Thursday, August 23, 2012

British Artist at Kunsthalle Basel


Craigie Horsfield – Slow Time and the Present at Kunsthalle Basel

written by Nathalie Zwimpfer in Basel, Switzerland
Walking into the rooms of British artist Craigie Horsfield’s latest exhibition at Kunsthalle Basel is compelling. Surrounded by three monumental, large-scaled and dramatic pieces of tapestry and two frescoes, one could feel overwhelmed. The scale not only causes this feeling but also the historical connotations to these techniques, which are often associated with abundance and power. The exhibition is imposing and the rather magnificent halls of Kunsthalle reinforce this impression.
On first sight the pieces of art can’t be distinguished between photography, fabric and painting. Even though based on film-stills, they are rather pictorial. Single colored yarn threads become an image. The materiality and surfaces play an important role in Horsfield’s artwork and the handcraft of the tapestries is astonishing.

Craigie Horsfield, Slow Time and the Present

Horsfield found a small weaver’s workshop in Flanders that developed a new technique to produce tapestries of this quality. Tapestries as well as frescoes are often associated with the Italian Renaissance. A time when the manufacture of tapestries and frescoes were costly, therefore only the church or rich and powerful families could commission them. Horsfield’s frescoes might even have similarities with Masaccio’s.
Although at first sight the tapestries’ motives seem to be from past centuries, this is not the case. All of them are based on film-stills Horsfield took in the last few years. Therefore a traditional handcraft is applied on contemporary motives such as rock concerts but also rituals that have been held for centuries. Two tapestries The Arciconfraternity of Santa Monica, Chiesa SS. Annunziate, Sorrento, April 2010 (2012) and Above the bay of Naples from Via Partenope, Naples, September 2008 (2012) and the fresco Processione die Gigli, Via Cocozza, Nola, June 2008 (2012) show rituals that take place annually. However, the third tapestry Broadway, 14th day, 18 minutes after dusk, New York, September 2001 (2012) displays an event that is the opposite of a traditional, annual event. A film-still of Ground Zero acts as a remaining evidence of a moment that changed history.
The second fresco At 99 Posse concert, Via Gianturco, Naples. September 2008 (2012) is based on a film-still taken at a rock concert in Naples. Although a totally different context the fresco’s composition, perspective and motive is very similar to the one showing the procession in Nola. Many people are standing extremely close together, all looking at the same direction.



Craigie Horsfield, Slow Time and the Present



There is a very strong interplay between the five artworks in the first and largest room. All the procession’s penitents and concert visitors on the first tapestry and on the two frescoes are facing the Ground Zero scene as well as a tapestry that shows fireworks and explosions in the bay of Naples; an image that is similar to a historical painting of a naval battle scene. The people on the frescoes and the Fraternity tapestry seem to be looking at those drastic scenes. The two tapestries’ dark petrol, blue and grey colors reinforce the threatening feeling evoked. These two artworks have many similarities with a picturesque Turner painting.
The largest tapestry The Arciconfraternity of Santa Monica, Chiesa SS. Annunziate. Sorrento, April 2010 (2012) shows a very old, catholic ritual that takes place annually in Sorrento, a town near Naples. In this scenery a large number of penitents prepare for a procession. The tapestry covers almost the whole wall so the beholder nearly becomes a part of the artwork. Looking at the picture is discomforting, the viewers find themselves surrounded by numerous people covered in white cloaks. The clothing looks much like the Ku Klux Klan’s cloaks. This association is leading to an intimidation. Only a very few participants aren’t hooded and haven’t covered their faces yet, therefore it feels like an anonymous, ominous threat walking towards the beholder. By covering their faces and bodies with white clothes the penitents are losing their individuality and the Fraternity is acting like a common collective. Due to the tapestry’s size one feels like being among the penitents, however, the beholder doesn’t become a part of them. One acts more like an alien peeking into a hidden world to which one should not have access.



Craigie Horsfield, Slow Time and the Present


In the second and much smaller room of the exhibition there are two tapestries called Zoo, Oxford, January 1990 (2007) each showing a rhino. These two tapestries are very different in a way from the ones in the first room. With this diptych the story of two individuals is told. Both rhinos lie on straw with their legs bent under their bodies on the floor of their concrete boxes. They are lying there very quietly and seem rather exhausted, tired or sad. It’s an intimate atmosphere, however the scenery isn’t less dramatic than the ones in the first room of the exhibition.
The two tapestries are almost symmetrical to each other. The animals seem to be captured in the tapestries square. Questions about their relation are evoked. Are the rhinos lying in the same room and are they living with each other? Although they are facing each other it seems like there’s no dialogue developing between them. They are rather living next to each other instead of living with each other. There are two parallel stories happening at the same time and place, still they don’t cross. Rituals and traditions can’t be found on this diptych, however, there are strong historical connotations. These photographs are similar to first zoological photographs of the late 19th century or even to Muybridge’s animal photographs. Additionally, images of rhinos always reference to Albrecht Dürer’s famous illustration. In this context Walton Ford’s triptych painting Loss of the Lisbon Rhinoceros (2008) should be mentioned as well. Like Horsfield, Ford deals with the notion of time and history’s perception.
Cragie Horsfield’s exhibition Slow Time and the Present is posited on the idea of the past being a part of the present. The linearity of history and its perception is questioned. The motives show traditions and rituals that have been practiced and developed over a long time as well as historical moments and individual stories. The exhibition mixed different perceptions of time and the relation of the past and the present.
Although some of the art pieces have been shown in previous exhibitions one could almost believe that this exhibition was site-specific. There are not only strong connections between each piece of art but also connections to the building and its surrounding.



Craigie Horsfield, Slow Time and the Present


Before even entering the exhibition there is a newly renovated fresco Das Erwachen der Kunst in der Renaissance by Ernst Stückelberg from 1877 in the stairway of Kunsthalle. According to the assistant curator of the Craigie Horsfield show, the fresco’s recent renovation was one reason why Horsfield was chosen for the current exhibition.
Furthermore, Kunsthalle’s floor structure is similar to the church’s floor in The Arciconfraternity of Santa Monica, Chiesa SS. Annunziate. Sorrento, April 2010 (2012). Therefore, the large-scaled tapestry that almost touches the floor seems to fade to the actual floor of the exhibition. Additionally the size of the artworks matches the size of the exhibition halls. The connotation and significance of tapestries are related to the historical site of Kunsthalle. However, there is not only a site-specificity to the building but also to its surrounding. Looking out of the only window in the exhibition one can see Elisabethenkirche, one of Basel’s most important, historical churches. 
This show is recommended to everyone because it deals with the perception of time, which affects or even dictates all of our lives. Craigie Horsfield states about the exhibition: “The title Slow Time and the Present concerns a sense of the duration of our attention and of life as something other than the busy and often frenetic onrush of everyday experience and our consequent separations from a consciously lived present. It concerns the notion of a present we may inhabit, a dilated or deep present.”

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