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The bigger picture; In the final of our series of profiles on the Artes Mundi candidates before the winner of the PS40,000 prize is announced, director Karen MacKinnon explores the work of Renzo Martens and Renata Lucas.

UPSTAIRS at National Museum Cardiff, the seductive and unmistakable aroma of chocolate lures us into the gallery in which Renzo Martens is displaying a series of new works for Artes Mundi 6. This new work is in collaboration with the Institute for Human Activities.

In the next five years, Martens will work in the Congo, as director of the Institute for Human Activities, where the institute has set up an arts centre, which will deliver seminars and education programmes to educate and generate wealth.

In this work he poses the question - if art in the West can be used to kickstart a local economy and to regenerate, then why can't it do the same in the Congo? This is a provocative and complex work which questions and challenges the global capitalist system and the multinational corporations that control it.

Deeply blended in this chocolate are centuries of tensions and social and economic inequalities between the so-called "developed" and "under developed" world, between the rich and the desperately poor.

The workers who made the cocoa earn a pittance and live in squalid conditions, mortality rates are high. But we know this, right? Maybe we do and we do our best to buy fairtrade chocolate or we give money to charity or volunteer or maybe we do none of these things.

These individual acts are, of course, important, but Martens, through his work, invites us to consider the bigger picture, capitalism and its global power structures. He attempts to challenge these systems by collaborating with the plantation workers to make and sell their own produce.

These full body figures and busts were originally made by Congolese plantation workers, and then rendered into 3D models using the highest quality Belgian chocolate to make the sculptures on display, each Congolese artists' name labelled on the wall amongst them Djonga Bismar and Mbuku Kipala.

Small chocolate heads in pristine boxes are on sale "special exhibition price PS39.95" all proceeds go straight back to the plantation workers.

On display at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff is an earlier work by Martens entitled Episode 3 (Enjoy Poverty).

In this work, Martens takes on the role of narcissistic, white journalist in the Congo.

It is a dark and provocative work in which he encourages the plantation workers to sell the only resource they have - poverty itself.

Critics of Martens work say he is using the language and systems of those he attempts to criticise and is therefore also exploiting the same people, he collaborates with, but I urge you to see both pieces and make your own decisions.

The next exhibition space stands out as we are confronted with a floor covered in plywood boards with handles. This is the work of Brazilian artist Renata Lucas.

Rows of two, three and four plywood pieces have been attached together with hinges allowing us to move sections of the floor, fold it, create ramps, upright triangular pieces, move it all to one side, flatten it, and create paths through it.

Whilst we are encouraged to "play" with the work it is not so simple. The boards are heavy, the handles are awkward, instructions on the wall say we must seek assistance from the museum assistants if we want to rearrange the boards.

Doesn't this go against the spirit of playfulness? The boards themselves are simply constructed, well made but you couldn't call this work beautiful.

Falha (Failure) is deliberately frustrating. It upsets our passive enjoyment of art and the gallery space. Even if we refuse to interact with it we are forced to negotiate and create a path through it dependent on how it has been left by other visitors.

Through the work; Lucas rejects the idea of a passive enjoyment of art and instead asks us to rearrange the space.

Her work is disruptive and noisy. It challenges UK health and safety rules and regulations, but it also challenges us. It is fascinating to watch how people react to this deceptively simple piece.

It's true that the works of Renzo Martens and Renata Lucas are very different but both are deeply challenging and both through their disparate practices question the way things are and our place in the world - the economic systems and institutions we construct, questions of passive consumption and empowerment.

On January 21 we will welcome all of the shortlisted artists back to Cardiff for our conference, Straight From The Horse's Mouth, held in partnership with Cardiff Metropolitan University School of Art and Design. This series of talks and conversations offers a rare opportunity to hear the Artes Mundi 6 shortlisted artists speak about core themes and concerns that are central to their practice.

The following day, one of artists will receive the PS40,000 Artes Mundi Prize.

Artes Mundi 6 is running at three locations - National Museum Cardiff, Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff and Ffotogallery in Penarth - until February 22. For more information on the exhibition and conference visit www.artesmundi.org

CAPTION(S):

Falha (Failure) 2014 by Renata Lucas

'Self Portrait' by multiple plantation workers in collaberation with Human Activities 2014 Renzo Martens

Work by Renzo Martens

Work by Renzo Martens

Falha (Failure) 2014 by Renata Lucas
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:6ZAIR
Date:Jan 2, 2015
Words:863
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