A Selective Survey of Activities at attitudes 1994-1998

Founded in 1994, attitudes is a non-profit contemporary-art structure based in Geneva. Both of us are art historians and we work in total collaboration, in other words, we confer at every stage of a project, from its conception through its realization.

attitudes grew out of the need to question the status of contemporary art in our society, to reconsider the codes governing its mediation, and to (re)discover in our relationship to works of art the space for debate and communication they are supposed to generate.

This need to act obviously springs from our passion for contemporary art, but also arises from several things we had observed when working together within various art institutions. Naturally we learned quite a lot in those institutions, but we were also made aware of the inherent constraints and limits effecting their operation, the slow pace and ponderous bureaucracy common to most administrations, and the overly traditional opening hours. Especially frustrating was the sense of helping to realize artistic events that are put together mainly for anonymous consumption. That is, the visitor arrives, encounters the exhibition in an often sterile atmosphere, and leaves, without any other form of communication developing between visitor, artist and organizer.

What was needed, we thought, was to try out other ways of working with art and presenting it to the public. Thus we decided to form our own curatorial structure, one that aims to create a livelier situation artistically, humanly and socially. Be it in the selection process, the discussion touching on a specific project, or the eventual realization of the work of art, we always seek the best balance between what a work of art is all about and how it is presented, in other words its context. We also strive to offer the public the best conditions for viewing artworks and a conviviality that helps to foster dialogue. Thus, with respect to the other artistic organizations that exist in Geneva, our approach differs more in terms of how than what we are showing.

Our research takes into account a wide range of the media used today and is not limited to the work of artists of either a particular country or generation. We are chiefly interested in art-making that questions the relationship to the other and to society at large, the physical and mental limits of human beings, the porous boundaries between public and private space, fiction and reality.

Formally we began our activities as members of attitudes in a building that had once served as a distillery and which we were given to use for six months. The building had seven usable rooms and a terrace. We inaugurated the site with a show by Eric Hattan, an artist from Basel whose work shifts between concepts like private and public, interior and exterior, art and architecture. The artist created several site-specific pieces throughout the building. At the same time we hosted a retrospective of the films of Gordon Matta-Clark. We thought it would be worthwhile to introduce a dialogue in this way between the work of two artists who are motivated by similar concerns, although they are from different cultures and generations. This dialogue between an artwork that already belongs to history and an oeuvre very much under development, along with the simultaneous presentation of an exhibition and a film program, proved to be decisive arguments in attracting the attention of a wide-spread audience and creating an atmosphere that favored immediate discussion.

Another show contrasted works by the Swiss artist Fabrice Gygi and the videos of the French artist Absalon. Although these two fiercely independent beings have embraced resolutely singular approaches to art, they resemble one another in their radical attitude and their energetic resistance to the hold society has over the development of individuals. In both cases, their art dealt with questions of survival, nomadism and the minimum needed to sustain life. Furthermore we contrasted these contemporary works with videos representing performances that are now part of history, those of Abramovic/Ulay, who remain the inescapable artistic references in terms of the concept of limits.

We continued our activities a few months later in Basel at the invitation of Filiale, an independent art space that has been in operation for 14 years now, a record for such spaces in Switzerland. It was with that invitation, moreover, that nomadism naturally became a part of our own operating methods. For Filiale we put together four solo shows which ran simultaneously, one in a garage and the three others on the three floors of an adjoining building once occupied by apartments. We turned to artists whose work could develop to the fullest in this particular context. Alexandre Bianchini, who was elaborating his series of "Guignol Theaters" at the time, built a temporary structure of wooden panels in the garage, a piece that brought to mind a shelter, a shop front, or a mobile billboard. On this support Bianchini glued photographs culled from daily newspapers which featured subjects having something to do either concretely or figuratively with the notion of the facade. Other images were pasted up on the walls of a bicycle shed standing in the adjacent courtyard. Bianchini thus sparked a discreet though pertinent interaction between the structures that he had raised himself and those that are part of the furnishings making up the urban setting, for the direction his art has always taken is precisely to question the public "facade" of things.

