James Richards will exhibit 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 largest and most prestigious visual arts exhibition in the world. 

The exhibition, held at the Santa Maria Ausiliatrice - which is a former convent now used as a community centre -  is commissioned by the Arts Council of Wales and curated by Chapter, Cardiff.

The Venice Biennale is the largest and most prestigious visual arts exhibition in the world. Cymru yn Fenis/Wales in Venice is commissioned and managed by the Arts Council of Wales with support and collaboration from the Welsh Government and British Council.

James Richards’ interest lies in the possibility of the private amidst the chaos of quotidian media. His work makes use of a growing bank of material that includes cinema, works by other artists, camcorder footage, murky late night TV and archival research. Means of producing and displaying images are central to his methodology and he unpacks the image as both subject and object, unfolding ways in which fragments of the present can connect with those of the past, the hidden with the visible, and the sentient with the physical.

Richards’ presentation includes Migratory Motor Complex (2017), a six-channel electro-acoustic installation that explores the capacity of sound to render artificial spaces and locate sonic and melodic events within them. 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 in situ, with Richards reacting to the acoustic contingencies of the site as he creates a cinematic and 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. Amongst pictures of friends and photographs taken whilst serving in World War II is a collection of staged self-portraits that reveal an obsessive commitment to body modification, tattooing and his own image: duplicated, repeated and reworked with collage and darkroom revision.

This extraordinary collection of images serves as the backbone for the video, an extended meditation on the archive, photography and the body. The double self-portrait is redoubled, repeatedly — a mise en abyme; the self is lost as the flesh proliferates, escaping death, returning as a thin image resonant with desire and possibility.

Rushes minotaur (2017) is an installation of inkjet prints that draw 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.

A publication, present throughout the exhibition, contains a text by the writer Chris McCormack. The narrative moves between the intimate and the scientific and reflects upon the breaking of the male voice. Shifting 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. 

Photograph of two men in a garage with bike, chairs, bricks and various other background items
James Richards, Music for the gift, 2017, production still. Archive image courtesy The Schwules Museum*. Commissioned by the Arts Council of Wales and curated by Chapter  ©

the artist