We are living in uncertain times and The Future Has A Past, a multidisciplined exhibition at National Museum Wales‘ St. Fagans, invites us to think about the direction we are taking and the decisions we are making. Amgueddfa Cymru Producers and Dutch artist Henry Alles sifted through the national collections of Wales and chose 59 artefacts to illustrate themes such as environment, gender identity and diversity. Exhibits aren’t labelled, which at first seems odd – there were many pieces, such as the posing fish in the glass case, that I would have liked to have known more about – but this show is about the collective and not the individual.
The exhibition is split into three physical chapters and, on entering, guests are given a booklet that acts as a prompt rather than a guide. Because this is someone else’s creative vision, it soon becomes a guessing game, the question “why did the artists choose this item?” being foremost in the mind. This rather misses the point. The past influencing the future couldn’t be a timelier concept, but it’s a big one. The artists here have tried to cover a lot of ground in a small space and things seem a little disjointed.
This is an exhibition that expects a lot from its audience. Nothing should be taken at face value, and you are expected to do a lot of thinking. The booklet also acts as a fourth chapter and contains a section on language and poetry – the context of which isn’t clear. A few clues here and there would have helped, but maybe I wasn’t thinking hard enough.
This isn’t a show to be taken lightly. Don’t look around and leave, stay and consider, talk to the curators: the story of the making of the exhibition and the artist’s thoughts are often more interesting than the exhibition itself, and you can hear more about the process in the accompanying podcast. The Future Has A Past was meant to be fully interactive, but when the pandemic happened plans had to be revised – which could be the reason it feels incomplete. If COVID hadn’t struck this might have been a whole different experience.
National Museum Of History, St Fagans
The Future Has A Past runs until Fri 21 Jan. Admission: free. Info: here
words LYNDA NASH
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