What: Art Parcours (as part of Art 42 Basel)
Who: Joan Jonas, Gabriel Sierra, Anne Chu, Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller, Ugo Rondinone, Kris Martin, Federico Herrero, Chris Johanson, Yinka Shonibare, Ai Wei Wei
Where: St Alban-Tal, Basel, Switzerland
When: 15-19 June 2011 (Art Basel public show days)
Art Parcours might just be my favourite event here at Art Basel. 10 renowned international artists transform 10 locations in the beautiful and lush St. Alban-Tal area along the Rhine in Basel with site-specific artworks.
A few tram stops from the fair proper, St. Alban-Tal is one of the most historical areas of Basel. Narrow cobblestone alleyways and streams run through this medieval quarter of the city. Walking around the area makes me feel like I am in a different time and place, and I think that is what made Art Parcours so magical for me.
The venues that the artists have transformed include fishing huts, a cargo ship, the old city wall, the Haus Zum Hohen Dolder, the St. Alban church, and the incredible Brunnenwer St. Alban, this underground water reservoir from the medieval times.
Art Parcours is one of the few events here at Art Basel that is free to the public (the other is Art Basel Conversations). On Thursday night, they held various concerts and performances along the river bank. Music and relaxed vibes were in the air. Almost everyone there had just spent the day at the fair and were winding down watching the stunning sunset along the Rhine. It had been raining very heavily just a couple of hours before and so the crowd was thinner than expected. Still, it didn’t stop Art Basel co-director, Marc Spiegler, who I spotted hanging out at the cargo ship jetty.
Below are photos of the cargo ship from Thursday night, of which artist Chris Johanson (whose work features on the ship) hijacked with his band, playing a bunch of minimal songs with various instruments, mainly the electric guitar.
Below is also a shot from Thursday night of one of Federico Herrero’s fishing huts of which he has completely painted the exteriors of. He takes his patterns from his homeland in Costa Rica, adding a tropical flair to one of the most unlikeliest of locations. Underneath this photo are shots taken from the day time.
One of my favourite works has got to be by artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, who has created an installation inside an underground old water reservoir that would normally be shut off from the public.
The entrance to the reservoir is quite conspicious. You push through some wooden doors and descend a staircase. It is very dark in there, almost pitch black as your eyes attempt to adjust from the sunny outside. If it weren’t for people being in front of me, I might have just been too scared to keep going. And look at that photo below, if some four-year old could do it then, hell, so could I.
After going several steps down this dark dungeon-like cave, you eventually descend into a small humid and darkly lit room. There are sounds of running and dripping water. Right in the middle of the room is… a hawaiian tiki hut. Tropical music is also playing. I nearly shat myself laughing.
So, I have walked into the Blue Hawaii Bar, in the most random of places. The location is a medieval vaulted water reservoir that belongs to an ancient system of water connections under the city of Basel. Look at the photo below of one of the water ways that lead into this reservoir. It is just incredible.
The barmen standing atop more underground waterways.
This dislocated scene of a tropical bar inside a medieval water reservoir in the heart of Switzerland’s cultural capital is a metaphor for the ever expanding market for tourism and leisure within the context of the consumption of art.
Below are shots taken from Chris Johanson’s cargo ship during the day.
Below is the ambitious work of Ai Wei Wei, presented along the remains of the old Basel city wall. Ai Wei Wei’s presence here at Art Basel has been incredible despite the fact that he’s been missing since April. This installation was a very sobering experience for everyone who knows of Ai’s current fate. I am very glad that the organisers did this because it provides a strong message that the art world is capable of working together to continue spreading the artist’s message and legacy no matter how much the Chinese Government tries to stop him. To read the latest updates on Ai Wei Wei’s situation, visit Free Ai Wei Wei.
I found this banner behind the city wall.
Walking away from the city wall, you encounter some very medieval things. Look at this painting on the wall of one of the buildings in the photo below. I had no idea what it was at the time, but the fact that the man is holding his head in his hands was so bizarre and intriguing. The text gives us evidence that this is Saint Alban. I googled Saint Alban and accurately enough, Saint Alban was a pagan who was decapitated because he had converted to Christianity.
Walking further along you get to the St. Alban church, another site of Art Parcours. The church was built in the 13th century, formerly a Benedictine cloister, and now a Serbian orthodox church. Here, Kris Martin has done quite an unconventional but beautiful installation… see the photos below. Pay attention to the floor.
With this installation, Kris has covered the entire church floor with tiny bronze discs that look like confetti. Since the fair has now been opened for several days, the discs are everwhere. As the text accompanying this work explains, “As visitors walk over the shiny debris it will get progressively pushed outside, ultimately reminding us of our transient condition.” And transient it was. I found discs hundreds of meters away from this church! I also spotted quite a few outside the Kunstmuseum, all the way up the hill.
There are other works at Art Parcours but these were some highlights. I think Art Parcours is such a great addition to the fair. It is more biennial-like in nature than fair-like. Art Basel, with Art Parcours and the other various programs like Art Basel Conversations, Art Salon and Art Weekend, really does shift some of the emphasis away from the very commercial aspects of an art fair.