Bethan Huws

Bethan Huw, Fountain (Il est comme un saint dans sa niche: Il ne bouge pas, p.75-78)

The sound of the water flowing into the fountain recalls that of speech. One could say that its flowing progression equally resembles the thinking process. So there is in fact a correspondence between the words and the images. Here, speaking involves talking about art while the act of speaking itself constitutes a work of art. It is an attempt at interpretation, an attempt to understand, based on the assumption that language is central to Duchamp’s artistic practice.


Bethan Huws, Untitled (The priority of speech…)

Bethan Huws is a Welsh artist who studied in London and now lives between Paris and Berlin. Her work is strongly influenced by her Welsh origins, by her rural childhood, by the fact that she grew up speaking Welsh, a Celtic language used by a very small population in Britain. She is a conceptual artist in the tradition pioneered by Marcel Duchamp – one of the first artists to employ language as a fundamental element in the creation of art, and word games as a technique for investigating the essence of the art object itself. The idea of the translatability of different languages and a predominantly rural education lie at the heart of Huws’s thinking, and she has always used a wide variety of media to express her own, very personal, vision of the world. Bethan Huws’ curatorial concept takes as its starting point the combinatorial practice, inherent logic and analytical wealth of references seen in Duchamp’s thinking.

Today hardly anyone looks at the world: the world is being read. Polish language seems to support this view by submitting handy metaphors of reading for visual perception. When a picture or an image is blurred and unclear, we say that it is illegible, i.e. cannot be read. The world seems to speak to us, or rather write to us in sentences, which we try to read from left to write, from top to bottom, combining things as if they were words.

But this process is supplemented by its apparent opposite: words are also visible objects. The difference between letters and objects, between signs and things, is increasingly difficult to define. Bethan Huws’ works from the Word Vitrines series, though they use language, are first and foremost material objects. Her exhibition catalogues enumerate materials out which these works have been made: “aluminium, glass, rubber and plastic letters”. They give number of copies, identify the owner, provide us with dimensions: 75x50x4,5 cm and 100x75x4,5 cm. And what dimensions do words have? In how many copies do they exist? What materials have been used to produce them?  

Pertinent questions, because Huws’ vitrines are also words, combined into phrases or sentences, which are far from being – esthetically, politically, philosophically – neutral. Some can be read as concrete poetry.

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