Art Basel Roundup
June 18-21, 2015
Gold (2004), performed by Alexandra Bachzetsis at the Natural History Museum on the opening night of Parcours, said it all: she entered the room wearing stilettos and a tiny, shiny golden bikini, her body covered in oil like a wrestler. She turned a camera on and started dancing in front of it, building an intense routine of iconic, sexy moves while ripping up sheets of paper from a pile. Only in the second part of the performance, when she projected the video accompanied by an electronic music set, did it become clear that she had been shaking her, quote, “bum-bum” to a series of explicit hip-hop lyrics, from “Is it worth it, let me work it” (Missy Elliott, “Work It,” 2002) to “I can teach you, / but I have to charge” (Kelis, “Milkshake,” 2003). Here is the artist as commodity, in real time.
Welcome to Planet Art, as UBS called its new “data-driven app [which] offers you a single, simplified point of access to a diverse range of art news and information,” and “trending artists.” As algorithms run faster than humans, information about an artwork is circulated (and controlled, filtered, sanitized) before your gaze can reach it in real life. By the time you do, you feel as if formulating a judgment from personal taste, unaccountable in terms of “likes,” is subversive.
Basel’s attention economy commands fierce competition, even outside the fair. Close by, at Messeplatz, the Swiss Art Awards champion the local breed and Rirkrit Tiravanija’s half-performative, half-functional kitchen DO WE DREAM UNDER THE SAME SKY (2015, with architects Nikolaus Hirsch/Michel Müller and chef Antto Melasniemi) has a grotesque twist, though less awkward than Tadashi Kawamata’s infamous Favela Café (2013): it offers free meals in exchange for washing dishes and being nice. Given the queue and the air of excitement around it, one might be inclined to suspect that guests perceive both “experiences” as exceptional.
Basel Art Week occupies the city like a biennial. Its dense program—blockbuster exhibitions, solo shows (my pick: Martin Boyce at the Museum für Gegenwartskunst, elegant, solid, and beautifully installed), group shows, film screenings, performances, and readings—leads one to be less fearful of missing out (FOMO) than of being forced to miss out (FTMO). On Wednesday night at Theater Basel, the 1913 Futurist opera Victory of the Sun—originally notorious for a set which included Kasimir Malevich’s first “Black Square” painting and now restaged to promote Fondation Beyeler’s upcoming Malevich exhibition—fought hard to impress a distracted audience, some of whom were texting in the dark. I missed Romeo Castellucci’s The Parthenon Metopes (2015) at the Messe, despite my best intentions, and I’m still looking forward to seeing the performance of Lithuanian-born, New York–based Ieva Misevičiūtė at Volkshaus Basel, part of LISTE’s performance program curated by Eva Birkenstock.
Anthropocenic doom and the questionable ecologies of corporate sponsorship cross paths—again at the Volkshaus—in Robin Meier’s Synchronicity (2015), the first art commission by luxury watch brand Audemars Piguet. This project, curated by Marc Olivier Wahler, involved the shipping to Basel of a swarm of Japanese fireflies (whose life cycle ranges from 5 to 10 days) and the creation of an “artificial” bio-system inside a huge tent located inside the Volkshaus’s theater, with the intention that the insects “synchronize” with computer-operated LED lights. The fair’s visitors can marvel at the spectacle while trying to avoid stomping on the little creatures. The cycles of art, by contrast, can be long and sometimes tiring. Back in 1992, writing in the catalogue that accompanied “Post Human,” the exhibition he curated on shifting notions of selfhood, body, and “natural life,” Jeffrey Deitch wondered, “Will we be able to create art that is also biology? […] Could the world evolve into a nightmarish situation with new, improved Post Humans in the wealthy countries ruling over the ‘old humans’ in countries where the new technologies cannot be readily afforded? All these scenarios remain unclear.”(1)
Anicka Yi’s solo exhibition “7,070,430K of Digital Spit,” curated by Elena Filipovic at the Kunsthalle Basel, tunes into the post human vibe. Yi offers the public a new, specially designed “forgetting” perfume, Aliens and Alzheimer’s (2015). I put my head inside the dryer door that keeps it from dispersing and took a deep breath. I was hoping for relief from the information overload, but the opposite occurred: in the following hours, I walked around with the (rather disturbing) smell tickling my nose and throat, haunting everything I encountered. It felt like a lesson learned. The absence of “unpleasantness” from the mediascape and product range in Basel is impressive. Piero Golia’s guillotine, Untitled (Evil exist where good men do nothing) (2005), installed in the courtyard of the Rathaus, is an exception—it was intended, he told me, as an homage to Beuys and his faith in the revolutionary power of art. Originally placed on its side, it now stands on end and looks ready for action. Or maybe punishment.
