Per­for­mance art might be a thrill, but the new fron­tier is ephemeral hap­pen­ings that — quite lit­er­ally — trans­port the viewer, writes

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Feature -

In late Fe­bru­ary, a group of art col­lec­tors, cu­ra­tors and fi­nanciers gath­ered on a train plat­form in St Moritz, the mon­eyed re­sort town in the Swiss Alps. They were there to see some art, but they weren’t told what kind of art it would be. The in­vi­ta­tion to What Could Hap­pen, a project by the elu­sive French ar­chi­tect Fran­cois Roche in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the artist Pierre Huyghe, promised an ‘‘ex­per­i­men­tal ex­pe­di­tion’’ to a frozen lake on a vin­tage 1910 train. All other de­tails were kept se­cret and even those with in­ti­mate knowl­edge of what would hap­pen strug­gled to de­scribe it.

Michele Lamy, the wife of the designer Rick Owens, had vol­un­teered to pro­vide food for the trip. She sug­gested call­ing it a jour­ney. ‘‘ A ‘ per­for­mance’ has a dif­fer­ent sense in French,’’ she ex­plained. ‘‘And ‘hap­pen­ing’ makes it sound back in time.’’

‘‘But it’s so much more than an ex­pe­di­tion,’’ said Maja Hoff­mann, an art phi­lan­thropist and the event’s chief spon­sor. ‘‘It’s re­ally a voy­age into an­other di­men­sion.’’

Or as Camille La­cadee, Roche’s beau­ti­ful, stoic girl­friend and col­lab­o­ra­tor, put it: ‘‘It’s called What Could Hap­pen — so that’s what you call it ... you will un­der­stand what is hap­pen­ing once it hap­pens.’’

As pe­cu­liar as this sounded, Roche isn’t the first to abduct the art crowd on a mys­te­ri­ous ex­cur­sion. The lat­est in a re­cent wave of tran­sient art pieces, What Could Hap­pen called to mind Doug Aitken’s 2013 Sta­tion to Sta­tion project, which had the artist send­ing a ‘‘ki­netic-lightsculp­ture’’ train rolling cross-coun­try, stag­ing per­for­mances by var­i­ous artists along the way, and Matthew Bar­ney’s River of Fun­da­ment, a film project for which the artist in­vited an au­di­ence on a barge ride down the Detroit River and en­ter­tained them by dredg­ing a 1967 Chrysler Crown Im­pe­rial out of the wa­ter.

As mi­cro­pro­duc­tions with their own ac­tors and di­rec­tors, th­ese hap­pen­ings ex­pand on a genre known as re­la­tional art, which turns view­ers into an in­te­gral part of the work, and of­ten leaves noth­ing be­hind but the mem­ory of the ex­pe­ri­ence. And yet art ex­cur­sions take that idea one step fur­ther. They’re not just fleet­ing in a tem­po­ral sense, they’re lit­er­ally on the move.

Roche had been in­vited to do a project in the area by Gior­gio Pace, a St Moritz-based cu­ra­tor, who had dis­cov­ered the ar­chi­tect’s work through En­gadin Art Talks, a lec­ture se­ries or­gan­ised by Hans Ul­rich Obrist. (Obrist, who spent his youth dis­cov­er­ing art by rid­ing trains through Europe, has ar­guably be­come the art world’s most peri­patetic cu­ra­tor.)

Roche agreed on one con­di­tion: ‘‘I said I would love to do some­thing very high and very in­ac­ces­si­ble.’’ He pro­posed find­ing a re­mote lake and fly­ing peo­ple in on he­li­copters. ‘‘I thought, ‘Oh my god, this guy is crazy’, ’’ Pace re­called. ‘‘You can­not land on a lake!’’

