The Unlimited sector at Art Basel 2018 had great video and fabulous installations that alternately made me laugh, think and cry. Lots of work could be categorized as social justice, running the gamut. Alfredo Jaar’s The Hong Kong Project, including A Hundred Times Nguyen, runs four different images of a little girl who befriended Jaar in a Vietnamese refugee camp, repeating to total 100 pigment prints.
Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse’s installation, Ponte City, 2008-2014 (Lelong Galerie, New York and Paris). Displayed their six-year documentation of the social community within a fifty-four story Johannesburg apartment building. Their installation exposes problems and relations in attempting to gentrify a run-down apartheid era building.
In Ponte City, community comes to the fore as relationships build amongst the former white, privileged inhabitants of the apartments under apartheid and the artists and other poor, creative people who moved in when it deteriorated to the point of consideration for total replacement. That relationship building was the focus of the project.
Broken pottery featured in Ai Wei Wei’s and Yoko Ono’s work. Yoko Ono, in Mend Piece (Galerie Lelong version, 1966/2018) presented a table filled with broken pottery teacups, and materials to mend them. As I sat among other workers, we were encouraged to use the glue, twine, and tape to mend, without further instructions. The man next to me made a necklace of the pieces held on twine, and tied it to the display. Ai We Wei’s broken china tea cups comprising his installation, Tiger, Tiger, Tiger (2015, Lisson Gallery, London) includes shards of Ming Dynasty china, each painted in a tiger motif, the Chinese zodiac sign for courage, by an unknown, forgotten artist. This compilation of forgotten history shows many pieces of fragile china come together to form a broken display of courage.
Pure form was well represented by Fred Sandback’s Untitled Sculptural Study, Seven Part Triangular Construction (1982/2011, David Zwirmer, New York) where acrylic yarn forms an equilateral triangle, looking like a roof, enclosing space big enough to walk through. But this this roof does not provide shelter, as there is space between the yarns. It is as fake a shelter as the facts that used to provide security.
Dan Graham’s curving wall, S Curve for St. Gallen ( 2001, Hauser and Wirth, New York), a two way mirror glass, with steel supports originally constructed for the museum café built in a repurposed locomotive yard in St. Gallen, Switzerland, allows the viewer to see his reflection through the wall as well as the people on the other side, visually becoming a community of people one is part of, but also a confusing state as to which side you are on.
One of many excellent, thought-provoking videos was Sudarshan Shetty’s Shoonya Ghar (Empty is this House), 2015 ( Galerie Krinzinger, Vienna and Templon, Paris). This film traces the building of a stage set in an abandoned quarry. It envelops the rituals of family, from birth, through adulthood, child-bearing and death with no speaking, but a beautiful musical score following the actions. Based on an Indian poem by 12th century Yogi, Gorakhnath, it mixes current and past ritual from a child’s hopscotch board drawn on the cement ground to the death of the wife as she drowns herself after the death of her husband.
Tornado, 2000-2010 depicts what is unfortunately ritualistic in artist Francis Alys’ Mexico. (single-channel video projection, with Julien Devaux, David Zwirner, New York). From the still, bare sands suddenly gathers storm winds becoming a tornado. As the winds appease, the land gradually settles again, to become as it was.
After Tornado and Empty is this House, I emerged into the light of Basel, quiet, thoughtful and appreciative of artists depicting rituals linking past and present to order life.