13 May - 26 November 2017

James Richards exhibits Music for the gift, a new body of work including a sound installation, video and photographic works, to represent Wales in Venice Cymru yn Fenis as a collateral event of the 57th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia. The exhibition, commissioned by the Arts Council of Wales and curated by Chapter, is presented for the fourth time at the Santa Maria Ausiliatrice.

Cardiff-born 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, 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 body. Drawing on cultural as well as visceral qualities, Richards’ work sets up striking elliptical interplays of sound and image.

Richards’ presentation for Wales in Venice Cymru yn Fenis 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 six-channel electro-acoustic installation that explores the capacity of sound to render artificial spaces and locate sonic and melodic events within them. The work shifts around the viewer, setting up and 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 of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. The work has then been ‘tuned to the room’, with Richards reacting to the acoustic contingencies of the site as he constructs a poetic audio-collage. Moving across a range of 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. 

James Richards, Migratory Motor Complex, six-channel audio installation
James Richards, Migratory Motor Complex, six-channel audio installation, 2017. Commissioned by Wales in Venice for the 57th Venice Biennale ©

James Richards; courtesy Wales in Venice. Photo: Jamie Woodley

James Richards and Steve Reinke, What weakens the flesh is the flesh itself (installation view), digital video with sound, 2017
James Richards and Steve Reinke, What weakens the flesh is the flesh itself (installation view), digital video with sound, 2017 ©

James Richards and Steve Reinke; courtesy Wales in Venice. Photo Jamie Woodley

James Richards, Music for the gift, 2017, production still
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

James Richards and Steve Reinke, What weakens the flesh is the flesh itself (installation view), digital video with sound, 2017
James Richards and Steve Reinke, What weakens the flesh is the flesh itself (installation view), digital video with sound, 2017 ©

James Richards and Steve Reinke; courtesy Wales in Venice. Photo Jamie Woodley

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 – held at The Schwules Museum*, Berlin. Amongst pictures of friends and photographs taken whilst serving in World War II is a collection of self-portraits that reveal an obsessive commitment to body modification and his own image: duplicated, 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 images are disrupted and reinstated through a scanning process that stretches and stacks them into different combinations; subject matter appears to fall away, refracted and recalibrated; the image itself is fragile.

A publication of deceptive economy, present throughout the exhibition, 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 several years and McCormack’s words began to chime when Richards spent time in the Santa Maria Ausiliatrice. Moving 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.


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 Request 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 has been selected for the 2017 Whitney Biennial. He was a recipient of the 2014 Ars Viva Prize for artists and the 2012 Jarman Award for film and video and was shortlisted for the 2014 Turner Prize. Richards is represented by Rodeo and Cabinet in London. 

Invigilator Plus programme 

Invigilator Plus will provide 18 individuals with the opportunity to develop their international experience and be part of the Cymru yn Fenis Wales in Venice 2017 team. Each participant will spend at least a month in Venice, invigilating the presentation over a 28 week period, in teams of three.

Invigilator Plus is accompanied by a programme of professional development, learning and engagement that is devised and delivered by Chapter and partner organisation G39. 

About Cymru yn Fenis Wales in Venice

James Richards: Music for the gift is curated by Hannah Firth and managed by Chapter.

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 the British Council.

See also

External links