Bedwyr Williams: The Gulch

Art, Installation
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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Linearity: it’s a word often used in relation to the Barbican’s Curve gallery. The nature of this thin, tapering, 90-metre-long space means that many of the artists invited to produce a commission for it tend to think in sequential, narrative-based terms. Perfect, then, for Bedwyr Williams and his surreal brand of storytelling, taking us from weird vignette to weirder vignette. 

The show opens with a cheap-looking moonlit beach diorama. A trainer lies beside a campfire. It looks too small to be the artist’s, as those who saw his 2006 Beck’s Futures piece ‘Walk a Mile in My Shoes’ will know. In that installation, he laid out 40 pairs of his size-13 clodhoppers for viewers to try on. 

A series of exhibits behind glass suggest high-value objets d’art – until you discover a numbered wooden spoon (the sort handed out at Harvester pubs) and a miniature figurine of the artist (something you’d find in a charity shop). Further on, a collection of bongos and beanbags feel like a pisstake of happy-clappy audience participation. Williams likes referring to himself in his work. And he likes playing the underdog. You get the sense that he feels not exactly disdain for but separateness from institutions as big and grand as the Barbican, a place far from the community halls and provincial art centres of his Welsh homeland where he still lives and works. His way of critiquing art’s pomposity is to work with its conventions and undermine them with his forlorn naffness. 

Then you come to ‘Flexure’, a rambling, diaphragm-achingly funny film about a Macclesfield-based New Age hypnotist who becomes hooked on his own (crappily recorded) relaxation CDs. Full of cheesy psychedelic graphics and pinwheeling imagery, and narrated with deadpan monotony by Williams, it is a joy. That it’s screened in what looks like a corporate boardroom makes it even funnier. 

The end section of the show features a running track on the floor. It operates with the same sarcasm; how many people find themselves half-jogging through the final stretch of an exhibition? But here, the immersive grottos he’s created give way to the barer bones of the Curve, and the magic starts to fizzle out. Ultimately, Williams doesn’t quite get the better of this exceptionally tricky space. But he’s tried his hardest, and done it on his own terms. The underdog vibe prevails.

By: Matt Breen

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