The artist Christian Jankowski, the curator of the roving European biennial Manifesta 11, which opened in Zurich at the weekend, has taken the concept of art in the community to a new level. Dentists, doctors, spa managers, boatmakers, dog groomers and transgender escorts in the Swiss city have agreed to “host”, or collaborate with, 30 artists for Jankowski’s exhibition, What People Do for Money: Some Joint Ventures (until 18 September). Visitors to Art Basel who plan to head to Zurich (a short drive or train journey from Basel) will find new works co-produced by artists and ordinary people in various workplaces.
“People in Zurich take great pride in their jobs, and they stick to the plan,” Jankowski says. His initial title for the biennial was Berufungen (vocations), an apposite name in a city built on a Protestant work ethic. “Zurich, a centre for global financial trade, has a certain emblematic quality. What people do for and with money makes the city tick,” he says.
For Manifesta, the controversial French writer Michel Houellebecq underwent an examination by Henry Perschak, a doctor at the plush, privately run Klinik Hirslanden. The Canadian artist Jon Rafman has installed an immersive video-art pod at the Float Center Zurich spa. And the Catalan artist Carles Congost has made Simply the Best, a mockumentary about retirement age that features Zurich-based firefighters.
One of the most eagerly anticipated joint ventures was a performance piece conceived by the Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. He pledged to make the Paralympic wheelchair racer Edith Wolf-Hunkeler glide across the surface of Lake Zurich by making her wheelchair float on a special platform engineered by the Swiss Paraplegic Centre in Nottwil. The contraption was launched from the Pavillon of Reflections, the Manifesta hub that is moored on Lake Zurich, near Bellevue.
Jankowski says that the collaborative “satellite projects” will provide “entry points into contemporary art for new audiences”. He describes a preview of the Norwegian artist Torbjørn Rødland’s installation about tooth decay (Crossed Confections, 2015-16; see p2), in Danielle Heller Fontana’s dental surgery. “A conversation started between big-name Zurich gallerists, the artist’s friends and the host’s ‘society’ friends. These are exciting situations where we lose control,” Jankowski says.
Other participating artists and hosts say that the Manifesta experience has proved mutually beneficial. The Czech artist Matyas Chochola worked with the Thai boxing champion Azem Maksutaj at his gym in Winterthur, near Zurich. “It is hard to imagine an artist and a fighter getting on, but we were drawn to each other in a strange way, like magnets. Sport is at the edge of performance; the psychological aspects are the same,” the artist says.
Host Urmat Diusheev, who works on the reception desk at Zurich’s Park Hyatt hotel, greets guests in a distinctive wraparound garment designed by the German artist Franz Erhard Walther in collaboration with the textile developer Thomas Deutschenbaur. “It’s like a sculpture made into a textile. I now have a topic I can discuss with the guests,” Diusheev says.
Katerina Gregos, the independent curator who co-curated Manifesta 9 in 2012, says that the “biennial concept is clear and coherent, [but] the process of collaboration was perhaps more interesting than the results. This is why one of the highlights is the series of film screenings on the Pavillon of Reflections, which unfolds the process of collaboration. Mediation is key to the biennial.”
The Historical Exhibition, another Manifesta11 initiative, includes works dating from the past 50 years hung on scaffolding structures at the Löwenbräukunst. The section co-curator, Francesca Gavin, says: “In a wider sense, the Historical Exhibition looks at how art engages, shapes and reflects the world of work. Works by Oscar Bony [The Working Class Family, 1968-99] and Mierle Laderman Ukeles [Washing/Tracks/Maintenance: Inside, 1973/1998] immediately get across a sense of inequality, and injustice with the structure of the work world in a refreshingly direct and powerful way.”
But the real blast from the past is at the Cabaret Voltaire, the birthplace of Dada in 1916, which is hosting collaborative performances between artists and non-artists, continuing a tradition begun there by Hans Arp and Tristan Tzara as a reaction to the carnage of the Great War on the Western and Eastern Fronts.