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Art Basel Parcours: "Encounters with works of art in unusual locations in Basel"

Published on 6/10/2017 by Christoph Spangenberg

Discover 22 works of art that have been assigned to specific locations in the historic centre of Basel: the Parcours segment of Art Basel is showing works by artists like Ai Weiwei, Katinka Bock, Pedro Cabrita Reis und Amanda Ross-Ho in particular locations around the Münsterplatz from 12 to 18 June 2017. In this interview the curator, Samuel Leuenberger, presents the highlights, reveals how he sets about finding the perfect location for a work of art and shares with us the other locations in which he would like to display works of art.

Samuel Leuenberger, Curator of Art Basel Parcours 2017 (MCH Group)

1. For the benefit of everyone not yet familiar with the parcours, please, tell us briefly about the concept behind it.

The Parcours is a marvellous way of meeting up with art in the public space – and in the private space too. It is a sculpture and performance-based show, with presentations spread out over various locations in the historic centre of Basel. The aim from my perspective is to match a project that has been especially designed with the ideal partner, and, by that, I mean the perfect location for exhibiting it. For the visitors, that succinctly means being confronted with surprises all the time and encountering works in unusual locations.

2. This year’s theme is intimate experiences of the artists. What can we expect from that?

What was important to me this year was to recount a string of 'smallish', but powerful stories. They are stories and observations that sometimes feel like people giving private details away, reading aloud from a diary. Sometimes they pick up political and social issues and portray them, and sometimes simply things from everyday life. To take the example of Flaka Haliti from Kosovo. She is setting up an installation in the courtyard of the Basel city hall, the hub of political and tourist activity in Basel. There she is installing 30 to 40 free-standing flags, advertising banners to be precise, crowding together like faceless figures in a group.

 "Ai Weiwei prompts the beholders to consider their relationship with nature, culture, history and themselves."

On the Münsterplatz, in the centre of the parcours, stands a monumental metal sculpture by the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. It is a project that goes back to a working group set up in 2009, through which Ai Weiwei collected organic timber fragments from the mountains in Jiangxi in South China and used their roots and branches to construct complete tree compositions. The untreated surface has changed in the course of time, and a patina has developed, giving it an even stronger visual dimension. With this impressive work, Ai Weiwei creates a thought-inducing environment for the beholders and prompts them to consider their relationship with nature, culture, history and themselves.


3. For the parcours you deal specifically with the past and present of each location and re-interpret familiar places. Could you describe how you work on the parcours and what it is that inspires you?

Once the location has been decided on, in the case in point the hill with the minster on it and the area surrounding it, there are two motivational factors. The first is that I have a shopping list of artists and projects. The second is that there are locations to which I would like to return and put on another display and other locations that are still waiting to be discovered. There is so much enjoyment to be derived from doing that.

Once I have put together the initial projects in direct communication with the galleries or artists, I then develop an image of the type of mood I would like to create and the sensitivities I would like to juxtapose. Which moods fit in well with the neighbouring ones? What links might it be possible to create here or there?

4. Taking this year’s locations, where are you particularly pleased that things have worked out and why?

As far as specific locations are concerned, I am really delighted to be able to put on an act in the ‘Münstersaal’ (Minster Room) and more particularly one involving an installation by a Moroccan lady who lives in Switzerland, Latifah Echakhch. The garden of the ‘Allgemeine Lesegesellschaft‘ (Reading Society), a place I had had my eye on, is being transformed by Lena Henke, a German artist living in New York. But then there are also the 'simple locations', by which I mean being able to go into the streets, for example with the Belgian Sophie Nys, who is stamping her mark on all the fountains in the area. Or Amanda Ross-Ho, from the USA, who appears to have lost over-sized keys in the city for them to re-appear somewhere or other, for instance on the pavement or down in the water of the Rhine. The important thing is to be able to cast a new light on the corner of the city in all its aspects.

5. You were speaking about the perfect location for an exhibition. When does a work of art fit a location and produce its effect there and when not?

We are talking here about active dialogues or, at all events, the attempt to create an active dialogue. Sometimes it is impossible to know before everything has been set up if a particular installation is really going to work out. If, however, the work and the location truly complement one another, rather than one being just a stage or decoration for the other, then that is when the stories start to gush forth. The two elements are equally important. When does that not work? If you simply park a ready-made sculpture somewhere without sparing a thought for the context.

Parcours; Art Basel in Basel 2016 (MCH Group)
6. Once again, one highlight is Parcours Night on Saturday evening, with a special programme of live performances in locations around the Münsterplatz.

Parcours Night is a highlight for two reasons. First of all, Parcours Night is a public event taking place on Saturday evening. All the institutions and parcours locations are open from 18:00 until 24:00. A spectacular family event. Secondly, I have been given the freedom to invite artists for the evening programme who are not already represented in the parcours by galleries. In other words, we can offer a stage to even younger artists to present themselves. This year, we are going to be able to enjoy a variety of theatrical and other performed events.

"A tour of discovery lasting a whole week."

The highlights are definitely going to be our cooperative arrangements with the Kunsthaus Baselland and the Centre Culturel Suisse from Paris, who are our guest partners. Two further highlights are Than Hussein Clark's new theatre production and Wu Tsang’s ensemble "Moved by the Motion". The first is taking place in the ‘Erste Kirche Christi’, an uncannily beautiful listed church from 1937, right behind the Art Museum, and the other in St. Martin's church, where dancing singing and narration all fuse into one. Let me finally make one very important point: the whole platform, the Parcours and Parcours Night, is free-of-charge for the general public. It is possible to see and enjoy everything, to walk into museums and private houses and to embark upon a tour of discovery lasting a whole week.

7. In what location would you like to put on a display away from the Parcours?

Basel Airport, in both the public areas and behind the scenes. Or the Novartis Campus. Just imagine: technology, innovation, special architecture and art, plus a parcours providing a thread linking them all together!

Samuel Leuenberger has curated the Parcours since 2016. Leuenberger is director and curator of SALTS in Birsfelden.

Parcours, 12-18 June 2017. More information and all the events of Art Basel in Basel 2017.
Art Basel in Basel, 15–18 June 2017, www.artbasel.com

Christoph Spangenberg

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