Arts Council of Wales | Cymru yn Fenis | Wales in Venice 2019
Cymru yn Fenis | Wales in Venice 2019

Cymru yn Fenis | Wales in Venice 2019

Sean Edwards | Official Collateral Event of the 58th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia | 11 May – 24 November 2019 | Chiesa di Santa Maria Ausiliatrice | Open 11:00 – 18:00, Tues – Sunday (Closed Mondays) | Refrain is a live radio commission and will be broadcast daily at 14:00

Sean Edwards (b.1980) represents Wales in Venice 2019 with a solo exhibition presented by guest curator Marie-Anne McQuay and lead organisation Tŷ Pawb. Commissioned by Arts Council of Wales for the Collateral Event of the 58th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, Edwards’ exhibition marks the ninth Biennale presentation by Wales. The exhibition will be at Santa Maria Ausiliatrice, Castello from 11 May to 24 November 2019 and is free to visit.

Edwards’ exhibition, a poetic inquiry into place, politics and class, intertwined with personal histories, is the artist’s first major presentation at an international biennale.

Known for his sculptural approach to the everyday, Edwards often begins with seemingly unrelated elements linked by autobiographical and cultural connections. These range from the 1970s shopping centre near the housing estate where he grew up to Springsteen’s album Nebraska, a Welsh quilting group, snooker, tabloid newspapers, and various found materials. Through investigative processes including time spent in local archives, museums and libraries, he gathers together images, stories, quotes, and clips. It is in the teasing out of these things in the studio, in isolating, abstracting, and bringing them together, that their political and formal resonance comes into play.
Edwards’ new body of work includes sculpture, film, prints, Welsh quilts and a live daily radio broadcast, and takes its starting point from the artist’s experience of growing up on a council estate in Cardiff in the 1980s. Edwards is interested in capturing and translating what he calls a condition of ‘not expecting much’ into a shared visual language; one that evokes a way of living familiar to a great number of people; of making do and getting by.

The works are installed across the interlocking rooms of the Santa Maria Ausiliatrice where the church, corridors and classrooms have been left largely untouched. Signs of wear and everyday use have been deliberately incorporated into the staging of the show. Edwards is drawn to these traces that reflect the passing of time: days lived according to the rituals of mass and the timetable of a school; the quiet stories.

Edwards’ new time-based commission, a live play for radio entitled Refrain produced in partnership with National Theatre Wales, also leaves its own haunting residue in the building. The live broadcast takes place once a day at 14:00 for the entire run of La Biennale di Venezia. The script performed by the artist’s mother and transmitted to Venice from her home in Cardiff, draws on both personal experience and found materials. Her voice, elderly, accented by her Northern Irish background and not accustomed to making a public address, will at times hesitate and repeat. It becomes a part of the work, shifting the atmosphere in the rooms with its presence and absence.

In addition to the daily ritual performance of Refrain, Edwards presents works tailored to the former convent’s architecture, inviting audiences to choose their own path through the exhibition. Images, words and patterns recur across a range of materials and surfaces. The artist describes the relationship of individual pieces within the wider installation as that of poems in a poetry collection, self-contained yet connected.

At the entrance to the chapel the cut-out pattern on the sculptural screens is reflected in large-scale Welsh quilts hung in a classroom. These quilts are versions of the ‘everyday’ Welsh quilts that were made at home with patterns influenced by what was to hand - the shape of a cup or as is the case here, the font from a tabloid newspaper. In the main chapel, fragments of photographs from the artist’s personal archive are composed as a sculptural installation referencing the sense of being contained by the fences and boundaries of the housing estate where Edwards grew up. Here the artist has created a large-scale three-dimensional collage that refuses to coalesce. The viewer is invited to walk up to and around the sculpture as if reassembling a film that has been cut into strips.

In another room, a silent film plays on a monitor depicting a child’s eye view of a game of dominos. This work acknowledges the presence of another family figure, largely absent during childhood. These moving hands are echoed elsewhere in a human-scale print of the artist’s own hand with bitten finger nails; the biting of nails being both a daily ritual and an inherited habit.

During the Venice Biennale, in November 2019, National Theatre Wales and Tŷ Pawb, Wrexham will present a version of the radio play Refrain in various locations throughout Wales. Sean Edwards’ exhibition will then tour back to the UK in the spring of 2020, appearing at Tŷ Pawb, Wrexham before moving on to Bluecoat, Liverpool in winter 2020. This activity is kindly supported by Art Fund.

On being selected for Wales in Venice 2019 Sean Edwards commented: "I am so honoured to be part of this once in a lifetime opportunity to represent Wales at the Venice Biennale. I am grateful to receive support from Arts Council of Wales and lead organisation Tŷ Pawb, curator Marie-Anne McQuay, assistant curator Louise Hobson and from the artists and technicians who are part of the wider team. The exhibition and accompanying publication contain many voices and acts of generosity and collaboration all of which will be acknowledged in the final presentation."

Curator Marie-Anne McQuay commented: "I’m delighted to be part of the team presenting Sean Edwards’ first solo exhibition at an international biennale on behalf of Arts Council of Wales, lead organisation Tŷ Pawb and the wider Welsh visual arts sector. Together, we are attempting to make a show which, with intimacy and tenderness, reflects on and gives value to the quiet lives lived in the margins of ‘interesting times."

A team of 18 artists, educators, curators and students will support the Wales in Venice team. The Invigilator Plus programme will offer hands-on experience of working in Venice, networking with international peers and a personal development programme.

About Sean Edwards

Born in Cardiff in 1980, Sean Edwards graduated from Cardiff School of Art & Design before studying an MA in sculpture at Slade School of Fine Art. The artist returned to Wales in 2005 where he has since contributed to the development of the Welsh artistic landscape through his own artistic practice and supporting the development of emerging artists via artist-led space g39 and now as lecturer in Fine Art at Cardiff School of Art and Design, Cardiff Metropolitan University. Edwards has exhibited widely, nationally and internationally including Spike Island, Bristol; Chapter, Cardiff and Kunstverein Freiburg, Germany. He has developed permanent public artwork with Studio Response, and Future City and in 2014 was awarded the Gold Medal in Fine Art at the National Eisteddfod and is a former recipient of Arts Council of Wales’s Creative Wales Awards. He is represented by Tanya Leighton Gallery, Berlin.
Tanya Leighton Gallery http://tanyaleighton.com/artists/sean-edwards
Artist’s website https://www.johnstowncompany.com
About Marie-Anne McQuay

About Marie-Anne McQuay

Marie-Anne McQuay, guest international curator for Cymru yn Fenis / Wales in Venice 2019 has been Head of Programme at Bluecoat, Liverpool, (the UK’s oldest contemporary arts centre) since November 2014. Recent solo exhibitions and projects at Bluecoat include commissioning new work by Larissa Sansour, Louisa Martin, Adham Faramawy, Elaine Mitchener and Grace Ndiritu. Previously she was curator at Spike Island, Bristol (2007-2013) working with artists including Elizabeth Price, Laure Prouvost, Can Altay, Sonia Boyce, Cevdet Erek, Melissa Gordon, Sean Edwards, Uriel Orlow, Amanda Beech, Craig Mulholland, James Richards & Jesse Jones. Marie-Anne first worked with Sean Edwards in 2011 on the exhibition ‘Maelfa’, Spike Island, Bristol.

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