I went to the exhibition of Abraham Cruzvillegas (b. 1968), an Mexican artist, at the Kunsthaus in Zurich (16 February – 25 March 2018) not knowing what I would expect and see there . It was the second last day of the exhibition and from my experience museum exhibitions have a certain life-cyle change, as most visitors seem to come either at the very beginning or at the very end.
The exhibition text mentioned that the artist ‘investigates architecture as the expression of social conditions’. Relating to his origin in a rural area south of Mexico city, as ‘a centre of makeshift, self-built housing constructed from materials found nearby, without foundations or construction plans. The entire community of family members and neighbours was involved in building them.’
“sculptural form a process of transformation, action and solidarity… a constant becoming.” – Kunsthaus Zurich text
The scope or purpose of the exhibition was to use the opened museum space as a workshop for a continuous and dynamic process of creation of objects in interaction with or response to the artist, his assistant and some co-workers from the museum staff and in a wider context of sequences of events (film screenings, workshops, concerts, discussions, and skateboarding days as well as kids’ club). Thus, to use the space as a space for interaction as well as for education and dialogue. Overall, showing progress as a laboratory or workshop of actions.
I went to the exhibition outside of the event program, kind of experiencing the snapshot moment of in-between, a stasis in time, as well as the image of the final days.
The approach of social interaction and work in flow , kind of laboratory reminded me of those cultural experimental approaches as the one in Bern. Switzerland called ‘NeustadtLab’ (New city Lab). An experimental approach to open communal space and invite the public a place through participatory interaction and creation. Very much a meeting place, like possibly the role in former times the main square inherited, for any cultural activities. and the freedom to create physical and social objects for interaction and participation. It also reminded me of Nicolas Bourriaud (2002) Relational Aesthetics and the role (see my reflection on it as part of my UVC studies on ‘Art in relation, space as affirmation‘)
I was wondering how far the interaction and participation of the public were addressed by Cruzvillegas, and was possibly a bit disappointed as my talk with one of the available museum staff person told me that most of the re-construction was done by the artist himself (who apparently was present at the beginning), his assistant (who was most of the time present) and some co-workers from the museum staff. Thus, the participation of the public was more limited to the use of the space (e.g. skate-boarding and using created objects) or with consumption (e.g. listening to music that was important to the artist). What made me think about museum space, art space, appropriation and intention, and the edge between participation and consumption. What made me to reverse the view on the space and revealing the architectural space as the underlying foundation for what and how we perceive as mere object or as art (see Fig. 2)
Two works attracted more my attention as I could relate it to post-modern and institutional critique (artists as Michael Asher, Andrea Fraser. etc. in the 1970s till 1990s): overpainted scrap surfaces, showing even the process of the making and presenting (see. left sketch in Fig. 1 and Fig. 3)
As my presence was in-between events, and no active creation of objects was visible, I was wondering about my role. Am I a museum goer to consume or get educated? Am I an artist to get new ideas and perspectives for possible future contextualization of my own work? Was I supposed to be passive or more active? I decided to engage 101 with the space around me and with the use of foldable chair (those that one can borrow at the reception to sit down at any place) and to incorporate it as a ready made in the space (see Fig. 4). I left it there for some time while walking further, curious to see whether other visitors would consider it as a object of interest. Perhaps It was more wishful thinking than reality. I was thinking even to leave it there after I finished my visit, but somehow I didn’t either have the courage or I didn’t find it would add more to the space as place. Still an open question. Reflecting now on it now I am more excited to have such participatory interventions as one way to engage (to keep in mind for my own practice)
Objects in space were build from scrap materials, discarded objects, re-used, and re-contextualized through its placement in an art space (museum), a juxtaposition with natural objects, e.g. vegetables or plants, and its spatial arrangement activating the space as place. A view that for me way quite coherent with the exhibition ‘Die Zelle’ at the Kunsthalle Bern.. The use of found objects, discarded and apparently of no further use, brought me back to my current work on my ‘Box-Objects-Table’ , although in a walking through space instead of a looking at space.
The artist’s idea was to create objects in flow of social interaction and one example (Fig.5) shows how the space as a skateboard place informed that object. I was wondering about the use of green and pink color (as most objects created were painted that way) but the person from the museum couldn’t tell me more about it.
The exhibition was titled ‘Autorreconstrucción: Social Tissue’, the first part related to the artist’s own childhood experience in rural communities of auto-re-construction (in flow – reuse – building) and the second part according to his statements in an interview printed in the complementary ‘newspaper’ (a collection of interview, text, and images from him or his friends) as a ‘critical ..use of language’, a sensibility in current times of missing ‘human dignity’ (Kunsthaus Zurich, 2018).
Last not least I was interested to know what will happen with all those re-constructed objects after the end of the exhibition. The museum person told me that most of them will go to galleries who already supported the organization of the exhibition-workshop-event. What made me think of site-specific aspects versus ‘art as moveable objects’. I felt, that even the most participatory or interactive artist’s body of work with all useable of non-useable things will eventually end up as art-objects, displaced from initial use, a cultural artefact and memory of historical situations.
Conclusion and open questions:
- Objects as a reflection on social interaction and human interventions. Objects to touch, to use, to re-use
- Social tissue: more an artist’s statement in a political sense or as a material sensibility? How to use language (see his use of titles) in art? Description, explanation, or expansion of meaning?
- The role that objects play during and within the art space of a museum (with participation and interaction) and afterwards (as art objects and commodities for galleries to be purchased by collectors)
- My role and self-image as a visitor: Being not during events but in between, I felt a bit like a tourist, strolling some cultural artefacts appreciating mundane objects (e.g. skateboard ramps) as arty because situated inside a museum as an art space?
- I left with some mixed feelings, pondering questions of motivation, use and role of a visitor. Thinking that children are much more unbiased by places and engage directly with material around them. A sensation of displacement and not feeling right to be there overcame and I was more relaxed when being outside again.
screenshot (24 March 2018):
- Fig.1: Schaffeld, SJ (2018) Sketches on site
- Fig. 2 – 5: Schaffeld, SJ (2018) Photographs taken on site in Kunsthaus Zurich, Switzerland
- Fig. 6: @kunsthaus_zuerich. Instagram screenshot
- Kunsthaus Zurich (2018) Exhibition web site [online] At: http://www.kunsthaus.ch/en/exhibitions/current/abraham-cruzvillegas/ and http://cruzvillegas.kunsthaus.ch/en (accessed 24 March 2018)
- Kunsthaus Zurich (2018) Instagram feed [online]. At: https://www.instagram.com/kunsthaus_zuerich/ (accessed 24 March 2018)