Arts Council of Wales | Wales in Venice: James Richards
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Wales in Venice: James Richards

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 International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. 09 May 2017

Wales in Venice: James Richards
‘James Richards, Music for the gift, 2017.'
Courtesy of The Schwules Museum* Berlin

The exhibition is commissioned by the Arts Council of Wales and curated by Chapter, Cardiff. The exhibition will be presented for the fourth time at the Santa Maria Ausiliatrice, a church and former convent located just off Via Garibaldi, situated midway between the main Biennale Giardini and Arsenale sites, 13 May – 26 November 2017 (preview 10, 11 & 12 May), and is free to visit. A press preview with the artist and curator will take place on 9 May from 3.30pm.

Cardiff-born Richards’ interest lies in the possibility of the private amidst the public chaos of quotidian media. His work makes use of an ever-growing bank of material that includes fragments of cinema, works by other artists, stray camcorder footage, murky late night TV, film soundtracks and archival research. Means of producing and displaying images are central to Richards’ 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 body. Drawing on cultural as well as visceral qualities within his materials, Richards’ work sets up striking elliptical interplays of sound, moving and still image that create a reflective space of extraordinary intensity.

Richards’ presentation for Cymru yn Fenis Wales in Venice 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 ‘Music for the gift’ (2017), a new, six-channel electro-acoustic music installation. The work is an exploration of the capacity of sound to render artificial acoustic spaces and then locate sonic and melodic events within these. The work shifts around the viewer setting up and then 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 at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. The work has then been ‘tuned to the room’, with Richards reacting to the acoustic contingencies and associative qualities of the building as he constructs a poetic audio-collage. Moving across a wide range of genres and musical languages, the artist incorporates field recording, sound effects and his own voice, alongside electronically generated and recorded material. The resultant work is 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 Steve Reinke, an artist and writer with whom Richards has collaborated since 2009. The starting point for the work is a series of photographs and collages found amongst 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 the portraits of friends, work-related images and photographs taken whilst serving in World War II, is a collection of self-portraits that reveal an obsessive commitment to his personal body modification and to his own image: duplicated, quadruplicated, 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 photocopied images are disrupted and reinstated through a scanning process that stretches and stacks them in to different combinations; subject matter appears to fall away, refracted and recalibrated; the image itself is fragile – on the verge of being lost or damaged or re-appropriated elsewhere.

Present throughout the exhibition is a publication of deceptive economy that 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 a number of years and was commissioned after Richards spent time in the Santa Maria Ausiliatrice, where McCormack’s words began to chime. Moving fluently 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.

Hannah Firth, Director of Visual Art, Chapter and curator of Cymru yn Fenis Wales in Venice 2017 commented: ‘James Richards is one of the most original and exciting artists of his generation and we are delighted to be working with him on this ambitious new commission in Venice.’

Phil George, Chair of Arts Council of Wales said: ‘Arts Council of Wales is delighted to be presenting James Richards at the Venice Biennale in 2017. James is an exciting and significant Welsh artist who has a growing reputation in Europe and beyond. As such, he is the perfect choice to represent our country at such a prestigious international Biennale.’



James Richards (b. Cardiff, 1983) lives and works in Berlin. He studied at Cardiff School of Art and Design before completing a degree in Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art & Design London. Recent solo exhibitions include Abyss Film, Kestner Gesellschaft, Hanover; Requests and Antisongs, ICA London; Crumb Mahogany, Bergen Kunsthall and Radio at Night, Museum of Contemporary Art Bordeaux (all 2016); James Richards, Kunstverein Munchen (2015) and Not Blacking Out Just Turning The Lights Off, Chisenhale London (2011). Richards was a resident of the DAAD Berliner Künstlerprogramm, recipient of a Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award (2015), The Jarman Award for Film and Video (2012) and was shortlisted for the 2014 Turner Prize. Richards was selected for the 2017 Whitney Biennial.

Richards is represented by Rodeo Gallery and Cabinet, London, UK and Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi Berlin.


Cymru yn Fenis Wales in Venice presents James Richards

Santa Maria Ausiliatrice, Fondamenta San Gioachin, 30122 Venezia

13 May – 26 November 2017

Free admission


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James Richards: Music for the gift is curated by Hannah Firth and managed by Chapter, Cardiff. Cymru yn Fenis Wales in Venice is commissioned by the Arts Council of Wales and Wales Arts International with support and collaboration from the Welsh Government and British Council. The project is selected by a call for proposals. Arts Council of Wales has commissioned artists to present at Cymru yn Fenis Wales in Venice as a Collateral Event at the Venice Biennale since 2003, celebrating the best of emerging and established artists from Wales. Previous artists include Helen Sear, Bedwyr Williams, Richard Deacon, Heather & Ivan Morison and Cerith Wyn Evans.


Chapter, Cardiff is one of Europe’s largest arts centres with cinemas, theatres, exhibition spaces, artists’ studios and a café bar. Chapter Gallery is a producing venue with an emphasis on commissioning and presenting new work, developing artists’ residencies, touring and collaboration, publishing, and creating forums for critical reflection.


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Arts Council of Wales is responsible for funding and developing the arts in Wales. Our principal sponsor is the Welsh Government. We also distribute funding from the National Lottery and raise additional money where we can from a variety of public and private sector sources. Our vision is of a creative Wales where the arts are central to the life of the nation.


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Wales’ presence at Venice reflects back into Wales through initiatives such as the Invigilator Plus programme that offers professional development opportunities for artists and curators. Opportunities for students to participate have been developed in 2017 as a pilot with Cardiff School of Art and Design at Cardiff Metropolitan University. Talks and events contextualising Richards’ wider practice, along with the Invigilator Plus Training Programme has been developed in partnership with the artist-run organisation g39 ( and will take place in Wales throughout 2017 and 2018.  

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