The international annual art fair Art Basel originally started in Switzerland in 1970 and since then has branched out to Miami Beach in 2002 and Hong Kong in 2013. But Art Basel is not just about artists working in the fine arts of painting, drawing, and sculpture. This June, Art Basel in Switzerland will feature a decidedly architectural work by the Seattle-born, and currently Los Angeles-based artist, Oscar Tuazon.
Tuazon’s piece, Zome Alloy, on view June 13-19 in the Art Basel Messeplatz, is modeled after the 1972 Zome House designed and built by the southwest inventor Steve Baer. In the 1970s, Baer created residences—often aluminum-skinned using car tops he and his wife bought from junkyards for 2 cents—heated through passive solar energy. The zomes are different from geodesic domes, in that they use a stretched polyhedron system.
“[W]hen I was about 18 I started to read the writings of Lewis Mumford and I could see that we didn’t have to have this ‘either-or’ choice. We could have the best of both…we could have a science and technology that could be understood and controlled by the individual instead of the other way around. I found the idea very exciting and I’ve been trying to crack the crap in science for 15 or 16 years now. I don’t claim to have gotten anywhere but I’m trying,” Baer told the magazine Mother Earth News back in 1973 in a long-form interview also with his wife Holly. “I’m most interested now in taking small steps…in developing individual pieces of equipment and hardware that really work and that really make economic sense. And even this is not an easy thing to do, it’s just not easy.”
Tuazon is a sculptor who works in the overlapping space between installation, sculpture, and architecture. He studied architecture and urbanism in college and has worked with Vito Acconci. His pieces often explore the connections between public space and architecture through raw and industrial materials.
“I hope that the effect of my work is mostly physical. That’s what I like—walking through something, having an experience of the weight of things, or an experience of balance,” says Tuazon. “That kind of really basic physical thing makes the work interesting; it makes it disarming and strange.”
Visitors to Tuazon’s Zome Alloy at Art Basel this June will find an update to the Baer house, built using robotically-manufactured structural panels made in Switzerland, rather than by hand. Tuazon will use a 3D mapping of Baer’s Zome House to direct the fabrication. Tuazon is also organizing and hosting a series of talks on alternative building techniques and energy from inside the zome, dubbed the “Alloy Conference,” based on the eponymous Baer-led original 1969 program.
On a separate note, for those in the L.A. area, Tuazon’s work is on display at the Hammer Museum, affiliated with UCLA, through May 15.