“Resonating Spaces is the title of the exhibition at Fondation Beyeler. The artists featured in the exhibition are Leonor Antunes, Silvia Bächli, Toba Khedoori, Susan Philipsz and Rachel Whiteread. Instead of making a comprehensive group show with numerous works, the exhibition will present exemplary works The works of these artists create a specific quality of spatiality in very varied forms – acoustic, sculpted and drawn. Although different from one another, their works create spaces rather than being perceived as single objects only. They have in common that their visible appearance seems to be unobtrusive, understated, whereas the effect they have is strong and powerful. These works evoke spaces between the identifiable and the elusive. They create sites and respites, in which the capacity of remembering is elicited and images and memories come to life.” Resonating Spaces
Leonor Antunes (born 1972, Lisbon) lives and works in Berlin. “She is known for her expansive installations, in which she references themes and practitioners from the fields of architecture, design and art of the 20thand 21stcenturies, exploring in various ways the formal language of modern art and the mutability of sculpture in space. Her comprehensive research extracts individual details from works by artists mostly situated beyond the design or art historical canon, such as Anni Albers or architect Franco Albini. She assembles these fragments into unexpected new objects, sculptures and installations. Her early works already displayed formal and conceptual characteristics that remain constitutive of her practice today. These include the use of geometric shapes as well as materials such as leather, nylon or brass, which she often processes using traditional craft techniques in collaboration with professional carpet weavers, glass blowers, tanners and leather workersrefers to the history of art, design, and architecture, which she reinterprets in her sculptural installations.” Resonating Spaces
‘I dream of a social art. The crowds, the masses, a multitude of beings, this is the new dimension. See the unlimited space, the truth of structures. Art is the plastic aspect of the community.’Victor Vasarely, Notes Brutes, 1953
Leonor Antunes exhibition installation at Fondation Beyeler explores the language of form and relationship of colour and materials. First impressions are of an Expo catalogue or design fair with additions of totemic abstract sculpture. The space presents a gymnasium like space where the athletic props appear to have been designed to be non-functional for esoteric purpose, and the patterned floor is an abstract multi-court. The materials are reminiscent of colonial exotic plunder as opposed to the warm domestic interiors of northern Europe – copper, brass, nylon teak, bamboo, rattan, rope, willow, burnished aluminium, and hand stitched leather, strangely reminiscent of driving gloves. The essence is of sophisticated innovation of engineering and technological revolution, and products traded with the Third World. The colour palette is of grey, canary yellow and black with gold and silver metallic surfaces and ethnic elements of wood, rope and leather.
Antunes does not refer explicitly to Victor Vasarely’s enthusiastic mid-century clarion call for a new dimension of social art – “Art that is the plastic aspect of the community” She references creators whose work crossed between art,sculpture, architecture and design architect Lino Bo Bardi, textile designer Anni Albers, and Italian designer and Neo-Rationionalist architect Franco Albini whose creative philosophy explored both poetic and functional aspects of design. She is at pains, however, to distance herself from a historical art and design catalogue of interpretation and her influences are broad and diverse arising from the experience and interelationships of the minutiae of memory and observation, and reading and interpretation of the social and historical milieu.
The installation echoes mid 20thcentury cold war international corporate interior design in a generic style of industrial Minimalism found in airports, libraries and public buildingssuch as the Unesco Headquarters, completed in 1958, at the Place de Fontenoy in Paris / UN Corporate, designed by Marcel Breuer, Pier Luigi Nervi and Bernard Zehrfuss. Or the Hotel Berolina – located on Karl Marx Allee – the Champs-Élysées of East Berlin.The hotel wasdemolished in 1996but astate authorised architectural replica, the Rathaus Mitte, a government administration building replaced itin 1998. For the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) the function of modernist architecture and interiors was a state-inspiredbrandto echo political power and portraying a reinforced concrete metropolis as Socialist ideal.
The installation is at heart sculptural – there are references to Lygia Clark, Eva Hesse, Claus Oldenburg, and Marcel Duchamp. Antunes approach is to modify her thinking to an environment. She brings pre-existing concepts, and refers to her work as soft sculptures, since they can adapt to different places and sites. She refers to Duchamp’s portable sculpture Sculpture de voyage, 1918, which he produced in New York and carried in a bag to Buenos Aires. As the sculpture was made out of rubber bathing caps it could be adjusted to fit any room or site. Antunes works, which she refers to as soft sculptures and mobiles, are similarly constructed of elements that are transformed in relationship to the circumstances of space and light and environment.
