5 - 22 August 2009

An offsite exhibition at National Theatre Wales

Paul Rees, Glass Menagerie 2008
Paul Rees, Glass Menagerie 2008

g39 was invited by National Theatre Wales to curate a number of exhibitions at their new office premises in the lead up to their programme launch in November 2009. Prop is the first of these, and presents three artists whose works seem to expose the artifice of presenting. The artworks hold onto some of the characteristics of their source material, using mimicry, imitation and subterfuge to engage us.

Sam Aldridge has created a palette of breezeblocks and hard hats from corrugated cardboard. The illusion isn’t hidden, the objects always reveal their cardboard origins, but which is more real – a man-made block of cement and aggregate or a man-made corrugated cardboard replica? The work is always playful and this piece can be re-arranged, re-appropriated to create alternative spaces, alternative constructions.

Paul Rees’s video engages directly with the theatricality of performance. In scene one we see a plainly dressed man with a heavy Neath accent read out a passage from a script – Glass Menagerie. The delivery is deadpan and ordinary. The scene plays again, the Welsh accent remains but the character is more animated and gives us gestural clues about the space he might inhabit. On the next run-through an American twang is detectable, the actions more elaborate. Finally, he is in costume and the scene plays out in full. It isn’t the believability of the performance or whether this accent is convincing that is the measure here, but the slow, practised transition from one character to another. It is like witnessing an audition to camera, where the narrative relevance of the script is disjointed and the shift from actor to character is more starkly exposed.

Richard Higlett’s photograph of his sculpture Prop spells out 2004AD, an elegy to the ‘Countdown’ font, a typeface designed in 1966 by Colin Brignall. In its day this typeface was aspirational, designed to reflect a futuristic utopia in a decade where space exploration was embryonic. The clumsy typeface embodies the optimism that would ultimately never be realised. The future of then didn’t happen as the Cold War played out and the space race became grounded. Now seemingly misplaced in a timeless wood, Prop operates between the boundaries of Nature and Artifice. The metallic structure signifies the presence of man, yet the piece becomes ultimately lost in the surrounding environment: the mirrored surface doesn’t reflect the shiny new age of the 21st century, only the trees that surround it.

In a recent essay Richard wrote “In Mel Brookes’ classic comedy western Blazing Saddles (1974), Bart played by Cleavon Little rides through a wild west town. As the scene extends we see the timber backs of the Salons and Livery Stores, two-dimensional props. Riding on further, the joke is embellished as we see an orchestra in the desert creating the dramatic musical score. The etiquette of the flat screen theatre of Cinema is broken and briefly we are transported out of the film’s illusionary environment. It is this transition of experience that interests me and the moment of realisation that something it not as it appears.”

For further information about National Theatre Wales visit

  • Richard Higlett, Prop (2004AD), 2005
  • Paul Rees, Glass Menagerie 2008
  • Sam Aldridge, Lift Interior, 2008
  • Sam Aldridge, Dummy CCTV, 2008
  • Paul Rees, Glass Menagerie, 2008
  • Richard Higlett, Prop (2004AD) (detail), 2005