After the lesson in forgetting came the lesson in remembering. “Future Present” (how many empty futures have titles evoked, lately?) is a crash course in the essentials of modern and contemporary (Western) art, as well as a reminder of every exhibition held at Schaulager since its opening in 2003. Every floor of the Herzog & De Meuron-designed warehouse is open for the occasion, and walking along the upper stairs, with their rough concrete walls, brings to mind the nuclear shelters embedded in so many Swiss gardens. A whole new district is developing in Dreispitz, a tram stop away from Schaulager. Kunsthaus Baselland intends to move there soon, and UBS is building a huge space next door to HeK (House of Electronic Arts) and project space Oslo 10. They join the academy FHNW HGK, where Chus Martinez, the Head of the Art Institute, inaugurated the institute’s new exhibition space Der TANK this week, and Fabian Marti’s pink-tinted TwoHOTEL(2015), based on his exchanges with artists and friends.
The ambitious and energetic retrospective “Haroon Mirza/hrm199 Ltd.” (the title combines the name of the artist with that of his company) at Musée Tinguely also calls into play the role of collaboration, framed as the possibility of working with others as well the opportunity to “cannibalize”—the artist’s words—their work. Among the best examples are Mirza’s reactivation of Tinguely’s Mengele Totentanz (1986)—after the famous Renaissance frescoes of Totentanz in Kleinbasel which warn against the vanity of terrestrial pleasures—and A Chamber for Horwitz; Sonakinatography Transcriptions in Surround Sound (2015), for which Mirza translates into an hour-long light-and-sound concert the chromatic “scores” on paper by the Californian artist Channa Horwitz (Sonakinatography Compositions, 1968-2012, also on display).
So where/how do communities come together? At SALTS, in Birsfelden, Elise Lammer and Samuel Leuenberger have invited romantically involved artists to perform as couples on the occasion of their annual garden party (the curators’ own partners are participating). The result is the “performance exhibition” “WLGTDWI” (after Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Gotta Do With It?”—the nineties are trending, folks) with Nino Baumgartner, Claudia Comte, Dawn Mok, Egon Elliut, Petrit Halilaj, Paul Kneale, Karin Lehmann, Guillaume Pilet, Antoine Renard, Megan Rooney, Clémence de La Tour du Pin, Alvaro Urbano, and friends. The works are scattered around the exhibition space and in the garden, surrounding a beautiful white-and-blue painterly “panorama” created by Nicolas Party and accompanying a show on digital poetry from 1990-2001 curated by Harry Burke.
On Thursday, Oslo 10 started a programme of events and performances, streamed live on Berlin Community Radio’s website, and invited everybody to its “fully functional gay bar.” On Saturday, Parcours Night rolls out another series of performances and special projects across the city, including the great Suffragette City (2015)—a parade of hilarious, colorful, feminist puppets and banners by Lara Schnitger—while Mirza DJs with post-industrial London-based band Factory Floor. Amidst all this, my love goes out to the book fair I Never Read, at the Kaserne in Klybeskstrasse—a gathering of independent publishers which made my day. Finally, a place to slow down, away from the madding crowd.
(1) Catalogue essay in Post Human ed. Jeffrey Deitch (Cantz/Deste Foundation for Contemporary Art, 1992).
- 1View of Rirkrit Tiravanija, Nikolaus Hirsch/Michel Mueller, and Antto Melasnie's, DO WE DREAM UNDER THE SAME SKY, 2015. Image courtesy of Art Basel.
- 2View of Rirkrit Tiravanija, Nikolaus Hirsch/Michel Mueller, and Antto Melasnie's, DO WE DREAM UNDER THE SAME SKY, 2015. Image courtesy of Art Basel.
- 3Alexandra Bachzetsis, Gold, 2004. Image of the performance at Danae Festival, Milan, 2010. Courtesy of the artist and Danae Festival.
- 4Anicka Yi, The Last Diamond, 2015, at "7,070,430K of Digital Spit", Kunsthalle Basel, 2015. Photo by Philipp Haenger.
- 5Piero Golia, Untitled (Evil exists where good men do nothing), 2005. Parcours in Basel, 2015.
- 6View of Martin Boyce at Museum fur Geganwartskunst, 2015. Image courtesy of Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel. Photo by Gina Folly.
- 7Robin Meier, SYNCHRONICITY: Fireflies, Crickets and Machines, 2015 (detail), for the Audemars Piguet Art Commission 2015. Installation, mixed media, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of the artist.
- 8Haroon Mirza, A Chamber for Horwitz; Sonakinatography Transcriptions in Surround Sound, 2015. Prototype device. Image courtesy of hrm199_Ltd, London. Photo by David Bebber.
- 9Channa Horwitz, Sonakinatography Composition XVIII, 1991. 137,2 x 99,1 cm, casein and ink on mylar. Courtesy of the Channa Horwitz Estate and François Ghebaly, Los Angeles. © Channa Horwitz Estate, Photo by Robert Wedemeyer.
- 10View of Nicolas Party's "Panorama" exhibition at SALTS, 2015. Image courtesy of the artist and SALTS, Birsfelden.
- 11View of Nicolas Party's "Panorama" exhibition at SALTS, 2015 (detail). Image courtesy of the artist. Photo by Chris Sharp.
- 12Petrit Halilaj and Alvaro Urbano, What Comes First, 2015. Cement, resin, metal, wood, chickens, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artists and SALTS, Birsfelden.