Meanwhile, inside the former apartment block Christophe Draeger saw the floor at his disposal as the flat of some crank fanatically devoted to catastrophe. Existential questions, the precariousness of life, and the solidity and density of reality were sifted through his dark humor. In one emblematic image of this obsession, a small portable gas stove stood in the middle of the kitchen lording it over everything while the very gas bottle that was supposed to feed it was perched dangerously on top.

Two floors above Draeger's installation was the space given over to Gianni Motti. By turns a chameleon and a demiurge, Motti laid claim to earthquakes, invited the audience to attend a lunar eclipse in his name, levitated, and became a football player on a professional team for a game and a candidate for the office of the president of the United States. If his actions are partly shrouded in mystery, the visual proof he offers us is always irrefutable. At Filiale he took on the very structure of the building's topmost story, cutting out the walls separating the various rooms and the corridor at a height of 30 cm from the floor. The three rooms, held up by the chimney and one frail pipe, thus seemed to float in space. Sound and light filtered in from one room to the next. A feeling of insecurity would seize the visitor: raised to protect human beings, the house might very well come crashing down and annihilate them at any moment.

Different city, different context. In 1995 the Center for the Contemporary Image Saint Gervais Geneva invited the city's other art organizations to come up with programs of video artworks or photographs for the center's International Video Week. With this invitation in mind then, we rented a site for one week and presented among other things a video installation by Rirkrit Tiravanija. We had discovered this installation earlier at the Basel Kunsthalle in the cold, lifeless context of a museum, an atmosphere that is especially inappropriate for a work of art that inspires conviviality. The video follows in real time the artist's trip on foot from Madrid's airport to the Centro Reina Sofia. Given the very peculiar overall atmosphere of a festival, we decided to present the piece in its entirety, all 22 hours of it nonstop. Once again our curatorial option bore upon the way of offering a work of art to an audience in a situation that seemed ideal to us.

Cabines de bain, organized in 1996, sprang from our encounter with a particular space, the Motta swimming pool in Fribourg, a public pool that is located opposite Fri-Art, the town's Kunsthalle. It was love at first sight. We turned our attention to the particularities of the swimming pool dressing cabin, a private space designed for the metamorphosis of appearance, a sort of box holding all kinds of memories and fantasies. Again we sought to collaborate directly with each of the 53 artists who were invited to work in this peculiar context. The show involved a mix of famous and unknown artists from Switzerland and abroad, each chosen for his or her potential capacity to respond to this confining, yet magic, situation.

In the pool's dressing room for women, for example, Fabrice Hybert installed wedding gowns that visitors were naturally meant to try on. Amazed children, married couples, dreamy teen-agers, middle-aged women on a night out with the girls, delighted men with a taste for pranks Ñ a large number of visitors played along with the game, slipping into the wedding gowns with pleasure, a pleasure that was indeed catching. Another artist, Maurizio Cattelan, chose to introduce a "virus" into the standard serial aspect of the dressing cubicles by asking us to reserve two adjacent cabins where we were to set up the exact reproduction of neighboring installations by two different artists, obviously without their knowledge. Faced with such a ticklish choice, in agreement with Cattelan we decided on the work of Paul-Armand Gette and John Armleder. Still another artist, Noritoshi Hirakawa, imagined a piece involving an actor inside a dressing cubicle playing the part of a blind man. The actor would call out to visitors, ask them about their reasons for being there, and make them conscious of the idea of the equality among human beings.

Cabines de bain made a strong impact on the general public. With great satisfaction we realized it was possible to create an artistic event outside of any cultural context and reach both the usual audience for contemporary art and visitors who were complete new-comers to the subject.

Change of venue, change of context. The Canton Museum of Fine Arts in Sion invited us in the autumn of 1996 to devise a new arrangement for their collection. Our response was to organize Dialogues, a show featuring Swiss art from the 1980s and 1990s drawn from two sources, the museum's own collection and the Stiftung Kunst Heute in Bern. A foundation without an exhibition space, Kunst Heute nonetheless possesses numerous first-rate works of art. Along with the many dialogues going on between pieces displayed in two buildings dating from the Middle Ages - and as always with the aim of lending an exhibition the liveliest possible aspect - we set aside one room for three succeeding shows by younger artists. One of these guest artists, Pierre Vadi, designed a group of works based on two elements that are closely linked to the geographical and geological context of Sion, exhibiting two panoramas posed on rocks from the mountains and the sea respectively, like the two slopes of the Rhône valley.

