Christopher Orr's paintings show locations and scenes where something seemingly mystical, supernatural, dark or sinister happens, or you, as the viewer, presage something like this may happen. Laurent Grasso's work, which uses various forms of media and includes videos, painting, photography, neon works as well as sculpture and architecture, is characterised by a strong narrative component. Manuel Graf is interested in the great questions of human existence, such as the development of mankind, or the origin of art, architecture and craft.
Light Shining Darkly
Kunsthaus Baselland is very pleased to present the first institutional solo exhibition of the British artist Christopher Orr (born 1967 in Scotland, lives and works in London). The exhibition presents a series of works from recent years supplemented by new works created specifically for the exhibition.
Orr belongs to the most impressive among contemporary painters. His works have been shown, inter alia, at the 54th Venice Biennale in the Palazzo Zenobio, the CAPC Musée d’Art Contemporain, Bordeaux, the Kunsthalle Brandts in Odense at the Tate Britain, as well as regularly in the galleries of Hauser & Wirth and Ibid, London.
As the title “Light Shining Darkly” already evokes, Orr’s paintings show locations and scenes where something seemingly mystical, supernatural, dark or sinister happens, or you, as the viewer, presage something like this may happen. The landscape scenes in which protagonists act are characterised by special lighting effects. Sometimes a night landscape with an incoming, diffuse cone of light reveals strollers (Descent, 2004), sometimes people stand in front of a rocky slope (Silent One, 2010), or inexplicable scenes take place in a forest in the dead of night (The Silence of Afterwards, 2010 ). Time and again it is the specific use of lighting effects, which at first glance give the motifs already a twist towards the uncanny. The way in which the human being is located in the landscape provides connecting factors for the philosophy of the sublime. In light of the unattainability and size of nature, humans feel small and overwhelmed.
Christopher Orr works most times on several paintings at the same time. An important source of information for his creative process proves to be his images archive, consisting of old magazines - especially National Geographic from the 1930s to the 70s - and books. Orr also draws on the “old masters” of painting like Tiepolo, Vermeer, Bosch, Hals, van Eyck, Caravaggio and others. His passion for details in the works of his role models finds its way into his own paintings. He quotes, as it were, a certain selected point from the entire historical quote. His archive also includes thematic collections of images which are grouped, for example, into the scientific, the mystical or the spherical.
Many of the characters, objects, landscapes and the activities of the characters originate in the archive. The artist assembles them into a collage, drawing from different sources, by first conceiving and drawing them in his sketchbook. The oil paintings resulting from it, mostly in small format and produced with superb dexterity, entice one to look more closely, and it is not only the brush strokes, both coating and removing, that strike but also time and again the breaks in temporalities. In Häxan Apparatus (2012) for instance, a male figure whose clothing style could be both contemporary and from the last twenty years, stands in a landscape that could have sprung from a Renaissance painting. The object the figure wears slung around his neck cannot be identified by the uninitiated. The title, which suggests a cross-reference to the Swedish silent film “Häxan” from 1922 - a film about the history of the witch hunts, associates the object with the occult and witchcraft. Even the rays emanating from a staff of the figure makes one think of it. The fact that a man in jeans, a red shirt and lace-up shoes is presumably executing something occult within an Old Master landscape that we know from art historical masterpieces, renders a very specific singularity to the picture. Detached temporal moments connect, the incompatible can be read together, old and new unites and forms anew, along with us as viewers, a connection with the present.
A recurring feature in Christopher Orr’s paintings is the use of different figure sizes that are presented regardless of issues of perspective and image consistency. In Lighten Our Darkness (2010), for instance, two female figures clad in aprons face each other and raise a hand, as if they have performed a magic ritual. They have identical faces and are mirror images of each other, but one figure inexplicably stands a third taller than the other one. In The Cunning Folk (2012) as well, an over-sized male figure in a suit and a relatively tiny bare-chested male figure are situated in the same visual space. There is no linear narrative which gives us a reason for it.
The described motif inconsistencies, the dramatic composition of the images in light and dark, and the disintegration of temporalities leave room for one’s own individual narrative in the mind. Christopher Orr is, so to speak, the director of the movies in our head.