Silvia Bächli (born 1956, Baden) is concerned “with the medium of drawing and her body of work comprises a wide range of small and large format drawings. Her early works, dating back to the early 1980s, typically featured small-format figurative and abstract representations. Since the late 1990s, she has been travelling regularly to Iceland and started working also in larger formats (200 × 150 cm). These new drawings increasingly depart from figurative representation, focusing mostly on arrangements of lines and reduced brushstrokes, whose powerful effect derives from constant balancing of the paper surface and the drawn form. From the beginning, Silvia Bächli has presented her works as protean groups, often taking the shape of wall-filling installations in which the interplay of drawing, image edge, paper ground, and the white walls of the exhibition space takes on a major role.” Resonating Spaces
Silvia Bächli’s installation exhibits twenty drawings in two rooms. The drawings are muted and abstract, and intriguingly the artist refers to her work in terms of musical and theatrical elements. She describes her drawings as reminiscent of “the black square notation of Gregorian chants: bunched up, then just individual notes on their own, at different levels.” The idea of performance, of observing and directing the painting as a production is inherent in the work, “Lines can take on every hue, and reveal every impulse: they are my actors; they give voice to my productions.” Her drawings embody elements of the aesthetics of Sumi-e, Japanese calligraphy, with the addition of personal elements of narrative observation and the possibility of stories derived from bodies and landscape. The resulting drawings create an atmosphere in the gallery space that is sombre and reflective, and perhaps best approached as a performative experience walking and moving through the space, looking askew to catch fugitive relationships between large expanses of white and occasional glimpses and snatches of colour.
“A simple line can tell a story. Where does it start? Does the line come into contact with another? How does it do so? A line can flow, but it can also look erratic or awkward.
With a brush and paint, I can produce small or really big drawings – in contrast to a pencil, where the line always comes from moving the fingers, I usually work through the whole of my arm. You can draw an unbroken two-metre-long line only if you put your whole body into it. With a brush and thinned paint there are an unbelievable number of possibilities. I can choose the width of my brush and influence my line that way. Or if I can let my brush glide over the paper, and not put pressure on it, then the line looks very different from one made by a loaded brush that leaves a solid trace on the paper.” Resonating Spaces
Toba Khedoori (born 1964, Sydney )lives and works in Los Angeles and is chiefly known for her large-format drawings. She emerged “in the mid-1990s with meticulously detailed drawings of architectural structures, depicted individually or serially, and divorced from their original context. The massive format of the wax-coated sheets of paper contrasts sharply with the precision of the drawing, latterly, however, Khedoori has adjusted her focus: instead of being viewed from a distance, the objects in her pictures are seen in extreme close-up. In some works, the close-up principle is amplified to a point where the image almost tips into abstraction, going beyond the motifs relating to nature, such as leafy branches, mountains or clouds. The line of connection between Khedoori’s works is supplied by traces that point to a reality outside the picture: dust, stray hairs and particles of dirt in the wax coating, or unusual light reflections and shadows, function as subtle allusions to a world that is external to the spaces of association created by the artist.” Resonating Spaces
The two main elements of Khedoori’s drawings are scale and repetition. The larger wall drawings are three metres high and six to seven metres wide. They are attached to the wall without frames and curl at the edges and show signs of making, storing and handling with dirt and dust attached to the edges of the paper. This indicates a lack of preciousness in the presentation of the work, suggesting that they should be viewed as part of an artist’s studio production. The repetition of the working process suggests the thought process of the artist and the work in progress rather than the production of highly finished artwork.
Her subjects include rows of cinema seats, chain-link fencing, from a single window to a series of tiny windows in rows of forty by forty – totalling around 1600 windows, Natural images include details of leaves and branches, black and white oil and graphite clouds and mountains, and a pile of rope. More recently Khedoori has made digital drawings making small shifts in squared patterns, which relate to the earlier architectural drawings, and to coloured images of Islamic floor tiles which through perspective and light reflections, are rendered as three-dimensional patterns. The images appear to be borrowed from books and photographs selected for their anonymity and then meticulously interpreted through a technical process of drawing and painting. Pattern is selected from a source and then imposed as the subject of the artwork. The approach is of repetition, of monotony, and a form of random meaningful-meaninglessness achieved by focussing on the mundane to illuminate the prosaic.
Susan Phillipsz (born 1965, Glasgow) “After initially working on physical sculptures, toward the end of her studies in Belfast she began exploring the bodily and sculptural characteristics of sound in space. Sound recordings became the starting point of her artistic practice. Her early sound installations used pre-existing music pieces, oftentimes well-known pop songs, folk songs or sixteenth-century ballads, sung by the artist herself in her unaccompanied, untrained voice. Recorded with the simplest of technical means, they are played publicly without further editing, e.g. via hidden speakers placed in unusual locations such as a bus station, an abandoned care home, a church or a supermarket. Thus projected into public space, the works’ impact is as direct as it is unexpected: irritation and familiarity are experienced physically. In recent years, instrumental pieces have also become an important part of Susan Philipsz’s work, including among others radio signals, singing glasses or war-damaged wind instruments. Based on intense research, she brings to light links and references to a given site’s historic or literary specificities. The unexpected sounds, which respond specifically to the site in which the piece is installed, shift listeners’ attention to their immediate surroundings, allowing them to be experienced in novel ways” Resonating Spaces
The Wind Rose is a sound installation consisting of twelve speakers amplifying twelve tones of the chromatic scale made by blowing twelve conch shells collected from all parts of the globe. The shells are blown with natural human breath ebbing and flowing naturally, sometimes filling the exhibition space and sometimes falling away to silence. The idea of twelve tones was connected by Phillipsz to the mapTypus Universalis, produced in Basel in 1550 by Sebastian Münster which shows twelve cherubic heads flowing the twelve winds of the compass.
