“Without dialogue a group is a historical entity”.
56 Group Wales is an exhibiting group of contemporary professional artists living and working in Wales. Founded in 1956 by artists Eric Malthouse, David Tinker and Michael Edmonds, the original aim was to develop a radically different exhibition programme showing work in Wales in as many places as possible. More recently the group has embraced the concept of constellation theorized by social critic Walter Benjamin (b. Germany, 1892-1940). For Benjamin, constellation is a means of linking the past to “the now”. Such a link is forged within the 56 Group Wales in recognition that current members are responsible for the group’s future history, as something produced in the present, in the now, with the need to maintain innovative practices in respect for their past. Thus the group acknowledges their origins (past), a desire and need to move forward (present) into the twenty-first century with renewed vigour (future).
More recently curator Nicolas Bourriaud (b. France, 1965-) proposed the term the altermodern for modernity in the twenty-first century. Having sprung from modernity in the mid-twentieth century, this development, with alter signifying radical difference, becomes highly relevant to the group. Bourriaud (2009) proposes the radically different, altermodern exhibition as a “constellation of meaning” (an interweaving of dialogue, a joining of dots) between artists, works of art, artist statements, curators, viewers and exhibition spaces. Through the concept of the constellation the group is able to allow the now to be inscribed with the group’s past, and simultaneously produce interlinking narratives that informs the group’s present and subsequently their future. The resulting narrative and constellation dialogues convey a sense of cohesion between a disparate group made up of very different artists. For it is through constellation that unity proceeds. Thus the group’s exhibitions and the resulting dialogues come to act as hypertext with one sign directing us to a second and third to create a chain of mutually interconnected ideas and identity. Consequently the 56 Group Wales can be seen as a cross-fertilized entity of hybridity, tracing paths and weaving networks between shared and/or paradoxical ideas, processes and practices, between one and other, informing who we are, and the now and future of contemporary art in Wales.
56 Group Wales 60th Anniversary Photography Project
To celebrate the 60th Anniversary, the 56 Group Wales received a grant from the Brecknock Art Trust to fund a photographic project undertaken by member Tiff Oben. The project involves photographing each current member in their studio space against a backdrop of artwork. The aim of the project is to give an understanding of who the current members are and to continue the photographic archive that might be used in future publications and marketing.
To date six of the newest members have been photographed: Tiff Oben, Sue Hiley Harris, Pete Williams, Kay Keogh, Corinthe Rizvi and Alison Lochhead. These initial photographs formed part of the 2016 exhibition entitled Artists in the Archives: 60 Years of 56 Group Wales at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. Forming the close of the exhibition, the final space containing the images of the newest members looked forward positively to the future of the group, its development and ongoing contribution to the arts in Wales. The project continues over the coming months to incorporate all twenty-five permanent members and our two new temporary fellows.
A Taste of the Avant-Garde: 56 Group Wales, 56 Years is a concise illustrated history of the Group written by David Moore, curator and author with a particular interest in Welsh art, and published in 2012. The book is based on the Group’s extensive archives and includes, as well as the long and interesting history, a short biography of each artist member and details of the Group’s many exhibitions and extensive exhibition tours in Great Britain and Europe.
Further information and details about the book can be found on the publisher’s website. www.crookedwindow.co.uk