Art Parcours at Art Basel 41

Colin Chinnery

June 28, 2010
Art Basel, Basel
June 17–19, 2010

After seeing what felt like thousands of artworks in hundreds of booths at the fairs, the feeling of walking around Basel’s old town in search of the nine individual art projects of Jens Hoffmann’s Art Parcours was a welcome hiatus from fair fatigue. But what made Parcours a coherent project was the difference in mentalities and attitudes between the various works, and the rhythm of mood that was created from one work to the next. Especially important was the live factor, feeling the presence of the artist. Instead of attempting to create a common denominator between the works, Hoffmann worked with artists who gave different interpretations of the processes of observation, participation, narrative, and the theatrical.

Ryan Gander’s Loose Associations, was the perfect starting point. Gander’s work took the form of an open lecture that weaved different personal anecdotes and observations the artist made over the years. Loose Associations has become a well-known work since it was first performed in 2002, but few people have had the chance to experience this event. The relaxed delivery by the artist, the idiosyncratic sense of curiosity that made Gander collect his anecdotes, and the way the various subjects blend into each other makes this a captivating experience. The sense of logic that binds the various stories together has the effect of opening up one’s perception of how things are linked together in the world, something explored by artists straddling the art-theatre divide for some years. Works such as Instructions for Forgetting (2001) by Forced Entertainment or Bobby Baker’s Box Story (2001) found associations between various aesthetic and intellectual disciplines to create new narrative forms very much like Gander’s entrancing storytelling.

The venue for Loose Associations was the auditorium of the Natural History Museum, where portraits of the great and good stare down from the walls. After the performance, the audience was ushered down into the basement storage rooms of the museum for Nathalie Djurberg’s claymation mayhem. The relationship between the work and its venue was made conspicuous here, with Gander’s intellectual explorations under the gaze of prominent academics at the top of the museum, and the journey down into the bowls of the museum for Djurberg’s depictions of primal instincts. Surrounded by cabinets of animal skulls and other bones, Djurberg had the perfect gothic environment to screen four of her dark animations, all involving animals. The cathartic pleasure Djurberg seems to derive from portraying debased sex and violence sometimes results in predictable sequences within her animations, but being surrounded by eons of death and natural selection at the Natural History Museum, the work rather fed on the legacy surrounding it.

At the neighbouring Museum of Cultural History, Martha Rosler was present, tending over her Fair Trade Garage Sale, a remake of a work originally set up in San Diego in 1973. Ordinary trinkets and cheap antiques donated from the local Basel community were set up for sale in the ground floor museum space, a clear commentary of the commercial activity in neighbouring art fairs. Rosler could be seen negotiating the prices of secondhand books and old porcelain with every buyer, giving the smallest discounts to rich collectors. After 37 years since the work was first executed, Fair Trade Garage Sale had the aura of a reenactment rather than an active statement. The work lost none of its relevance—as the market has become far more pervasive a force than ever before, but perhaps it feels somewhat harmless as it has itself earned the status of a historical artwork and, therefore, it becomes the object of admiration rather than an agent for reflection. Collectors were itching to ask Rosler to sign all the bits and pieces they bought from her.

In the centre of the Basel’s old town at the City Hall, Damian Ortega installed a giant three-armed scale that could hold one person on each arm. By gaining an extra arm, this traditional symbol of justice became more representative of the complexities of politics and the subjective nature of justice. His social sculpture is a representation of the way things should be: not a fight between right and wrong, but a balance of all the shades in-between the two binary opposites.

Eagerly anticipating Cerith Wyn Evans’s fireworks performance Wayward Landscape from across the river, one could see Daniel Buren’s coloured windows from the Old University of Basel. However, the fierce and swelling river fed by days of rain forced its cancellation, together with John Bock’s ferry crossing performances. Two theatrical pieces defeated by the weather. Not far away, one artist found a way to beat the clouds: in the Basel Münster, Angela Bulloch’s LED lightbox night sky twinkled silently, turning the cathedral’s ceiling into a ciel.

Theater, Performance
Storytelling, Animation & Cartoons, Light Art

Colin Chinnery is an artist, curator, and writer based in Beijing, China.

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June 28, 2010

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