Interview: Glasgow International director Sarah McCrory talks to artist Bedwyr Williams
The Welsh artist works with film and video to create apocalyptic visions in everyday scenarios
New Glasgow International director Sarah McCrory chats to visual artist Bedwyr Williams. Fresh from his success representing Wales at the Venice Biennale, he’ll be filling Tramway’s cavernous exhibition hall with a broken bus, some smoke and a film about the end of the world
Sarah McCrory: Hey Bedwyr, what’s your new film about?
Bedwyr Williams: It’s about an end of the world, or apocalyptic, scenario. I’ve always been interested in those kind of films but I think the first time I realised what it might actually be like in the UK was the fuel blockade in 2002/2003. I just remember the desperation; people were filling buckets full of petrol and trying to carry it home before it evaporated.
In Hollywood films that try to portray the apocalypse, they always show it in terms of an action story but I’m more interested in what it would be like in 25 Acacia Avenue when the triffids arrive: not where the main story is. It’s like the beginning of the Tom Cruise film War of the Worlds: the first half hour is great because it’s about the neighbourhood and all the people who live in New Jersey (or wherever he is). As soon as that’s over the film goes into the narrative, all the interesting stuff is done and it’s just action and fighting and dying and stuff. But those street scenes are great: how society breaks down, minus the heroes.
How are you going to present the film in Tramway?
Everyone said that Tramway is very big. I looked at what other people had put there in the past and it occurred to me that a bus would be such a good thing to have. There’s something about a bus that says a lot about the breakdown of society: buses are used to get people in and out of strikes, both scabs and pickets.
I decided the film Echt should be shown in the luggage bay of the bus. You finish a journey where everyone has been quite amiable onboard, then you go to get your stuff from underneath and everyone turns into coyotes at a car boot sale. It’s one of those moments where our veneer of gentility slips a little bit.
The audience will sit on the suitcases that have been unloaded as a kind of mini rake of seating. And I think, I hope, that people are conditioned in such a way that sitting in that scenario will make them feel a little tense. It will remind them of being dropped off somewhere or waiting for their luggage.
So, the coach is going to be in this big, dark room with a smoky atmosphere around, and you happen upon it through a breached fence. The idea of a bus with its headlamps on in a clearing on a dark road is in itself creepy, especially if it’s empty.
And as part of the show you’ll be making a performance in Tramway as well?
Yes. My mother has made a suit that I’m wearing as the narrator of this film. And you come across me on the floor of a makeshift emergency centre in a sports hall, like they had after Hurricane Katrina or even the floods in the UK. In this scenario I’ve got really long legs and the legs of the jogging bottoms are like 10ft long. I’m going to lie on my belly as if I’m a child watching TV. What I want is two volunteers in dark clothes that operate my feet as puppets; my feet should be at an angle so they loll around in that way you do when you’re lying on your belly. In the background will be a tight jazz combo playing really hokey grooves.
SM: How do you see this film as a continuation of the work from Venice? Is it a complete departure for you?
I’m working with Casey and Euan, the two guys I worked with for the Venice film. They make music videos and often use a mix of low tech bits and bobs and animation and so on. I think the link with the Venice film is this idea of things being exploded or smashed up. So, the Big Bang, on an atomic level, is quite similar to what would happen if society broke down. If the government and royal family were removed, I imagine things would explode.
Bedwyr Williams: Echt, Tramway, Glasgow, Fri 4 Apr–Mon 25 May.