity of the customary Eton-bred Prime Minister.

I AM the Prime Minister.

Karen Mirza and Brad Butler, You Are The Prime Minister, 2014, Artes Mundi 6, Chapter, Courtesy: Waterside Contemporary, Image: Warren Orchard

Artes Mundi 6 for me begins at the ‘free wine, fine guests’ preview reception. I note the presence of Sir Nicholas Serota, Director of the Tate “the most powerful man in the art world” Independent 1/11/14. The three shows at Chapter covered the themes of revolution, media manipulation, control and poverty whilst we the audience, were happily quaffing reassuringly expensive artisan rioja.

At Chapter’s bar area, a large video-still image of Our Lady, Margaret Thatcher defaced with a Hitler moustache from a piece entitled “Deep Space” by duo Karen Mirza & Brad Butler. Biro-graffiti on her face stated she “killed the working class”, she did not. I’ve heard it said she destroyed the miners and union power but let’s not overstate the matter. Next a more pleasing work called “You are prime minister”. I am! I immediately linked with this piece about blessed Eton, an established prime ministerial training unit. The next space left me cold, a strange two- screened video of the Mumbai hotel bombing and a revolution based slab, others smirked at the genius.

Next Sharon Lockhart’s beautiful photographic portraits depicted workers at their lunch break these were accompanied by plinthed items connected with their mundane daily working life. Also her forty one minute long film further studied workers moving as a mass during their midday break and showed a living proud working class, not killed by Dame Thatcher.

Upstairs, Renzo Martens ninety minute documentary film featured absolute poverty. The evidence included a young malnourished suffering child whose blistered anus was showed to the camera. This work suggested that poverty and malnourishment was experienced by Congolese children due to the lower wages of their families who worked for multinational firms. They suffered more than local subsistence farmers. A light box installation outside of the building, also his work, featured a photo of workers in the field.

Onward to Ffotogallery, a charming building, housing two Artesmundi-ists. The Visitors by Ragnar Kjartansson, which was a nine screened romantic, poetic, musical piece and each screen featured a musician or the whole ensemble. It was enchanting sitting on the floor in the dark, newly carpeted space experiencing repeated verses and intense crescendo. Several magnificent rooms within a New York mansion house for the upper echelons of society were the set for the sixty-four minute recording.

Downstairs there were contrasting works by Feminist / Communist / Activist Sanja Ivevokic which nearly brought me to tears. They featured Linda Evangelista and other female models on posters, a magazine describing hideous experiences of “domestic” abuse, and around 50 disobedient donkeys representing activists. I regularly donate to a donkey sanctuary. It’s so important to remember the mistreated.

Sped by government car to the museum, I was greeted by performance art on the pavement??  Actually life imitating art! PCS union were demonstrating about cuts in museum staff conditions and pay. I politely took a leaflet and hot footed it into the canapéd hall. Another splash of wine, some well crafted speeches, nods to the great and the good and back into Artes Mundi 6.

Again, a left-wing themed work greeted me. Sanja Ivekovic’s work at the top of stairs was a proposal for a future work. That seemed a cheeky submission to Artes Mundi 6, a little like submitting an essay plan as a dissertation!  It proposed the rebuild of a communist martyr monument which would be made of bricks donated by women’s and other left wing organisations.

Into the contemporary galleries and I was greeted by Theaster Gates belief-system inspired collection of works, including a section of a church roof, an African Boli, a freemasons ritual goat and a film featuring Gospel music. As a Christian I was moved by the mood of the film but wished the noise from the mechanised goat on a rail track, hadn’t drowned it out.

Carlos Bunga’s work “Exodus” which reached from floor to rafters was impressively immense. Its cathedral-like pillars towered monumentally and flowed well from the previous work. Diaspora, trauma, the transient and temporary was discussed by the artist in several pieces housed here, including the cardboard massive structure and a low screened film somehow touchingly showing a breaking glass light bulb being stuck back together with sellotape.

I moved into the Renzo Martens chocolate scented gallery, which as his work at Chapter, discussed Capitalism, poverty, resources and art in Africa. Deliberately ambiguous and confrontational I wasn’t sure whether Renzo was happily working with Capitalism, or favoured its destruction and why he was gladly using media manipulation whilst he drew attention to this misuse of the same thing. His use of Congo materials, artists and faces (on sale and well priced at £39.99) transformed the smell and sight of this Welsh gallery.

Next, a work by Renata Lucas, which encouraged the visitor to touch and move her work. The heavy slabs built of plywood and handles, could be adapted to be underfoot or upended to stand tall and this challenged my thoughts about architecture. What would Prince Charles have made of it? Do spaces control us? Can we find alternative ways other than the intended ways to use spaces? The work is entitled “failure” although originally in Portuguese. I feel I may have missed something in the translation.

Onward to a forty minute menacing film by Omer Fast featuring repeating tales of a set of parents welcoming back different versions of “their son?” Daniel from war. There was a creepy sexual undertone and strange imagery, but it was wonderfully shot. The suggestion is that trauma faced by a society sits in us all and its memory raises its head in generations to come.

The judging panel will democratically decide who wins £40,000. How will they choose? What will the eventual winner of this enormous prize money look to do with this award?  I imagine all the artists will spend their prize money in different ways. That could buy an artist’s child around a year at Eton and buy the real power! Artes Mundi, a registered charity, aims to widen the audience of contemporary art interactively through this exhibition, talks and other resources e.g. blogs whilst providing an opportunity for personal gain, a Capitalist success story!

I m sure everyone will experience the exhibition differently. It raised questions, provided opportunity for much discussion and inspired future visits to other exhibitions. I am interested to know what the other people, who this exhibition hopes to attract, will think of it. I guess their opinion maybe different to an Eton educated Prime minister. Will their opinions be as interesting?

Julia Manser will be undertaking an hour long sit, talk and walk around Artes Mundi 6 Friday November 21st at 1pm. Places are bookable at National Museum of Wales on the day.

Image: Karen Mirza and Brad Butler, You Are The Prime Minister, 2014, Artes Mundi 6, Chapter, Courtesy: Waterside Contemporary, Image: Warren Orchard