Undo Things Done, the Wales in Venice 2019 solo exhibition by artist Sean Edwards, was a Collateral Event of the 58th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia. Wales in Venice started as an Official Collateral presentation in 2003 and is commissioned by Arts Council of Wales with support from the Welsh Government. Undo Things Done was curated by Marie-Anne McQuay for lead organisation Tŷ Pawb, Wrexham. Undo Things Done received 25,000 visitors during the run of La Biennale di Venezia.
Undo Things Done takes as its starting point Edwards’ experience of growing up on a council estate in Cardiff in the 1980s, capturing and translating what he calls a condition of ‘not expecting much’ into a shared visual language; one that evokes a way of living familiar to a great number of people.
Known for his sculptural approach to the everyday, Edwards often begins with seemingly unrelated elements linked by autobiographical and cultural connections. Through investigative processes including time spent in local archives, museums and libraries, he gathers together images, stories, quotes, and clips. It is in the teasing out of these things in the studio, in isolating, abstracting, and bringing them together, that their political and formal resonance comes into play.
Edwards’ emotionally resonant body of work – film, sculptures, prints, Welsh quilts and a live daily radio play performed by the artist’s mother and streamed to the venue from Cardiff – was staged in Venice in the Santa Maria Ausiliatrice, Castello, a former church and convent and now community centre and school. The exhibition opened 11 May 2020 and was sent to run til 24 November 2020 but was forced to close a week early along with several other presentations due to unprecedented flooding. The exhibition has since been adapted to new sites and contexts as it tours.
As part of Undo Things Done Edwards produced a publication with Wayne Daly of Daly & Lyon with reproduced and newly commissioned texts addressing the materiality of the art works and wider themes of home, inheritance, social class and belonging. You can purchase the book via Cornerhouse Publications and you can read selected newly commissioned texts here:
Born in Cardiff in 1980, Sean Edwards graduated from Cardiff School of Art & Design before studying an MA in sculpture at Slade School of Fine Art.
The artist returned to Wales in 2005 where he has since contributed to the development of the Welsh artistic landscape through his own artistic practice and supporting the development of emerging artists via artist-led space g39 and now as lecturer in Fine Art at Cardiff School of Art and Design, Cardiff Metropolitan University. Edwards has exhibited widely, nationally and internationally including Spike Island, Bristol; Chapter, Cardiff and Kunstverein Freiburg, Germany.
He has developed permanent public artwork with Studio Response, and Future City and in 2014 was awarded the Gold Medal in Fine Art at the National Eisteddfod and is a former recipient of Arts Council of Wales’s Creative Wales Awards.
He is represented by Tanya Leighton, Berlin.
Tanya Leighton, Berlin
Marie-Anne McQuay, guest international curator for Wales in Venice 2019 has been Head of Programme at Bluecoat, Liverpool, (the UK’s oldest contemporary arts centre) since November 2014. Recent solo exhibitions and projects at Bluecoat include commissioning new work by Larissa Sansour, Louisa Martin, Adham Faramawy, Elaine Mitchener and Grace Ndiritu.
Previously she was curator at Spike Island, Bristol (2007-2013) working with artists including Elizabeth Price, Laure Prouvost, Can Altay, Sonia Boyce, Cevdet Erek, Melissa Gordon, Sean Edwards, Uriel Orlow, Amanda Beech, Craig Mulholland, James Richards & Jesse Jones.
Marie-Anne first worked with Sean Edwards in 2011 on the exhibition ‘Maelfa’, Spike Island, Bristol.
Undo Things Done opened at lead organisation Tŷ Pawb, Wrexham on Friday 28 February 2020. Due to the Covid-19 outbreak the show closed a couple of weeks later and moved to an on-line presentation. Documentation from that presentation can be found on this site along with the Venice show.
Included in the tour is a recorded version of Refrain – a radio play co-produced by National Theatre Wales and written specially by Sean Edwards for his mother Lily Edwards. This radio play, which was at the heart of the Venice exhibition, was performed live daily by Lily during the Biennale, streamed from her flat in Cardiff to the Cymru yn Fenis Wales in Venice 2019 venue Santa Maria Ausiliatrice, Castello. Refrain weaves Lily Edwards’ biography, growing up in a Northern Irish Catholic Children’s Home and her subsequent life in Wales, with found materials and Sean Edwards’ memories from childhood. As the Biennale came to a close a specially commissioned version of Refrain produced by John Norton and Martin Williams was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 17 December 2020. Courtesy of the artist Sean Edwards, you can listen to Refrain as it was broadcast in Venice here.
After Tŷ Pawb, Wrexham, Undo Things Done will travel to Senedd, Cardiff, 26th July to 9th September 2020, by invitation of the National Assembly of Wales. In November 2020 the exhibition will then tour to Cymru yn Fenis Wales in Venice 2019 partner Bluecoat, Liverpool. The tour of Undo Things Done is kindly supported by Art Fund, Colwinston Charitable Trust and the Elephant Trust. Dates are subject to change due to the pandemic.
In the run up to Cymru yn Fenis Wales in Venice 2019, Sahar Martinez, Clara Hartley, Ellie Mountford, Ellie Hacking and Eve Barnes – members of Criw Celf Cardiff – were invited to record footage of Sean Edwards’ work in progress. Criw Celf is a series of masterclasses that give an opportunity for those children who have shown talent and/or a special interest in art to develop their skills and experiences.
Artist and education coordinator Thomas Goddard invited the group to produce an interpretative response to this year’s Wales in Venice exhibition. He says: “Together we researched and discussed the work, the biennale and its context. The young people were keen to share behind-the-scenes footage of Sean’s work in production, and were inspired to make a piece of art of their own in response”.
You can watch the behind-the-scenes film they made below. The group also went on to make a zine for the opening of Undo Things Done at Tŷ Pawb in Wrexham (2020).
As part of the Invigilator Plus Programme, a team of 18 artists, educators, curators and students traveled to Venice to support the delivery of Undo things Done, offering a hands-on experience of working in Venice, networking with international peers and additional access to mentoring in Wales. You can read more about the Invigilator Plus Programme on the Arts Council of Wales website.
Santa Maria Ausiliatrice
Fondamenta San Gioacchin
Refrain, a live radio play, will be performed daily at 14:00
Wales in Venice 2019, a solo presentation by artist Sean Edwards, is a Collateral Event of the 58th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia. The project is commissioned by Arts Council of Wales and curated by Marie-Anne McQuay for lead organisation Tŷ Pawb.
The Elephant Trust