I was really excited with what he might produce as a musician stepping into the visual art world, his pedigree teeters on the edge of sound art anyway - I was particularly grabbed by his intention to film and record ambient sounds in the house in which he was raised in Garnant.
Cale revealed a very difficult childhood and a fractious relationship with Wales and the Welsh language, and his intention to address these issues through an essentially cathartic mix of performance, film and sound in association with cinematographer Bevis Bowden. At the heart of this concept he discussed his mis-communication with his English speaking father. Unable to speak with him until he was seven years old due to the matriarchal edicts of his Welsh speaking grandmother - this formative trauma and his subsequent exile to America underpin the work.
I watched the piece Dark Days/Dyddiau Du twice and wanted so much to really fall in love with it. Having chewed it over I have to admit I haven't. There are some beautiful sections in the 45 minute work, some lovely sound, some exquisite images. It is sentimentally Welsh which I don't actually mind. My problem lies in its unremitting self indulgence.
I hoped the piece would open a dialogue about and for Wales around language and identity, but there is an inherent dichotomy in that position. The work addresses the condition of non communication weighed down by time, distorted and muted. It's a bit of a one way street. Cale exposes his own convoluted rage, processed, diverted and subverted, but, (and this is poignant when I think of it) he is once removed behind the glass of his fame and it is possible he hasn't considered the impact of the piece, the nature of the relationship with the viewer. Alternatively, perhaps one can detect just a ripple of mischief, an irresistible opportunity to settle a score. Cale proclaimed the wish to create a visceral piece, and in the process may well have eviscerated his own dark days, but in an act of personal catharsis to which we are asked to stand witness and endure. There is a curious numbness and lack of engagement for the viewer, and if that is his intention it is very successfully achieved but perhaps not successfully communicated.
Images: John Cale shakes hands with Minister for Heritage, Alun Ffred Jones, AM
No photography allowed inside the installation..
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