Pace, a sprightly, re­source­ful 48-year-old whose re­sume in­cludes stints at the Venice Bi­en­nale and the Guggen­heim Mu­seum in New York, even­tu­ally found the Lej Nair (‘‘black lake’’), which is sit­u­ated near the Di­av­olezza glacier — and near train tracks. Seats on the New York-based per­for­mance artist Ma­rina Abramovic is in Australia this week for the Mu­seum of OId and New Art’s Dark Mofo win­ter fes­ti­val in Ho­bart, and to par­tic­i­pate in the Kal­dor Public Art Projects in Syd­ney. Abramovic is known for her ex­treme per­for­mance art, which blurs the lines be­tween artist and au­di­ence and pushes her phys­i­cal and men­tal lim­its. Past ex­hi­bi­tions have in­volved the artist ly­ing on a bed frame over lit can­dles ( 2005) and blind­fold­ing vis­i­tors to heighten their sen­sory aware­ness ( 2014); dur­ing

at New York’s Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art in 2010, she sat mo­tion­less across from vis­i­tors for train were by in­vi­ta­tion only, and the in­vi­ta­tions went out to a se­lect group of about 300 peo­ple who had the means and the time to travel to the Alps for art they knew noth­ing about and which they couldn’t even buy. If the art eight to 10 hours a day, for three months. At MONA, Abramovic will to­day open

a mul­ti­me­dia ex­hi­bi­tion that spans her four­decade ca­reer, and ap­pear to­mor­row in con­ver­sa­tion with David Walsh. While her ret­ro­spec­tive at Syd­ney’s Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art was can­celled last week, Abramovic will take part in an 11-day res­i­dency at Syd­ney’s Walsh Bay from June 24.

Si­mone Fox Koob mar­ket ha­bit­u­ally placed the artist at the whim of the col­lec­tor, here the col­lec­tor was sud­denly at the whim of the artist. ‘‘They can­not just cross the room as in a mu­seum,’’ Roche ob­served of his cap­tive pas­sen­gers. ‘‘They are trapped.’’

Roche, a slightly un­kempt 54-year-old, wore black ski pants, a puffer jacket and sun­glasses. He had re­quested that ev­ery­one wear dark colours, but Pace ar­rived at the sta­tion in a light blue turtle­neck and a long cape. ‘‘I was so sleepy this morn­ing that I for­got, but I have my cape like this,’’ he said, and wrapped him­self in the gar­ment. The ar­chi­tect Nor­man Foster, a part­time St Moritz res­i­dent, seemed to have forgotten too, and was dressed in white cor­duroys and a cream turtle­neck. An­other con­spic­u­ous pres­ence was Lamy, who had spent the morn­ing as­sem­bling boxed lunches with food by the Swiss chef An­dreas Cam­i­nada. Eas­ily recog­nis­able by her di­a­mond-stud­ded teeth, Lamy wore a coat made up of brown and black ten­ta­cles that looked like a small an­i­mal had wrapped it­self around her torso.

Af­ter ev­ery­one boarded the small, three­wagon train, La­cadee is­sued what sounded like stage di­rec­tions for an im­prov class: ‘‘You’re all pas­sen­gers go­ing to the sana­to­rium and your only sub­ject of dis­cus­sion will be your own dis­ease, phys­i­cal or psy­cho­log­i­cal.’’ On board were two hired ac­tors, Veronique Mer­moud and Matthieu Ko­bilin­sky. Roche said Ko­bilin­sky would be play­ing ‘‘an old teenager in the cas­tra­tion clamp of his mother’’ and that to­day was ‘‘the day of his wean­ing’’.

As one of the few ar­chi­tects to emerge in the in­ter­ac­tive art move­ment, Roche cre­ates not build­ings ex­actly, but sci­en­tific ex­per­i­ments. In the past he has erected a struc­ture in Thai­land that used a wa­ter buf­falo as a power gen­er­a­tor; built a park­ing garage in Ja­pan with un­du­lat­ing as­phalt so that each car ap­peared suspended in mo­tion; and con­structed a pri­vate res­i­dence in Nimes, France, with an in­tri­cate ex­te­rior of netting and trees that made it im­pos­si­ble for any­one to find the house, let alone pho­to­graph it.

Roche him­self has long tried to pre­vent the pub­li­ca­tion of his own im­age. (‘‘It’s like Margiela, or Daft Punk,’’ he told me. ‘‘It’s some­thing from the 90s where we try not to be pop stars but to be anony­mous.’’)

The view out­side turned from dense for­est to rolling, snow-cov­ered land­scapes. Roche passed around a small glass sculp­ture the size of a pa­per­weight, cre­ated by Huyghe, a long-time col­lab­o­ra­tor whose re­cent ret­ro­spec­tive at Los An­ge­les County Mu­seum of Art was de­scribed

Matthieu Ko­bilin­sky naked in the Swiss Alps

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