Parcours, in French, means Journey, and the Journey around and in the city of Basel at various sites designated for 12 art installations, was, even online, for me, meaningful and a constant reminder of the still-Pandemic world. Answering the question posed by Parcours’ title, “Can We Find Happiness Together Again?” Samuel Leuenberger, Director of Parcours, led the audience, in person and online, in a resounding Yes, Ja, Si, Oui!
Beginning on Monday, September 20, the first day of Art Basel, British artist, Hamish Fulton, who famously climbed Mt. Everest, organized an hour-long participatory walk on the Marktplatz (marketplace). It was a voyage of discovery for Fulton as it was for those who followed him, but also an ethnography of artworks at the Parcours sector of Art Basel. Seeing work displayed on the trail the trekkers pursued was not unlike the voyage we all took this past year, with constant up and downs, reverses, and forks in the road.
As the group marched on, Pandemic style activities and ensuing art/craftwork was encountered. Klara Hasnedlova, a Czech artist based in Berlin exhibited her framed, embroidered compositions and her mixed-media sculptures in the Maurerhalle at the Allgemeine Gewerbeschule Basel. Reminiscent of the needlepoint once taught to young girls, this school-based installation showed the embroidery pursued during the pandemic by those relearning old skills.
Clearly visualizing the effects of the virus on the circulatory system, Pakui Hardware and Lithuanian artists Neringa Cerniauskaite and Ugnius Gelguda created “Breed” at pharmaceutical company Novartis’ Visitor Center at Peter Markli. Looking clearly like a drop of blood “breeding” new versions of the virus carried throughout the body, the handblown sculptures, in a laboratory like setting, also resemble test tubes for Covid-19 testing.
“Mudmen” by Latvian artist Augustus Serapinas, built of soil, water and hay, are the artist’s reaction to his finding materials usually covered by snow, but here exposed, as snow never fell in 2020 Riga. With global warming resulting from our actions, the artist makes the point that, to our detriment, climate is changing. Resembling stupas in form there is a prehistoric appearance to the mounds of hay and soil and to ancient Sumerian tablets of straw and clay that recorded historic events and documents, and, in appearance, to the terra-cotta soldiers long buried under the earth in China. Uniting elements from different eras and civilizations pays homage to the virus and effects of climate change that has spared no one, anywhere, and which puts us all in the same situation showing that what we each do affects us all.
Bunny Rogers’ “Neopets Techno Statue,” 2021, presented by Société Berlin, seem, at first, cute creatures made of stone, but on closer inspection, are more gargoyles, like those found on old buildings in Basel and throughout Europe. Used to divert water as well as frighten away evil spirits, they allude both to the floods that have occurred recently worldwide, especially in Europe, and to the desire to drive away the Covid-19 pandemic.
The bronze sculptures by Rodrigo Hernandez, entitled “Nothing is Solid, Nothing Can Be Held in My Hand For Long,” 2019, further carry out the historical allusion to prior times and materials of Bunny Roger’s Neopets.” Here, the use of an ancient material, hand-hammered brass panels portray intimate and tender gestures in a series that invites us to experience the loving narrative and increasing tactility that we have missed for so long.
Hanna Lippard (“Lamda/Lamda/Lamda”), working in sound and language, shows us an empty room in which her voice resonates, an eerie dictation located in the Pharmacy Museum, that becomes a mantra or a prayer, emphasizing how we heard victims of Covid, on the phone, on the computer, but could not see nor touch them, but could only pray for them. These instances of “semantic and phonetic closeness” noted in the literature of Lippard’s installation at Parcours relate to the closeness of languages and the closeness of people who cannot interact.
In Pedro Wirz’s “Surra,” 2021, in the library’s reading room, a cocoon resembling a wasp’s nest is hung from the roof beams, with its dark color predicting an imminent metamorphosis of the being it harbors, not unlike our constant attention to the morphing of the virus into another variant. Its position, hanging above a table set with chairs, surrounded by bookshelves in this library where research is conducted, makes it obvious that a solution and a metamorphosis literally hangs above the heads of those who might inhabit the space.
Coalescing film images and physical performance at Parcours, Argentinian artist Cecilia Bengolea showed work on the Messeplatz, in front of the Art Basel building. The participatory live performances of “Oneness” (ongoing), “Lightning Dance,” 2018, “Dancehall Weather,” 2017, and “Shelly Belly Inna Real Life,” 2020, were spliced together with images of Caribbean dancehall performances, to create a new and vibrant form.
Thomas Bayrle’s “iPhone Pieta,” 2017, plays on the depiction of the Pieta by Michelangelo, but also on the meaning of the word, either Passion or Pity. Woven by hand at the famous Aubusson tapestry works in France, the work transmits a code, or language via cellphone that can be heard around the world. But are we to pity those who rely on this technology? Is technology ruining the ancient arts, not only of tapestry, but of social interaction? Again, we are confronted with the advantages of technology during the Covid era, enabling conversation, but also suffering the effects of the lack of face-to-face conversation.
Parcours, for me, perfectly enacts and references the current world situation. Beginning with a march of many people led by an explorer and artist and incorporating many references to the state of our mutual world, it also proposes many possibilities, from technological communication to metamorphosis. It gives us a lot to think about, to consider, and, for those at Parcours, perhaps, provides time to think about what we have seen and what it means during the long exploratory walk around Basel looking at the Parcours exhibits. For those of us, including me, watching the Parcours exhibits online, my leisurely scroll through the exhibits is almost, but not quite, equally rewarding.