In Geneva, a sculpture garden activates post-human connections
Honestly, it’s hard to get to landlocked parts of Europe in the summer, but if it has to be done, there’s no better place than Switzerland, with its water bodies and streams representing success stories in environmental recovery, in which nature is recognized as a full member of society.
In Basel, a 1986 fire at the waterside production plant owned by pharmaceutical company Sandoz reddened the Rhine with pesticides, prompting urgent political action that has since created a river not just suitable for swimming , but which expresses a sense of the city’s identity. . While in Geneva, efforts between France and Switzerland to save Lake Geneva (or Lake Geneva, as it is also known) began in earnest in the 1960s – at the time, a New York Times article reports on a lake devastated by sewage – the Association for the Safeguarding of Lake Geneva becoming a Franco-Swiss non-profit association in the 1980s.
The lake shone tropical blue during my visit to the Geneva Biennale – Sculpture Garden, initiated and organized by artgenève in collaboration with MAMCO and the City of Geneva. This summer marks the third edition of the Biennale, which runs from June 10 to September 30, 2022, and revolves around two parks that rise up from the city’s beautiful coastline.
Beautifully curated by WIELS art curator, Devrim Bayar, the show actually starts from the lake. Especially if you disembark from the city ferry that takes you across the water from Chateaubriand to Port Noir, where a monument commemorates the landing of the “Swiss” on June 1, 1814. This landing will end in Geneva, annexed to the French between 1798 and 1813 , joining the Swiss Confederation – Switzerland is not so much a nation-state as a community of cantons agreeing to share space together – a year later.
From there, the first encounter is the very first public sculpture by Liz Deschênes, Blue wool scale (2022), which extends the artist’s sculptural works by engaging with the so-called blue wool scale, a color control system that was first developed for the textile industry to measure the permanence of dyes, which has since been used in art conservation to track the effects of light on artworks and the longevity of their pigments.
Blue wool scale stands on the grass in front of the crowded beach by the lake. On a steel frame, five UV-printed stainless steel panels in different shades of blue are superimposed, emphasizing their paradoxically transparent opacity. It is a simple monument that prolongs the effective use by the artist of monochrome photographic prints not so much to intervene in space as to inhabit and amplify it. In the context of Lake Geneva, it reminds us of the fragility of water and the need to be vigilant in maintaining one’s health; especially considering the historic pollution that once clouded its waters and the joy it brings to township citizens, human and non-human alike, when maintained.
Just a few steps away, the stainless steel restaurant of Gabriel Kuri Fountain (2022) extends Deschênes’ engaged interposition in space by effectively replicating a striking stainless steel public restroom cubicle that sits on a grassy section of the promenade as a sculpture in its own right. Beyond that, Alia Farid Instead of what is (2022) completes this riparian introduction. A co-production with the Kunsthalle Basel, where Farid recently held a solo exhibition, five monumental fiberglass and polyester resin enlargements of various water vessels, including a plastic water bottle, are arranged in a line not far from a recycling bin.
The engagement with the place continues in Parc La Grange, the largest green space in Geneva. The park was donated to the city in 1917 by its last owner, politician and patron William Favre, who lived in Villa La Grange, where Presidents Biden and Putin met in 2021 amid growing geopolitical tensions that erupted with the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Just behind the villa, where a wealthy Roman colony once stood, the house of Elif Erkan where they form (2022) is installed. Five blocks of rubber and concrete resembling fragments of Neolithic menhirs are coated with a mixture of earth from Austria, France, Germany, Russia and Turkey. “These countries are, of course, a strong political force on the diplomatic chessboard of the world order,” Bayar said. “The artist wanted to show that something considered as natural as the earth, is always the starting point for political battles and war.”
The artist Sophia Al-Maria proposes a counter-monument in another part of the park, with taraxos (2022). Ten steel rods with pointed crowns rise from a concrete platform on which lines have been inscribed to invoke a sundial, each signifying the self-seeding dandelion, which the artist sees as a model of resistance given its ability to survive in any condition. As Bayar explains, the work has already been shown in London at the Serpentine Gallery, and in Geneva the poles were reconfigured to match the alignment of the stars on the opening night of the Biennale.
The site specificity of the sculptures created for Bayar’s exhibition continues next to Parc des Eaux-Vives, which is connected to Parc La Grange by an unassuming wrought iron gate created by Koenraad Dedobbeleer, in which the line of an ampersand recalls the ‘and’ or ‘et’ flashing in black and white in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1976 documentary Here and elsewhereWhere Here and elsewhere. It is a simple intervention that signals a point of connection that finds an echo in Sammy Baloji’s installation of a terrarium filled with exotic plants, and to those North Sea waves whispering sunken stories (2022), which refers to the so-called Wardian crates that were used to transport plants from colonies. Another version of the work is currently exhibited at the Berlin Biennale, curated by Kader Attia, creating a portal between one place and another.
At the Parc des Eaux-Vives, two works make the earth on which they rest the main character of their composition, which speaks of the activation of the space that the Geneva Biennale operates for its audiences more broadly. Installed on a pedestal where a Calder mobile once stood is Rhodos_Azalees, NL (2022), a stainless steel weather vane created by a group of Work.Master students from HEAD–Geneva. “The subject of a whole year of discussions,” says Bayar, the oval surface of the weather vane was perforated with holes marking locations in the rhododendron park donated to Geneva by the Netherlands in 1947 in recognition of humanitarian aid. that the township brought to the country during World War II. As the weather vane moves with the wind, what looks like flat steel becomes a brilliant constellation of glowing dots.
Then there’s Daniel Lie’s Their (2022), a vast installation of streamers in turmeric-dyed cotton fabric, which wrap around the tall branches of a circle of magnificent bi-centennial redwoods, framing a ceramic vase suspended upside down in the center supported in the tunes by a natural rope, as it drips turmeric-infused water onto another container below. Lie’s is a beautiful tribute to the terrain on which this Biennale is staged: the evocation of a site of post-human communion, where the trees are illuminated like old ones, alive, present and still growing.
In the distance, Lake Geneva is visible, as is the echo of Liz Deschênes Blue wool scale: a reminder of the living organisms with which we share space.