Alina Szapocznikow, Diango Hernández, Enrico David, Julian Göthe, Kate Davis, Piotr Janas

Flesh at War with Enigma

In this group exhibition in the Oberlichtsaal at the Kunsthalle Basel, six artists of international origins will show specially selected or produced works which, in a subtle balance between their similarities and differences, constitute an overall scenario. Absurd motifs, which are physically harsh or puzzling, leave their mark on our perception of a supposedly solid reality. Sculptures, drawings and watercolours mirror nuances and variations of the physical in real or conceivable transformations. The fate of the physical in these works is exposed to the forces of mutation: through puzzles, montage, distortion, fragmentation, stage-like exaggeration or encapsulation. These are figurations under threat.

The combination of object, abstraction and physical desire often results in an indissoluble symbiosis. In the works of Alina Szapocznikow, Enrico David, Kate Davis and Julian Göthe the root of this fusion would seem to be a certain fascination with the silent rhetoric and static agility of designer objects. Thus Enrico David describes his work Spring Session Men, a “chorus line” of grotesque dancing male figures forming a wooden frieze in Art Deco-style, as “formalist hysteria”.
In Julian Göthe’s assemblage-reliefs and sculptures, classics from the history of design mutate into anthropomorphic structures and constructs; rational precision suddenly turns into eroticism. Kate Davis’ ultra-delicate drawings, like her Applicants, are strange contenders for a hallucinatory future of gestures and activities. The improvised everyday objects of Cuban artist Diango Hernandez, by contrast, are relics raised to the rank of sculptures, cultural objects made to survive in a restrictive system.
The two worlds of objects and desire never meet in Piotr Janas’ paintings. His organic-cryptic creatures battle irreconcilably against dark constructs and implements. These naively figurative interiors are clumsy obstacles, even aggressors. In his paintings, Janas processes a traditional-to-unpleasant surrealist idiom which he simultaneously exploits for his own unexpectedly open purposes.
The Polish artist Alina Szapocznikow, who survived the Theresienstadt, studied immediately after liberation at the art academy in Prague, where the influence of Czech Surrealism of the 1930s and 40s was still strongly in evidence after the war. She soon developed her own artistic idiom, however, with which she reacted to contemporary international trends, while at the same time arriving at an uncompromising and idiosyncratic treatment of the physical in her sculpture and drawings. Impressions of her own body, and later that of her son, represented her main technique. This gave rise to Illuminated Lips, simple lamp stands at the top of which, instead of a lampshade, are impressions of the artist’s sensually red lips. Szapocznikow’s works exhibit a strong sense of humour which can be readily associated with the Pop spirit of the 1960s. Yet the autobiographical drama of an illness that overshadowed her whole life repeatedly provoked this artist to an obsessive handling of the physical, to a mode of depiction deformed by tumours and existential threat.
In this exhibition, art historical references recede into the background in the face of the topical, imaginary artistic vocabulary. Surreal compositions come into view as prospective knowledge, as a perverse delight and an explosive narrative that run counter to conventional meanings. “Some of the body’s movement and activities might seem strange now, but they will become normal in the future.” (Enrico David)

An exhibition catalogue will be published with texts by Ralph Ubl, Manfred Hermes, Adam Szymczyk, interviews with Enrico David and Diango Hernandez by Anke Kempkes, and artist portraits by Dominic Eichler, Sarah Lowndes and other international authors.