Day 1 Rainy Day In Basel At Volta And Liste

Jaco van Schalkwyk, “Nemora”, 2018, at the Volta Art Fair.

Jaco van Schalkwyk, “Nemora”, 2018, at the Volta Art Fair.


Rain or shine, and it did, Nancy Nesvet, intrepid Artscope writer, spent the first day in Basel before Art Basel opens at two satellite fairs, Volta and Liste. Both showed artists, and galleries reflecting subjects with the environment and social-political issues using codes to define and display nationhood. The socially concerned seemed to predominate at Liste and Volta.

Another trend, at both shows, was a use of handcrafts and textiles, naturally obtained, challenging the hard-edged resin obsession of some artists. This emphasis on natural, locally-sourced materials and hand-made objects and sculpture differed from the technological at Art Basel’s installations, (where we’ll have more reports tomorrow on Artscope Online), and, more importantly, emphasized the connection between locally-sourced material and the from which it came. Local sourcing seems like a play to the definition of nation.

At Volta, Franceska Kirke, (Gallery Bastejs, Latvia, 2018) merges modern symbols, blending Murakami-like flowers and paintings of real life-sized flowers in Vanitas. Celebrating life’s transience, the Murakami flowers, adopted for Louis Vuitton bags are consumed by a caterpillar. Ah, life and happiness are transient, it says. Her Landscape Pointillism diptych (2018) is a beautifully painted sepia landscape, overseen by a happy face lemon-yellow emoji, showing the signs and symbols of eighteenth and nineteenth century visual codes for landscape merged with the new emoji code for sunny happiness.

Also at Volta, Malian artist Abdoulaye Konate sews layers of dyed cotton into rows resembling sea waves, in Vert Clair Touareg, (Primae Noctis Art Gallery, Lugano, Switzerland, 2017) merging the colors of the bird native to Mali with a vertical row of geometric forms resembling flags. This declaration of nation on the sea of green establishes Mali’s geography while using a domestic product. His Oiseau (2018) uses different size pieces of dyed cotton to create a proud bird on scalloped rows of sky blues, creating an emblem of nation.

Also at Volta, Sue Williams A’Court, (Le Salon Vert, Geneva Switzerland) produces detailed mythical landscapes explored in her mind. Writing about Anonymous 27, (2018, graphite and paint on an old book cover) she says: “In response to anxieties about the world, I thought about what an alternative reality would be.” Above the work she quotes from Lidding Gidding by T.S. Eliot: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

I was happy to see Zoe Paul’s New Work (Breeder, Athens, Greece) at Liste. Resulting from her current residency at Hospitalfield Arbroath, Scotland, north of Dundee, she discovered a ceramics tradition and made an installation using local clay and pigment to create a hollow ceramic standing leg and thigh, head and neck perched on a marble-like slab and wooden rod stuck in a large piece of black material resembling coal. This use of symbols of the local people and materials used by them continues Zoe Paul’s practice of studying and using symbols of local civilization and materials derived from local earth.

In a fascinating project at Liste, Gala Porras-Kim, in Mesoamerican Negative Space, (Labor Gallery, Mexico City, 2018) makes sculptures carved with negative spaces for pre-Hispanic never-deciphered glyphs, showing not their meaning but only their formal qualities. This is perhaps the very definition of abstract, non-representational art but is here logical and language-based. It questions the place of artifacts in historical narratives, how codes decipher history and also keep us from knowing all.

More tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Nancy Nesvet

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