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