Le Mouvement-Performing the City – Biel, CH

In November issue of ArtReview

Le Mouvement, as the 12th staging since 1954
of the outdoor Biel Sculpture Exhibition
is called, transitions traditional characteristics
of sculpture, such as volume, mass and mate-
riality, to the human body, which this time
becomes the material for works by a diverse
group of international artists. Invited by
cocurators Gianni Jetzer and Chris Sharp
(contributing editor to ArtReview), they thus
create gestures, performance and what some
would call live sculpture in various open-air
locations within the Swiss city.

I use the term ‘open-air’ instead of ‘public
space’ here as the latter has become fraught
with contestation. Spaces we once cherished
as public – city plazas and squares, streets and
parks – have become in recent years privatised
and surveilled, increasingly limiting the public’s
presence and ability to dissent. And yet at
the root of this exhibition is a questioning
of the very nature of this contested public
space in a democracy, which theorist Rosalyn
Deutsche writes, in Evictions: Art and Spatial
Politics (1996), ‘is produced and structured
by conflicts’ (not consensus). By presenting
performances in the main plaza, train station,
shopping street and numerous other locales
normally full of people going about their daily
business, it becomes possible to have unscripted
confrontations between the public and the art,
and this is where ‘a democratic spatial politics
begins’, as Deutsche states.

This confrontation is nowhere more evident than in
Trisha Brown’s Drift (1974), featuring five black-clad
performers walking in a line down the street for a period
of five minutes, disrupting the flow of the
everyday. This disruption elicited a reaction
from a passerby who placed himself in front
of the walking group, as if to block their path.
Art lovers were shocked; but to me that en-
counter was what completed the performance
– that raw, unmediated clash of positions
in the public sphere.

The struggle between different publics
in public space is also placed under discussion
with Alexandra Pirici’s Tilted Arc (2014), a recrea-
tion of Richard Serra’s public sculpture of 1981,
this time formed of human bodies rather than
steel. Her work, like Serra’s, is imposing and
demanding on the space, and monumental
in the same way. In 1981, the locals working
and residing around Serra’s sculpture requested
that it be taken down precisely because the
sculpture was so imposing. In a strange twist
on that situation, Pirici decided to cancel the
work’s manifestation on Saturday because
other public events were sharing the same area
and she felt that her work would not have
had the same impact and presence. On Sunday,
when the public events were gone, so were
the majority of passersby and ‘public’, but
her piece was there in all its monumentality.

Private experience in public space is
treated by Myriam Lefkowitz, among others,
whose work Walk, Hand, Eyes (2007–) is an
intimate, sensual encounter with the urban
setting. The artist takes one individual at a time
on a blind walk, leading them by the hand or
elbow, slowly and gently changing her hold
while the subject’s senses become increasingly
attuned to an environment they can now only
experience through smell, hearing and touch.
The pace of the walk sometimes increases
abruptly and without clear reason, eliciting
our own associations with the absurd, fast-
paced city. At certain moments the subject is
told to open his eyes as his head is positioned
in front of a detail, then close them again after
seconds of a branch, window, passerby’s face.
These moments are priceless – framed details
of life that continues and changes without
us, but that we can hold on to as images in
our memory.

The exhibition creates opportunities
for exchange, interaction and even conflict,
resulting in surprising social, political, and
spatial relations. And like in Lefkowitz’s piece,
these ephemeral works become still images
ingrained in our memory, taking on charac-
teristics of sculptural works not only because
the human form has sculptural qualities,
but because human experience itself is spatial
in nature. Olga Stefan


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