Disasters & Miracles
The French artist Laurent Grasso (born in 1972, lives and works in Paris) developed a series of new works and alongside some existing works, has created an overall concept for the exhibition at Kunsthaus Baselland. It, among other things, draws on events and occurrences in Switzerland and Basel. In recent years Laurent Grasso has steadily progressed to become one of the most successful contemporary artists. His solo exhibitions at the Jeu de Paume, Paris (2012), the Musée d'art contemporain, Montreal (2013), the Bass Museum, Miami (2011), the Hirschhorn Museum, Washington (2011) and many others impressively attest to this.
Laurent Grasso's work, which uses various forms of media and includes videos, painting, photography, neon works as well as sculpture and architecture, is characterised by a strong narrative component. The topics taken up are based on scientific observations, astronomy, primal human fears, superstitions, science fiction and mythologies. His latest film “Uraniborg” (2012) for instance is about the eponymous palace on the island of Ven, located between Denmark and Sweden, where the astronomer Tycho Brahe studied the stars and planetary movements for twenty years. The palace with numerous openings for celestial observation was at the time the largest observatory in Europe. The film adopts a documentary posture and tries to trace what is left of Brahe’s work, whereby a voice-off brings back to the image the no longer existing architecture. “Specola Vaticana” (2012), a series of photographs, also shows astronomical research, wherein at this instance the Vatican is in the foreground as the commissioning body as well as a researching institution. Galileo Galilee’s case is well-known, who as a scientist, mathematician and philosopher designed his own telescope, which made it possible, inter alia, to see the lunar surface and the structures of the Milky Way. Galilee, who was highly esteemed by the Vatican for a while, lost his reputation when as a result of his research findings, he identified the faith in the geocentric world view as faulty and instead established the heliocentric worldview. The silver bromide photos depict historical moments when the pope and his scholars even looked through the telescope - moments in which the representatives of faith and those of scientific research came together.
An important characteristic in Grasso’s work is the use of different temporalities that can often encounter each other in a single work. In his series of the so-called “Studies into the Past”, Grasso re-quotes individual elements from his own film works in oil paintings, which are painted by restorers of the Louvre in the style of the 16th century. His famous film “Projection” (2005), in which a dense and massive cloud formation rolls along the streets of Paris, is for example echoed in an oil painting, where the streets of Paris shown in the film are replaced by medieval streets. Grasso manipulates temporalities and introduces a historical document - in the form of a painting - which claims to have served as the inspiration for the film. “The phenomena present in my videos replace the religious phenomena usually present in the history of painting. It's a way of reconstructing history and the past by creating a false historical memory.” (L.G.)
In a series of recent works, the artist focuses on disasters and miracles. In paintings with a wide brass frame, a date, an inscription plate and a painting each tell of various events: The Basel earthquake of 1356 was regarded as one of the strongest in Switzerland, which claimed many lives and even caused parts of the Basel Minster to collapse. The ensuing fire further increased the number of deaths and the damage. Another image takes up the earthquake of 1456 in Naples. A tsunami at Lake Lucerne in Lucerne was triggered in 1601, when numerous earthquakes set in motion the lower geological strata of the lake. The flood waves were up to four meters high, threw boats ashore and flooded the surrounding region. Juxtaposed to the catastrophes is a work that refers to the miracle of Fatima. In 1917 three shepherds claimed to have seen an apparition of the Virgin Mary. For Grasso this miracle, for which there is no scientific evidence, stands in a series of events that have been created in history again and again, to keep alive an apparatus of control and power.
The exhibition at Kunsthaus Baselland takes up the idea of a journey through different times, topics and historical and pseudo-historical moments also architecturally. Like in a journey through time, we see the impact of miracles and disasters, of mystical traditions and the effects of superstition and delusion. Grasso leads us to the limits of reality and fiction, faith and knowledge. We dive into a maze and leave it surely different than we were when we entered it.
The exhibition was generously supported by
Peter and Adelaida Sutter-de Vries.
Laurent Grasso is represented by Alfonso Artiaco Napoli, Sean Kelly Gallery New York, Edouard Malingue Gallery Hong Kong, Galerie Valentin Paris.
