Basel is a city immersed in art during Art Basel, held from June 12-18 2017, and which attracted 95,000 visitors and collectors from over 100 countries. Alongside the Galleries, Features, Edition, Conversations and Unlimited sectors, Art Basel also organises the Parcours sector, an artistic intervention of 22 site-specific sculpture and installations focused in and around the Munsterplatz and Basel Cathedral.
Ai Wei Wei’s Iron Tree punctuated the beginning of the Parcours at Munsterplatz and was juxtaposed against the Basel Cathedral. Iron Tree was similar in colour to the red sandstone cathedral but with organic forms that contrasted with the Romanesque and Gothic structure of the building. The sculpture also contrasts with the surrounding buildings on the square, many of which date back to the late middle ages with baroque facades added later. The artist collected branches and roots of trees from the region of Jiangxi in southern China and constructed them into a tree composition. The iron structure is based on a wooden one that took more than two years to make. In some of the branches one can see the shapes of dragons which have been often represented in Chinese art. The iron surface continues to weather and age over time, giving the viewer the chance to reflect on their relationship to nature, time, history, and culture.
Laying against the side of the cathedral was Pedro Cabrita Reis’s The Basel Line, 2017, an aluminum tube and LED sculpture. Its stark simplicity and technical qualities are the artistic opposite of the Romanesque and Gothic cathedral architecture, with its colourful tiled roof. It represents the collision of modernity with tradition and the conflicts and also innovation that can arise from that. The artist states that it is “an unexpected line of light in an mysterious conversation with the neighbouring trees.” At night it would have attracted viewers like moths to a flame.
Also interesting was Latifa Echakhch’s Screen Shot, 2015 which is a labyrinth of canvas panels draped with clothes drenched in black india ink which has dripped down the white screens. All the clothes have been worn by the artist and the screens are the same height as her height. It is a personal statement emphasising the difference between private and public space; what we see and are shown, and what is hidden. Shown in the Munstersaal, part of the Bishop’s Palace, which was built between 1360 and 1380, this is a fascinating juxtaposition between old and new, ancient and modern.
Further along the route is Erika Verzutti’s Centipede sculpture in bronze, located in the Sportsplatz outdoor playground. To get to the sculpture one walks through the swimming pool area, guided by Parcours staff to find the way. Cast from real bananas, Centipede is a bronze sculpture of bananas climbing up a plaster wall. It seems to address the concept of metamorphosis, and the possibility to change from one form to another, as well as the definition of what a species is, what it consists of, and how we perceive it.
One also found scattered along the Parcours path enlarged replicas of actual keys that, in their original state, open doors to a range of cultural institutions in Basel. Symbolically this represents the intent of Parcours, of opening up of normally closed or restricted spaces and allowing viewers and the public in. Created by Amanda Ross-Ho, in Untitled Findings (ACCESS), 7 keys in total were placed in the old town, and the viewer finds the keys one by one. It culminates in a large-scale replica of the artist’s own carabiner keychain hanging on a wall. The shift in scale of quotidian objects is something Ross-Ho has employed previously, and the installation is an experience of discovery and memory.
Parcours was a treasure hunt, art installation, and historic building tour combined into one. The amount of planning and preparation required to implement this is impressive, and the many guides were well-informed and efficient, making the experience both manageable and pleasant. On a sunny day in Basel there is probably nothing better for an art-lover to do than to follow the Parcours path.