‘Where do I stand? What do I want?’
These are the key questions artist Thomas Hirschhorn, guest curator of the 10th and final Sommerakademie at the Paul Klee Zentrum in Bern, Switzerland posed to the 12 young fellows selected to take part in the intense 12 day think tank/discussion forum in mid August.
These simple but primal interrogations of intention are the questions Hirschhorn considers the first prerequisite of the artist embarking on new work. In trying to establish those critical points of departure, Hirschhorn suggests drawing a map, tracing influences and indications as to where the work should finish up.
For Hirschhorn’s presentation, the red auditorium at the Paul Klee Zentrum is packed, the overflow guests watching the proceedings on video in another room. It’s a little sad to think this will be the last year of the programme in its present form. For the past ten years, under the directorship of Jacqueline Burckhardt, every August a guest curator has stood in Hirschhorn’s spot, welcoming nominators from every corner of the globe, along with special guest lecturers, and that year’s intake of young fellows.
This year, Tania Bruguera, the Cuban artist will be introducing the fellows to the imperatives which have driven her provocative work, linked always to a challenge to power, onto to the world stage.
Her Immigrant Movement International takes on the rights of immigrants around the world.
South Africa has been well represented in the Sommerakademie programme over the years. Nominators Sean O’Toole and Claire Breukel have always been present, and fellows have included Dineo Seshee Bopape, Igshaan Adams, Lerato Shadi, Kemang wa Lehulere, and this year, Justin Davy. In 2013, I was guest curator, and I invited lecturers Candice Breitz, Okwui Enwezor, Iolanda Pensa, Penny Siopis and Nelisiwe Xaba to help consider the role of the contemporary artist in the world today.
My theme then was: ‘You are HERE. Here is wherever I lay my head’. Today, many young artists live a nomadic life, engaging in residencies around the world, yet at the same time as they grapple with the realities of the new situation, they have to call on their own personal life experience and beliefs to produce authentic work.
But to get back to the present. As I have so often in the past, I am staying with artist friends Sabina Lang and Daniel Baumann, and in the four days I am there, there is also time for a noisy supper with the fellows in the Rosengarten which overlooks Bern.
And on Saturday, there is a visit to the small town of Altdorf where Sabina and Daniel, under their artistic name of Lang/Baumann, have intervened in the architecture of a new sports complex to construct a staircase which leads to nowhere, but provides a small elevated stage from which to view proceedings.
While they are listening to the speeches opening the sports complex, I tour the small town. Artist Ugo Rondinone was born here, and his marble snowman stands in the grounds of the Haus der Kunst Uri. The canton of Uri is tiny, 10.32 sq kilometers, yet it can still support a museum with three floors of exhibition space. Director Barbara Zurcher tells me she invited photographer Guy Tillim to show here after she saw his work at the Stevenson in Cape Town some years ago.
We return to Bern via the ferry which traverses Lake Lucerne, travelling from side to side, and finish the day with drinks with Tania Bruguera on the terrace of the grand hotel, the Bellevue, overlooking the Alps at sunset.