Rooms to manoeuvre
Hans Ulrich Obrist and Klaus Biesenbach bring performance to Basel in “14 Rooms”
By Laurie Rojas. From Art Basel daily edition
Published online: 17 June 2014
The oldest trade fair hall in Basel has been transformed by the architects Herzog & de Meuron into an art space subdivided into 14 rooms. From the foyer, they are nearly indistinguishable, down to their doorknobs, but inside each there is a unique work of performance art. For the curatorial heavyweights Hans Ulrich Obrist and Klaus Biesenbach, each room contains “a living sculpture where the sculptures go home at night”.
First commissioned as “11 Rooms” for the Manchester International Festival in 2011, “14 Rooms” was conceived as an exhibition in which time is a factor, as well as space. Each piece consists of one or more performers following a set of instructions provided by the artist. Each year, the show travels to a new city and a new room is added. For its presentation in Basel, the curators have added new works by the French conceptual artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, the British multimedia artist Ed Atkins and the Nigerian performance artist Otobong Nkanga.
In Nkanga’s piece—Diaspore, 2014—up to three women carry a queen-of-the-night plant, originally from the West Indies but naturalised in South Asia, using a map on the floor to guide their movements. “Her work deals with migration, exile and uprooting, looking back at the home left behind and forward at a new country,” says Biesenbach, the director of New York’s MoMA PS1.
Another work dealing with displacement is Santiago Sierra’s Veterans of the Wars of Eritrea, Kosovo and Togo Facing the Corner, 2014. As the title suggests, veterans from past conflicts hide their faces in a corner, as though ostracised, while their situation confronts the audience with questions about social responsibility.
One of the challenges of time-based art is how little time people spend in front of works. The exhibition “14 Rooms” tries to reverse that. “Movement is slowed down by the fact that you have to open the door—it’s like entering somebody’s house. It’s an intimate encounter,” says Obrist, the co-director of the Serpentine Galleries in London.
The exhibition also includes historical pieces, such as Yoko Ono’s Touch, 1963, in which visitors are asked to touch each other in a pitch black room, and Bruce Nauman’s Wall-Floor Positions, 1968, which instructs performers to re-enact the 28 actions (all related to the wall and the floor) seen in the artist’s original video of the same title. Damien Hirst’s Anouk, Lucie, based on Hans, Georg, 1992, consists of the named identical twins sitting in front of a pair of the artist’s spot paintings. “We remembered having seen it in the 1990s, and decided it was important to give it new life. It connects with Hirst’s work with the dots, which are all about repetition and difference,” Obrist says.
Marina Abramovic’s Luminosity, first performed by the artist in 1997, asks a nude performer to sit on a bicycle seat attached to the wall and to extend her arms for 30 minutes at a time. She appears to be suspended and is illuminated by a bright light.
The ominous effects of the digital age are explored in Ed Atkins’s avatar project, NO-ONE IS MORE “WORK” THAN ME, 2014, and Jordan Wolfson’s (Female figure), 2014, both strong and unsettling works. “The idea of the digital, of the avatar, the robot—these are all elements that were not in the show before,” Obrist says.
“14 Rooms” (produced by the Fondation Beyeler, Art Basel and Theater Basel), until 22 June, 10am-7pm, Hall 3. Art Basel Salon, “14 Rooms: Living Sculptures” (featuring Hans Ulrich Obrist), Thursday 19 June, 2pm-3pm, Hall 1
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