Lydia Gifford's paintings interact with the sculptural territory and rise above a specified limit both formally and spatially. Renatus Zurcher takes up the life and works of Gilbert Clavel and creates with his own artistic means a picture based on the present directed towards the past. The most important starting point for the Jan Kiefer' solo show is the exploration of the subject handicraft and manual work.
The Kunsthaus Baselland is pleased to present the first institutional exhibition of the young British artist Lydia Gifford in Switzerland. Lydia Gifford (born 1979, lives and works in London) studied at the Royal College of Art and at the Chelsea School of Art and Design. She was already seen in Switzerland in a group exhibition at the Galerie BolteLang in Zurich and drew attention by her outstanding contribution to the Art Statements 2011. In 2012 her works were seen, inter alia, at the exhibition Minimal Myth in the Museum Boijmans in Rotterdam, at a solo exhibition at the David Roberts Art Foundation in London and at the Biennale of Contemporary Art in Rennes.
Painting processes and dealing with the opportunities to overcome limitations of the media, as well as physical and spatial considerations are the core issues in Gifford’s work. Her paintings interact with the sculptural territory and rise above a specified limit both formally and spatially. The last step in the creation is usually undertaken by the artist on site by directly painting individual positions of the images on the wall.
The artist conceived entirely new works for the exhibition at Kunsthaus Baselland. Siding, which is the title of the exhibition, gives a first indication of the conception of the newly created work. The term refers to architectural panelling or cladding and means various spatial elements that stand out from the usual architectural setting or represent a disruption in the traditional architectural structures. For the 40m long wall at the Kunsthaus Baselland, the artist “clothed” the different, found and mostly uneven boards with countless layers of specially produced and mixed paints. These differently structured units solidified with paint form the starting point for a wall composition, which creates a specific rhythmisation of the wall and the room by overlapping and/or continued individual items and spaces interposed in between. The elements on the wall are read together and interpreted, for example, as floating, falling or rising signs, as repetitions, interruptions or polyphonic characters that come together or drift apart. Lydia Gifford refers to the infinite possibilities of the overall concept, which she ultimately decides with the movement sequences on site and according to space constraints, and which can be envisaged in advance in the studio only in principle. The work is reminiscent of Robert Morris’ “Untitled (Scatter Piece)” of 1968/69, which combined the 200 elements made of various materials differently in each exhibition. While Morris made his decisions based on external, random aids (e.g. coin tossing), Gifford acts according to visual, physical and spatially influenced decisions. In the process not only the individually painted elements fit in with the body size of the artist – the boards are not much longer than her arms – their placement in space is also determined by elements of movement and physical references.
In the same way, the pictures designed for the other rooms get their characteristic form by the respective work process. Lydia Gifford literally wraps the stretched frame with a large cotton cloth, whose corners she generously tucks and secures. The layers of an oil and chalk mixture in predominantly subtle colours penetrate the colour base and form plastic compounds with it. The surfaces are characterised by the different structures of the work process; time and again, a single pigment particle of the paint mixture penetrates to the surface and leaves the trace of a different colour during the spreading. The front and back sides of the pictures are often playfully developed until one of the two sides dominates, or the work in its final placement is arranged in such a way that it can be viewed from both sides. Even if only one side is presented, the visible is determined by what that lies behind. The recollection of that which is hidden behind determines the effect of the visible.
Some picture arrangements consist of several parts, which are assembled together and presented. Their shapes are not defined a priori as a conceptual starting point, but explored in the process of emergence. Even in these wall compositions, the empty spaces emerging in between are important insofar as they also influence the reading of the picture as a whole.
Gifford’s works are paintings that emerge through the confrontation between the surface of the image carrier and a form, which tries to overcome that surface in the work process. Thus, a corner can be broken off and re-formed. The artist balances the characteristics of painting and sculpture and thus gives the works their own separate and unique language.
The writer and artist Gilbert Clavel (1883 - 1927), who comes from the well-known silk dyer family Clavel-Merian, can certainly be described as a personality who is able to cast a spell. Clavel grew up in Basel and suffered from severe scoliosis as a result of tuberculosis and an accident in childhood. After studying art history, philosophy and Egyptology, he made long trips to southern Europe and North Africa. During the First World War he met, inter alia, the Futurist painter Fortunato Depero, with whom he briefly had an intense friendship.