Commercials, Mosques & Ceramics
With Commercials, Mosques & Ceramics, Kunsthaus Baselland presents the first institutional solo exhibition of the German artist Manuel Graf (born 1978 in Bühl/Baden, lives and works in Düsseldorf) in Switzerland. Graf graduated from the Art Academy in Düsseldorf under Magdalena Jetelova and Rita McBride. His work has been shown in solo presentations at the Kunstverein Hamburg, Etablissement d'en face in Brussels, at the Kunstverein Göttingen and at the Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach. Likewise, Graf's work was shown in numerous group exhibitions, including ICA London, MOCA Taipei and the Kunstverein of the Rhineland and Westphalia in Düsseldorf. Manuel Graf was already seen at Kunsthaus Baselland in the exhibition Golden Agers & Silver Surfers.
His solo show at the gallery spaces of the Kunsthaus Baselland is accessible through two entrances: a staircase leading to the room in which the latest film let music play?, 2012, is shown in an installation setting. The other staircase leads to the billboard-like video installation commercials for Jan Albers, 2013, and a presentation from neolithic memory stick, 2012-13.
Manuel Graf’s work consists primarily of film projects, which are usually presented in the form of installations, but is also supplemented by object arrangements and assemblages. As regards content, he is interested in the great questions of human existence, such as the development of mankind, or the origin of art, architecture and craft, and last but not least, he questions how we live as human beings, what entices us and convinces us visually.
One of these fundamental questions is picked up by the latest film let music play? Therein Manuel Graf examines room categories and spatial dynamics in architecture. In the style of documentary instructional films, in the first part of the film, the different spatial dynamics between a longitudinal building, a concentric central building, an all-side, infinitely continual portico and a Persian “four Iwan” mosque are explained. Using illustrations and animated ground plan and elevation views, we learn that our line of sight in the buildings is either focused forward, towards the centre, in an infinite grid or, in the most open variant, in the four cardinal directions. In the second part, the film renders the contents of the previously shown in video clip style with music, thus applying an advertising strategic perspective, which enables the viewer to compare the first version of the mediation with the second. The apparently objectifying presentation in the instructional film style and the lively, musically supercharged version, are in opposition to each other in their effect on the viewer and secretly ask everyone which version he favours and at the same time, why he prefers it. The third part of the film regards itself as an appendix and in the style of footnotes gives references on thematic technical literature. Victor Hugo’s “Notre Dame de Paris” is cited just as Hans Belting’s “Florence and Baghdad”, the specialist in Islamic architecture Ulya Vogt-Göknir has her say alongside the famous architect of postmodernism Robert Venturi and the architecture professor Martin Speidel. As recipients, we obtain further literature and the initial samples of complex subject matter.
In the latest film commercials for Jan Albers, produced particularly for the exhibition, Manuel Graf created a promotional film for his fellow artist Jan Albers’ works. Graf thereby animates the selected artworks and describes their production process in a promotionally affirmative manner. “Glossy” surfaces, detailed camera angles and animation techniques play with our viewing habits and tempt us to “want to possess” what we’ve seen. Graf is aware of the “oddity” of being the author of a promotional film for a fellow artist and with this film also poses the question of success in the making of art. For, while his fellow artist was widely received by the art market, the situation is different for Manuel Graf. His work has a tense relationship with the market, which certainly has to do with both the choice of the medium as well as the choice of discerning topics.
If his films find it rather hard to assert themselves on the art market, possibly the ceramics bearing the title neolithic memory sticks may have a chance. Manuel Graf presents us with a number of these ceramics, arranged on USM Haller glass showcases. Just as he, in his films, moves through the history of the times, the architecture, etc., the ceramics too are interspersed with references to different periods and styles. Compared to the sophisticated themes of the films, the ceramics touch upon an understanding of the craft. They moreover take all these references with a touch of humour and pass it on to us recipients. The question is, by what are we enticed of - by the complexity or by the surface? By both? Graf challenges our habits of reception and makes sure that the art can be viewed always from a new angle.
A publication will be released in the scope of the exhibition for the Art Basel, which is published by Kunsthaus Baselland (Sabine Schaschl) in cooperation with the Hamburg Kunstverein (Annette Hans).
Image: Manuel Graf, Let Music Play?, Video, 2012, Courtesy VAN HORN, Düsseldorf
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