In 1964, Julio Cortázar published his famous short story Axolotl, the tale of a man living in Paris fascinated by an aquatic creature that he observes in the aquarium of the Jardin des Plantes. The axolotl, a slow-moving amphibian that spends its entire life in a larval stage, and seems almost like a plant or a mineral, looks like it came from the prehistoric ages. The story’s protagonist starts to understand the different spaces and temporalities embedded in the axolotl: Both the man and the axolotl seem to share the same universe, but, in fact, their bodies encompass different notions of their surroundings, tearing them apart. They don’t share the same universe because the way they can relate to their environments and their temporalities are unreconcilable. Yet they coexist. They are part of a multiverse. In 2017, the artist and architect Michael Wang gave the axolotl a main role for his project Extinct in the Wild at Fondazione Prada in Milan. Wang showed the mutual dependency of these multiverses shared by different species and the ideologies behind them. The axolotl is now an endangered species that has vanished from its natural habitat and lives almost exclusively under artificial conditions in zoos and aquariums, in scientific facilities for research, and in homes as exotic pets. Humans are responsible for their disappearance in the wild, but they also owe their continued existence to human care. This relationship attests to the complex understanding of how the Anthropocene has affected a multispecies shared environment and the need to comprehend its challenges. It is not enough to build an immediate response to the climate crisis that comes from human beings or to come back to an “original” state of harmony, but a structural change that surpasses an anthropocentric view—with human beings and their standard of living as the center. It is necessary to build a notion of the world that takes into account the agency of other species. The conception of a multiverse and the mutual dependency of species has been the center of Wang’s work for the last few years, presented at The World Around in January of this year. In Extinct in New York (organized by Swiss Institute, where the installation permanently resides, and on view at LMCC’s Arts Center at Governor Island in 2019) he introduced a series of plants that had been eradicated from New York City’s landscape. This ecological catastrophe was the result of centuries of hunting, harvesting, and building craziness. As Wang pointed out: “When the Croton Aqueduct opened in 1842, the outflux of wastewater suffocated the seaweeds of New York Harbor. The air changed. Coal smoke poisoned the lichens that had hung from hemlocks; a century later these trees too nearly vanished, plagued by an insect introduced with ornamental plants. Forests of steel rose in their stead, as human habitation stretched skyward.” But Wang doesn’t understand the ecosystem in a dialectic way, based on the binarism of human/non-human confrontations; rather he highlights the new environments created by this relationship. Subways that maintain optimal temperatures for rats; pigeons that found in the skyscrapers a shelter not far from their ancestors’ nests on Mediterranean cliffs; heated living rooms that welcome new flora, etc. The territory, and their inhabitants, are both techno-social recompositions. This project is not about restoration, nor about the idea of a harmonic past. Wang rather conceives it as a life-support system that doesn’t try to reinstate the previous ecosystem where species like Zostera marina (native of the marine meadows in New York Bay) or the Helonias bullata (last collected in Jamaica Bay in 1883) have disappeared from their original habitat. This was also the basis for another project, The Drowned World, that Wang presented at Manifesta Palermo in 2018 (also shown at The World Around). In it, an artificial forest assembled from plants closely related to those of the Carboniferous period grows from the industrial ruins of a gasworks. These plants once formed swamplands that stretched across the globe. Over millennia, their buried remains hardened into the very coal used at the gasworks. As this coal was heated and burned, carbon captured from the air 300 million years ago was again released, and an ancient atmosphere was in part restored. In Wang’s projects, all the violence, the displacements, the uneven balance of powers, and the colonization of the territory are confronted. The world is designed by one species and for one species. But human beings are not self-contained. Their bodies are also part of other species, from the varied microorganisms that inhabit them to the ever-changing habitats they share with other non-human agents. The challenge now is to understand the mutual dependency between species in a multiverse.
Posts tagged with "Swiss Institute":
The Swiss Institute for Contemporary Art has opened its new 7,500 square foot Selldorf Architects-designed location on St. Marks Place in New York City. Taking over four levels of a former bank built in 1954 and designed by Alfred Hopkins and Associates, the renovation is, in the words of Swiss Institute director Simon Castets, a “counter narrative” to the building’s former financial, low-occupancy use. The Selldorf redesign uses a seemingly minimal touch. Though there have been significant changes—full stairwells and elevators have been added along with a total plan rework—the overall architectural sensibility feels light and unimposing. White walls remain unadorned. Flooring is understated. On all ceilings, ductwork, lighting, and structural elements remain exposed—a departure from many recent galleries in the city that have instead focused on hiding every functional detail, even the lighting, as much as possible. Curators generally aren’t keen on losing space to the workaday trappings of administrative necessity. Swiss Institute has filled every corner, wall, stairwell, and even the elevator with art to allow “artists to reclaim the space lost to New York City building code” as part of the SI ONSITE program. Stairwells feature sculptures and frescoes by Shahryar Nashat and Latifa Echakhch. The elevator has been turned into an artwork, skinned in a welcoming pink from Sherwin Williams called “Memorable Rose,” which is taken from the color of a tongue by artist Pamela Rosenkranz for an installation appropriately titled Color of a Tongue (Director) (2018). A cellar gallery remains honest about what it really is with layers of gray paint applied by Dusty Baker. https://www.instagram.com/p/Bkd-vN1FN80/?taken-at=1339491416095759 Like the building itself, the current exhibition, Readymades Belong to Everyone (open through August 19), is packed with art. The first floor, which