The Starry Messenger was a convention recently held at St Fagans National History Museum and was a prelude to the exhibition at the Venice Biennale. In anticipation of the Biennale this summer, Aesthetica spoke to Williams about his plans for the exhibition, and what it means to be representing Wales at the internationally renowned art event.
A: So what are you working on for the Biennale?
BW: The work is about the subject of amateur astronomy, from how people look at the tiniest particles to how they look at what’s beyond…the micro and the cosmic world.
A: What inspired you to look into astronomy?
BW: I went to an old church with terrazzo flooring and it had those little particles of glass and marble on it. I thought about the people who had worshipped there. Maybe they stared into the floor and perhaps lost themselves in the particles, if say, they were bored at a sermon. And then I thought about Galileo, who presented his telescope to the Dolge in Venice, which was the first place he showed it. Incidentally terrazzo is also thought to be invented in Venice.
A: With historical references and your interest in star gazing, how did those ideas develop together?
BW: So I thought about people staring into the terrazzo, which is like a universe made of tiny particles. This led me to consider the things that you can’t see, as well as what’s visible. Then I thought that in a church a telescope is a kind of “enemy” in a way. The church wouldn’t necessarily encourage you to look too far out of space, nor too much into inner space. So without giving too much away that’s what makes the core of the work for Venice.
A: Some people may say they don’t know how to react to your work – caught between humour and seriousness. While you’re describing getting lost in space as a starting point for your creations, how do you feel about your audience’s reaction as bewildered or perplexed while experiencing your work?
BW: When you’re not sure of what feeling you’re meant to have, that’s what I like the audience to experience. I like the viewer or reader to feel like they’re in an in-between state.
A: Have you felt lost at any time preparing for the Biennale?
BW: I don’t know, really. Venice as a place makes the experience of working towards the Biennale feel like something out of a fairy tale…and in turn, the project focuses on an amateur astronomer. It’s about the wonder of the universe: looking out to this thing that you can’t touch, affect or change in any way. It’s quite beautiful, astronomy. And in this project I’m building on the idea of looking out and thinking about your place in the universe.
A: Well Venice seems like a very appropriate place for this work…
BW: Yes. It’s also to do with finding yourself in a place as well. I’m from a tiny village in North Wales, and being in Venice will mean I’ll feel part of an “art universe”. Albeit tiny, I’ll be part of the art cosmos.
A: Conceptually, there’s a comparison to be made between the cosmos and cyber space. You’re quite active on Twitter. Is there a link between the way you approach your work and the how you chose to communicate with people?
BW: If you work provincially, the internet gives you a “metro” presence so it doesn’t matter anymore where you are. We had a flood in the village and I tweeted a picture that ended up on the BBC; I like that thing that if you say something about something that it gets ping-ponged around the internet.
A: So interesting times ahead for you then?
BW: It feels like things are coming into the here and now, you know? The pieces for Venice are being built now…it’s all just very exciting.
Credit: The Starry Messenger, Bedwyr Williams. Designed by Åbäke. Courtesy Wales in Venic Cymru yn Fenis 2013.