In 1997, following a period of intensive research and important undertakings, we opened a new space in Geneva. The site contains a 65 m2 hall for exhibitions, video projections and conferences, an office, a bar, and a library. The inauguration of this space, however, didnÕt mark the end of our itinerant activities; rather it signified the creation of a base for continuing our work and developing regular contacts with artists as well as the public.

Over a period that ran from August 1997 to June 1998 we mounted seven solo shows in our new premises. The exhibitions devoted to Max Mohr, Marianne Muller and Jochem Hendricks featured sculptures, photographs and objects respectively. Yan Duyvendak & Imanol Atorrasagasti's Rêve no. 36 was a computer-programed slide presentation of 65 images that had been reworked using computer-based graphics. Shown in large-scale projection (4 X 6 meters) with an original sound tract, these images depicted a dream whose dreamers were actors. For Cyril Verrier's exhibition, on the other hand, we decided to emphasize the host of ideas teeming in the artist's imagination. We covered the walls with sketches and experimental photos and set up on the floor and in space several strange objects and machines. Pascale Wiedemann created an original installation made up of a giant cube of transparent plastic, a kind of temporary shelter from some sort of commonplace pollution. Inside the cube a tent held 21 T-shirts that bore the embroidered names of plant and animal species, like an overprotected section of archives recording life. At the same time several monitors scattered around the space listed these names or showed the artist at work embroidering the T-shirts. This homage in real time seems to address something in us: how do we place ourselves in the present and with respect to this history of terrestrial evolution? Finally, "version simon lamuniere" ended that first year of exhibitions. Lamunière's project took shape around four evenings devoted to themes the artist is drawn to: penguins, the masses, islanders, and Kinder Surprise, a selection of objects from a personal collection. Playing on the particularities of how our association operates, Lamuni_re imagined this show as a program in constant evolution involving invited friends, documentary or art videos, films, objects, and various other documents. Moreover, each visitor was called upon to take part in a peculiar exchange, receiving one of the 161 fragments of artworks that Lamuni_re has pilfered in exhibitions over the past few years and providing his or her name and address in return. This data is fed into an information file that is immediately destroyed and recycled in an artist's edition.

Along with these exhibitions we also organized an international meeting of independent art organizations in February 1998, the Rencontres internationales d'Organismes d'Art Indépendants, which brought together 24 art structures from 10 European countries. The aim of this public event was to investigate the nature and activity of art structures that stand apart from commercial galleries and established institutions. For this three-day colloquium we put together a program that included seven lectures, three round-table discussions and two afternoons devoted to visiting and consulting the information stands set up by each of the participating organizations. The discussions proved very fruitful and the occasion served as the starting point for several collaborations and exchanges. We later created a web site largely devoted to these 24 art spaces. The site, which can be consulted at www.attitudes.ch, is conceived as an evolving platform for information and debate on independent art organizations and will be continually expanding as other art structures are selected. We now find ourselves at a stage where we are developing our activities along three axes: a continuous program in our Geneva research center, one-off extramural projects in towns and contexts that change with each project, and the development of a European network of independent art structures. These three axes are a fundamental part of our effort to apply, enrich, and question our ideas.

In the end, to try to define our understanding of what curating is or should be we would suggest the image of a ferryman. The curator as ferryman, in other words someone who constantly crosses from shore to shore, from artistic creation to the publicÕs perception of that creation. Between those two shores the curator decides respectively the choice of a work of art and the angle best suited for its transmission to others. Moreover since each crossing is unique, each brings new experiences that will be taken into account during the next crossing - and that holds for both directions. Each discovery of an artwork influences the nature and content of the show that follows, and each art event adds to the perception and interpretation of a work of art. The ferryman-curator must endlessly reconnoiter both shores in order to know them as best as he can and thus be able to choose both who he will carry across and where and how he will set his passenger down. Finally, our ferryman must have a knack for negotiating currents, whirlpools, snags and shoals on all sides if he is to hold the course.

Jean-Paul Felley / Olivier Kaeser

(english translation : John O'Toole)