features ceilings that soar over 17 feet, is dense with all variety of sculpture and 2D work. Despite lower ceilings, the new location's upper level is airy, wrapped in windows with exposed wood shining on the ceiling. There is a reading room, currently taken over by a project from Heman Chong in collaboration with Ken Liu. Chong and Liu’s Legal Books (Shanghai) features hundreds of books selected by Liu, a sci-fi writer and attorney, inspired by thinking on the Chinese legal system. The art instillation-cum-reading room features painted curtains by Jill Mulleady, another way in which the Institute is packing in the art. https://www.instagram.com/p/BkVg-UtlioO/?taken-at=5122362 One enters from Second Avenue to find a visitor welcome desk and a bookshop from Printed Matter. The entire space is decked out in the clean lines of USM’s furniture, and behind the visitor information desk is John Armleder’s Royal Flush (2018) installation of mirrored tiles reminiscent of a disco ball. https://www.instagram.com/p/BkYmINDnsN8/?taken-at=5122362 The Swiss Institute also takes the art outdoors with a terrace that places visitors in the midst of the city. The current plein air setup includes work by Valentin Carron, Nancy Lupo, and Michael Wang. In Wang's Extinct in the Wild series, the artist references Peter Stuyvesant's original orchard, composed of native plants that now only grow with human care and populated what is now the East Village. Signage on the building is multilingual, not merely with the four official languages of Switzerland, but also with the most spoken languages in the Swiss Institute's new surrounding area: English, Spanish, and Chinese. The Swiss Institute, which has free admission, has also been collaborating with local community organizations for artist-led workshops and is actively celebrating the artistic history and present of their new East Village location. The Swiss Institute’s new 38 St. Marks location opens with the exhibition Readymades Belong to Everyone, on view now, curated by Fredi Fischli and Niels Olsen. In addition to the artists described above, the show features many architects and designers including OFFICE, Rem Koolhaas, MOS Architects, and Sauter von Moos in collaboration with Herzog and de Meuron.
The Swiss Institute (SI) announced this morning that it will be moving to the corner of St. Mark’s Place and Second Avenue in Manhattan’s East Village. Selldorf Architects will be renovating the preexisting building, a former bank. The new 7,500-square-foot building will house four levels, including a basement, ground floor, second floor, and roof. This scheme will contain spaces for exhibitions, projects, public programs, a library, a bookstore, and a rooftop. It is slated to open spring 2017. "This new building offers tremendous opportunities to expand upon our mission and serve a growing audience, to whom we will continue to offer forward-looking exhibitions and public programs, always free of charge," said Swiss Institute director Simon Castets in a press release. "We look forward to joining and contributing to the diverse community of cultural organizations and artists that have called the East Village home for many years." The SI is a nonprofit contemporary art institution with a focus on experimental art that promotes forward-thinking artists and designers with exhibitions and programs. So, part of the draw to its new location is its proximity to Anthology Film Archives, Cooper Union, Danspace Project, ICP, La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, New Museum, New York University, The Poetry Project, and The Public Theater. In addition to announcing its relocation, the SI said that nine new trustees will join the board and that Maja Hoffman will be taking over the role of chair. "I am thrilled to begin my tenure as chair with the support of such a stellar, expanded and international Board of Trustees, at the start of an exciting new era for the organization. I am looking forward to working with the exceptional Swiss Institute team as they thoughtfully develop the institution and its program in the context of such a storied, creative neighborhood,” Hoffman said in a press release.
Mexico has a unique architectural and artistic culture that spans generations and decades. It's is a combination of a powerful indigenous vernacular created when the Spanish met the native peoples, sophisticated European designers immigrating to the country, and a long period when it was cut off from the international flow of capital and ideas. But now a new generation of young architects is redefining this tradition in the most creative and exciting ways. One of those young designers—Frida Escobedo—is in New York and will be presenting her work at the Swiss Institute on Saturday. Escobedo will discuss her recent work and overall practice with Beatrice Galilee, associate curator of architecture and design at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Escobar founded the studio Perro Rojo with Alejandro Alarcón in 2003, and, since 2006, has worked as an independent architect. She has said of her work, "In sum these don't pretend to announce any form of grandeur, but rather expose their minutia. They are nothing more and nothing less than substrates, processed through participation, their means of production never finished, always turning anew, lineworks and lattices buried beneath a deep tissue of milieu and event." It all happen at the Swiss Institute in Soho at 18 Wooster Street on Saturday, November 8 at 4:30p.m.
The Web Swiss Institute New York Through April 28 Jon Kessler’s The Web, currently on view at the Swiss Institute through April 28, is an immersive array of monitors, enlarged MacBooks, cameras, mechanical and animatronic sculptures—the latter of the artist himself—set to a sound track of the eponymous Apple computer chime. Enabled through mobile technology, the environment plugs you into a closed-circuit feedback loop. You download an iPhone app that allows you to feed your experience of the installation into the system as your movements are also simultaneously tracked, captured, and fed into the system. Cleverly re-staging Jean Tinguely’s self destructive drawing machine for the digital age, you are only image. Caught in this web, you are broadcast at those moments when you think you are most in control. You appear only to disappear and then to reappear somewhere else again, and again. You have your images, but The Web has you. At 7pm, Saturday, April 28 at the Swiss Institute, Jon Kessler will hold a press conference/performance announcing the launch of his latest business enterprise, GlblVlgIdiot, devoted to the creation of iPhone apps similar to The Web that "bridge the gap between life and art." Click here for reservations.