An explorative group exhibition that brings together work that is ephemeral, time- sensitive, or durational. Featuring Tim Etchells, Paul Hage Boutros, Sophie Jung, Clare Kenny, Hannah Lees, Wil Murray, and Rafal Zajko, this exhibition examines a diverse group of works through the lens of performance.
As our lives become intertwined with digital media, we increasingly value transient experiences over permanent fixtures. Yet today’s art market continues to be driven by the need for permanence – whether guided by the conventions of museum conservation or the assessment of art‘s value for investment and future ‘resale’.
One art form that sits on the periphery of this system is performance. There have been many attempts to bring performance into the contemporary art market, but questions around its acquisition typically find themselves in tension with its ephemerality, whilst artists working predominantly in performance often struggle to find a place in the typical gallery model.
‘If it’s not meant to last, then it’s Performance’ brings together a group of works that utilise a broad range of materials and processes – from ice, water, and wax to light, words, and heat. Each evolves, decays, or develops over time. As such, each could be considered a performance: a transient experience designed to exist in a particular moment. This exhibition contemplates each of these works in this light and explores how plans for their legacy (or potential acquisition) tap into the current conversation around collecting live art.
Wil Murray’s unexposed and unprocessed negatives are packaged in envelopes and will be sent individually to the gallery by post throughout the course of the exhibition. The envelopes will be designed so as to let in a small amount of diffused light so that the negative is exposed over the course of its shipment and exhibition. The envelopes will also be painted with opaque paint strokes and contain loose opaque shapes that will move around inside the envelope as it travels, blocking the light and leaving sections of the negative unexposed. During the exhibition, the works will be exhibited inside their packaging. An acquisition of the work would involve the collector or institution taking a risk on the contents and choosing when to open and print the negative, if at all.
In Rafal Zajko’s work, the coloured ice that encases his metal assemblages will melt over the course of a day, leaving dyed stains on the wall around the exposed metal skeletons. The ice will be replenished weekly throughout the exhibition. Were a collector to acquire the work, they would receive the silicon mould and instructions on how to ‘remake’ the ice sculpture. Hannah Lees’ Hot Rock heaters contain perishable natural materials, wax candles, and incense, which will be added to throughout the course of the show as the materials run, melt, burn, and transform. Her wine lees wall murals are painted directly onto a wall, following instruction, and are allowed to slowly fade over the course of the exhibition. Lees considers these works as ’fast tracks’ to the evolution that materials will naturally undertake in time.
Clare Kenny’s fountain will undergo a slower transformation. The coloured water that continually runs through the piece will soak into the plaster sculpture, changing its colour and gradually developing the form of the fountain through erosion. The colour of the water will change weekly throughout the exhibition, resulting in a gradual build- up of hues – a visual account of the piece’s history. Sophie Jung will bring found objects directly into the gallery throughout the first phase of the exhibition, before creating assemblage instructions based on a text and drawing from qualities of the collection. Invitations will then be sent out to individuals to attend the exhibition and use the instructions to reform the assemblage. There will be no one right or wrong way for the work to be situated, and it will shift regularly. On acquisition, a collector would receive the objects and instructions and will be able to continually recon figure the work.
Paul Hage Boutros ‘Rethinking The Fundamentals’ has already been sold. His work is a new iteration of the piece, which saw a cypress tree planted in a ceramic pot along with a 5ml vial of the artist’s blood. The collector is merely instructed to care for the tree, which will one day die. We have no idea when: it depends on the tree’s care.
Meanwhile, Tim Etchells’ text piece ‘Further Provocations’ is comprised of 45 phrases, which will be periodically painted onto the gallery wall before being covered over and replaced with a new line of text. First shown at TATE Modern in London, this work will be presented for the second time at VITRINE, Basel. Like urban graffiti or changing billboard texts, these words are somewhat transient – seen one day, replaced, covered or partly covered over the next, in a process that allows residual traces of the ongoing work to accumulate in place.
Since VITRINE, Basel is situated in the public square and viewable 24 hours a day, the changing nature of each of these works can be constantly observed, giving those who walk by the gallery every day a more intimate knowledge of these pieces than those visit the exhibition just once. The final days of the show may present a very different series of works than those seen at the opening: water pooled on the ground, wax melted, and plaster dyed.
When examining these evolving works, the curator raises an important question to the viewer, collector, and art market: rather than fitting performance into the current system, shouldn’t we be asking how performance could lead us towards a new model for buying, owning, and selling artwork? Each work approaches this question in a unique way; each initiates a discussion between artist and collector about value and longevity. In bringing these works together, ‘If it’s not meant to last, then it’s Performance’ aims to shift our gaze towards a new art market ecology.