Franz Ackermann (born 1963, lives in Berlin) has already been in Basel having been commissioned to design the outside rear wall of the Kunsthalle (Helicopter VIII, Die Reisterrassen von Basel, 2000). The success of that project has led to an invitation to present a solo exhibition at the Kunsthalle. In his artistic engagement with themes such as travel, tourism, mobility and globalisation, Ackermann pulls all the registers: richly-coloured flower-like landscapes emerge from the backgrounds; photographs are mounted like huge posters; installations are reminiscent of architectural structures familiar to us from our own travels.
In A Night in the Tropics the artist presents various scenographic “islands in space”. Painting, installation, photography and print media alternate, while the different scenarios guide us through exotic landscapes, buildings and grottoes. The journey becomes a transfer passage. Like individual travel experiences, the encounter with the exotic in this exhibition brings with it not just astonishment, fascination and delight in the new, but also a moment of unease and an impression of absurdity.
Like many artists before him, Ackermann too sets out on the artistic “grand tour”, which focuses on the cultural metropolises and in particular the “far-flung destinations” of mass tourism. During his travels the artist makes countless Mental Maps: these small-scale watercolours are done on his return to his hotel room. They do not, however, reproduce the specific features of the place; on being recalled, the experiences meld into ever more similar ornamental urban landscapes, irrespective of where the artist happens to be at the time. Ackermann addresses our current appropriation of the alien, which is coloured by a Eurocentric view and peopled with the kind of stereotypes communicated by glossy travel magazines.
Ackermann draws up an alternative cartography, raising questions to do with the North-South gap, tourism and its commercial significance, mobility, or how the media communicate the exotic. The concepts of territory, of distance and proximity, are robbed of their apparent clarity. The installations exudes an intoxicatingly sensual opulence which preserves something of the fascination of the alien.
An exhibition catalogue with texts by Peter Pakesch and Christina Végh is available in German/English published by Schwabe Verlag.