Among the futurists, Gilbert Clavel considered himself as provider of ideas and part of a social reform movement. He wrote essays on art theory and a novel “Un Istituto per Suicidi” (An institute for suicides) in 1918, in which the first person narrator describes various types of suicide: besides the intoxicating drink and the lust, the opium preparation pantopon is cited as an effective means. The union of all three types of death is considered a fourth way of suicide. From 1918 he devoted himself exclusively to the conversion of a former watchtower on the Amalfi coast in Positano. The tower, which Clavel had acquired many years earlier, had long been in ruins and only direct action on the rocks enabled an extension and continued construction. Clavel proceeded with divining rod and compass to create underground corridors and a grotto. The rock became a sculptural body, which he seized with explosives. Clavel’s theoretical, literary and architectural achievements can be regarded as an idea base of complete art creation, whose impact reverberates to this day.
It is not surprising that the artist Renatus Zürcher (born 1957 in Baar, lives and works in Basel) takes up the life and works of Gilbert Clavel and creates with his own artistic means a picture based on the present directed towards the past. Zürcher, whose work method usually puts people at the centre, often chooses for his projects exceptional individual personalities and their activities and works. He dedicated one of his last major projects, for instance, to the Swiss anthropologist Paul Wirz, whose methodology and theoretical considerations Zürcher recorded in the form of a documentary film and a book project. For the “Boulevard” project of 1995, however, by which Renatus Zürcher became known, the artist incorporated all the residents of Mülhauserstrasse in Basel, where he himself lived for a time. After he conveyed to the residents of this street the basic idea of a transgression of private and public space in an empty office building, the Mülhauserstrasse became a public television and video street for a short while. Renatus Zürcher, who before his artistic education at the Basel School of Design was also active in the occupational therapy field, lately resorts to his multidisciplinary experience in his examination of Gilbert Clavel.
The film installation “An Institute of Suicide” (2012), which directly refers to the eponymous novella by Clavel, and the space installation “3 Views” (2012) were created for the exhibition at Kunsthaus Baselland. The presentation is complemented by older works such as the room installation “Tour: 16/221” (2004) and “Positano Peak” (2007). Apart from direct references to Clavel in the individual works, the exhibition is generally characterised by an atmospheric juxtaposition with Clavel’s world of thought, which manifests in individual spatial and visual experiences. The stairway to the exhibition in the basement of the Kunsthaus Baselland already recalls the descent into the hallways, corridors and the grotto in Torre Clavel, as the tower in Positano is called, among others. Visitors are welcomed by a photograph showing the Bay of Positano with the tower, in which “the waves and the air - in the Clavelian sense - were brought to a standstill” (R. Zürcher). The film “An institute for suicide” with his four approximately eight-minute sections can be compared with a visually implemented dream story. As described in the opening quote, it runs backwards and is reminiscent of a film running in reverse, which in turn reflects certain states or events. Each of the separate film sections is devoted to one of the three types of suicide described by Clavel, the fourth combines all three into a single one. For Gilbert Clavel, death is not the termination of life, but rather a passage that leads to a metamorphotic transformation. The bird flying away is the symbol of this transformation. The grotto in the film is empty at the end. The narrator, the actor, the human being (Clavel?) is gone, passed away to a next metamorphotic existence?
The installation “3 Views” again refers to three kinds of life, which are contrasted with the types of death. These are expressed through video works featuring various models of movement - driving, walking and sitting. The subject of movement is also the focus of the work in “Tour 16/221”. The soundless video shows a cyclist whose perfect lap was the 16th. This perfect lap, cut 221 times one after the other, after prolonged viewing visualises something like a disembodied state, which in its trance-like quality is reminiscent of Clavel’s dream story portrayal. The seemingly infinite loop could be read as a symbol of the infinite metamorphosis: one perfect physical condition after another, coupled with transformations on a spiritual level? “Positano Peak” too can be read as a kind of symbol for the drifting away. The upside-down pictures describe a tourist snapshot of Positano, where huge buses take tourists and disgorge them again. In the state shown upside down, a real moment becomes an abstract one, which can only be traced to a basic emotionality. Here, too, a Clavelian moment opens, which could become manifest in one of his key sentences, “Life is a dream in the circle of time”.