For the artist, the sounds produced by breath through the conch shell suggests the natural build up of a winds, building, howling, moaning and gently falling as the audience moves between the speakers. Phillipsz’s approach describes “The Wind Rose is an immersive, spatialised experience. The sounds are abstract, and the twelve tones are separated out through the space. The physicality of producing the sound is evident in the recordings. It requires a lot of breath to create each tone and so the breath becomes emphasised, and this is something we can all relate to. The audience can move through the installation and watch the actual wind moving through the trees on the outside. The physicality of the breath, the wind, where you are in the space, all comes together in a corporeal experience.”Susan Phillipsz, Resonating Spaces
Rachel Whiteread (1963, London) “Since the early 1990s, the artist “has created an exceptional body of sculpture. Her works have their starting point in casts of familiar objects, such as architectural structures or hollow shapes, with a reduced materiality that in most cases lends them an air of strangeness. Whiteread uses the negative space of objects – for example, a hot water bottle, a wardrobe or a bookshelf – to create works that are sculptures in their own right. Casts of entire living spaces, as well as individual objects, have become a central and compelling feature of her work. Her sculptures invariably refer to the absence of the original object, to the interior spaces, the interstices and surroundings that in everyday life generally go unheeded. Thus Whiteread’s work becomes, equally, a point of reference for our own memories.” Resonating Spaces
Rachel Whiteread has made a group of sculptures cast in papier mâché based on an exploration of a painting by Balthus in the Fondation Beyeler collection, Passage du Commerce-Saint- André (1952–54). Whiteread has an ambiguous appreciation of Balthus, who was the subject of her BA Hons dissertation in 1985 ‘Childhood Recaptured at Will: The Child in Balthus’. She describes the painting as having a sense of the macabre and a feeling of otherness, peculiar, remote, cut off, eerie and disembodied.
“I thought it would be quite interesting to somehow replicate this painting and work with it in some way. I felt the best way to do that would be to remove some of the architectural elements and cast them in papier-mâché. I also wanted to make another component, so the room that I’d be showing in would act as a vitrine or a theatrical stage set for the new work. I wanted to create windows that would go along the wall opposite the painting and make a piece of furniture that would not feel like part of the work at all – it would be quite alien to the street and the painting itself – and yet somehow have a collective memory of all the passers-by on the street. It would embody what these people might be experiencing. The idea was almost reminiscent of my first sculpture, Closet(1988): a cast of the space inside a wardrobe, covered in black felt. I’ve also made doors and parts of rooms in later works that share this sense of disembodiment.” Resonating Spaces, interview with Theodora Vischer
The essence of Balthus’ work is that, like all representations of the world, it is a space that you can only view from outside. There are eight figures and a dog placed in the street. The viewpoint is a perspective through opposed rows of houses to a vanishing point blocked by the house of the street junction. There is no sky. The houses are gloomy without interior light or sunlight. In the painting the rooms are absent of human activity. They appear as squares and rectangles of different sizes, an abstract background to the activity of the street.
Whiteread’s eye has focussed on the abstract shapes and placed on the opposite wall to the Balthus painting are six papier-mâché, sculptures, or wall reliefs, that emulate the colours of the painting in shades of brown, black, green and turquoise and flecked with lilac and grey. Placed near to the painting is an architectural element, a sculpture of a matte black cupboard which echoes a black doorway in the painting. Whiteread describes this as “a cupboard that you cannot enter” that hints at the feeling of menace and threat suggested by the painting.
Whiteread’s approach: “The monolithic appearance of her sculptures, formed from casts and imprints of familiar objects, architectural structures and hollow spaces, opens a realm between reality and abstraction, factuality and imagination” Resonating Spaces.The sense of movement between the the painting by Balthus and the sculpture by Whiteread was amplified by the Company Wayne McGregor who created a performative choreographic interpretation during the the exhibition.
Resonating Spaces: 5 Approaches. Leonor Antunes, Silvia Bächli, Toba Khedoori, Susan Philipsz, Rachel Whiteread. Fondation Beyeler, Riehen / Basel. 6 October 2019 – 26 January 2020
Catalogue: Resonating Spaces. 5 Approaches.. Leonor Antunes, Silvia Bächli, Toba Khedoori, Susan Philipsz, Rachel Whiteread. Edited by Theodora Vischer for the Fondation Beyeler, 2019. softcover, 136pp, 140 illustrations, 24.50 x 30.50 cm. ISBN 978-3-7757-4652-6. €44
Fondation Beyeler, Baselstrasse 101, 4125 Riehen / Basel, Switzerland