With the exhibition Guaud, the Kunsthaus Baselland presents the first institutional exhibition of Jan Kiefer (born 1979 in Trier, lives and works in Basel). The artist completed his master’s degree at the Hochschule für Gestaltung und Kunst (College of Art and Design) in Basel in 2012 and already has a busy exhibition schedule.
Jan Kiefer’s art is conceptual, yet unlike many conceptual art creations of the present his language is not characterised by minimal gestures and reduced forms, but by a direct and undisguised access to the respective topic. The artist smoothly combines the conceptual with the haptic and crafts many of his works himself. This direct working with the material corresponds to direct theoretical engagement, and a mutual influencing of the two areas is inherent in this work structure. Guaud is an exemplary demonstration of this.
The most important starting point for the exhibition is the exploration of the subject handicraft and manual work, which shaped everyday life in the 70s/80s, experienced equally esoteric and religious manifestations and generally was a part of the lifestyle. From handicrafts magazines of this time the artist took individual motifs, which, for example, show the construction of a wooden shelf and the modern, sociable housing, a self-woven pillow with sun motif, which contributes to the pleasure of bathing in one’s own pool or self-made jewellery that gives the elegant gown the finishing touch. Kiefer puts these specific pictures, whose origin is difficult to trace, in frames that are clearly recognisable as self-carved pinewood from Bergün. The Romansh word for “forest” is Guaud or God in the specific Bergün dialect, which in turn forms the title of the exhibition. The Swiss stone pine, which makes up a large part of the upper Engadine forest, is considered a tough tree that can withstand the rough altitudes around 2500 metres and freezing temperatures. Diverse uses are also attributed to the Swiss stone pine: it is fuel and a resource supply and is used for its resistance in avalanche control, and its distillates are used both as a love and sleep potion as well as for the expulsion of evil. The latter feature is taken up by a large-format work by Kiefer, reminiscent of an incense burner or an altar object, whereby the essential oil of the pinewood is meant to olfactorily transform the exhibition into a feel-good place. A small edition of T-shirts, which are presented in the exhibition on self-made cloth hangers, shows a crescent moon created by linocut. Here, as in other works, Kiefer refers back to the so-called moon wood, which when felled during the waning moon is said to be particularly resistant and fireproof. The wood designated as (God) moon wood is specially labelled. In these works time and again Jan Kiefer connects etymological associations with the historical importance of handicraft and responds to them with his own artisanal answer. At the same time he questions contemporary attitudes to handicraft and its relationship to contemporary art.
Another picture from a handicraft magazine became the starting point for a large-format sculpture, which shows two hands that are reminiscent of the Buddha’s hands in their gestures, covered with various patchworks of denim fabrics. The two related sculptures in turn obtain - in the sense of a usable work of art - the function of serving as a presentation and exhibition space. Jan Kiefer, who in previous works already sought direct references to the everyday and studied human characteristics and functioning or allowed the incorporation of biographical moments, works regularly with a staff of the creative workshop for people with physical and mental impairment of the Bürgerspital Basel. This person has squeezed single lumps of clay in such a way that the fist impressions remain visible in the soft material. Jan Kiefer was allowed to use for the show his small sculptures that are reminiscent of a very primitive form of human haptic creation. Bound with a climbing rope-type cord and placed on the two large hand sculptures, they evoke explorations of the topics craft, feel, utility object and work of art. In another collaboration, Jan Kiefer and Matthias Huber covered a small table with hand marbled paper. A second object in the exhibition, a sand-filled table, serves as a presentation platform for the so-called ‘palm stones’, but which, in contrast to the smooth surface usually perceived as pleasant, display the rough traces of their production with chisels, hand saw and blade.
Jan Kiefer’s works have a socio-political fundamental tone which naturally expresses itself just like the underlying humour. Their humorous way of dealing with serious issues and knowledge allows the recipient to find an easy entry, which however wants to be found.
Image: Renatus Zürcher, Achterstrom, 2012, Super8-Videostill
Opening: friday, 1. February, 19H
St. Jakob-Strasse 170 · 4132 Muttenz/Basel
Opening Hours Tue, Thu – Sun 11 AM – 5 PM · Wed 2 – 8 PM