The MAMCO: Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Geneva and largest museum for contemporary art in Switzerland celebrates its twenty years of existence this winter!
Opening in 1994, this museum revolutionised the way in which artwork is exhibited by focussing its interests on artists essentially from the past forty years. As of today, the MAMCO counts a collection of around 3’000 artworks and has organised more than 300 exhibitions. This winter, the MAMCO has opened its latest show at the dawn of its 20th birthday: cycle Des histoires sans fin, séquence automne-hiver 2014-2015 (cycle: Never ending stories, autumn-winter 2014-2015 sequence). This show, open from the 29th of October till the 18th of January 2015, focussed its selection on female artists and new acquired collections made by the museum.
Artists like Ulla von Brandenburg, Sonia Kacem, Marcia Hafif or Amy O’Neill are shown alongside Stéphane Zaech or Claude Rychner.
As I strolled through this tremendous industrial building with numerous amounts of artworks to discover, I decided to make a small selection of my personal favourites, weaving between the new collection and some permanent works.
Donald Lipski’s work was the first piece that literally blew me away…no pun intended, as this installation is made up of two massive missiles leaning against each other! The work is called Piece Maker (1985) and as one can instantly see, the relationship between the visual and the linguistics is poignant. Piece Maker could easily become Peace Maker, bringing people together as the shape of the structure creates a cross, an intersection or a bond: an ironical notion considering these weapons are used to destroy. It could also be turned into Pacemaker, regulating or creating an artificial stability to life. Lipski, being an engaged and slightly provocative artist, uses this word play hinting at something hopeful by unravelling the deadly and setting it in the spotlight for everyone to see. The installation translates a powerful feeling; the size of the missiles is overwhelming and takes up the whole circumference of the regular-sized room that they have been displayed in.
I moved along to a complete change of scenery and atmosphere: Tatiana Trouvé. Her piece Prepared Space (2014) sets us in an aseptic immaculate white room riddled with infinite black cracks running from ceiling to floor separated by small metallic and wooden chunks poking out of the surface. We are suspended, what will happen now? It feels as though the room could fragment through its cracks as well as join together. Trouvé has indeed ‘prepared’ the room for us to sense this shift between past and future as we seem to hang in an eternal present, unsure to set foot further or even dare to cross this space that has been left in the restlessness of time.
After leaving Trouvé’s room, and starting to slowly catch my breath again, I am drawn to a strange humming-like hymn. Where is this coming from? I follow the melody to its source and discover Kristin Oppenheim’s Cry me a River (1992). A slow hushing lullaby-like voice emitting soothing notes, then silence; the voice creeps back in a soft crescendo to fill the darkened empty room where the only point of reference becomes the four discrete speakers diffusing this meditative rhythm. I stand there, absorbing the tenderness of this foreign voice embracing me with calmness. The melancholy of this stripped a cappella voice echoing in the room provokes a tunnel of emotions and I feel the need to kneel and take it all in. The repetitiveness of a common melody triggers distant childhood memories and the empty room is filled with impalpable richness.
When I finally pick up the strength to leave Oppenheim’s room, I feel like I am saying goodbye to a familiar place and take with me the melancholy and nature of these emotions. I want to go somewhere calm, and that is when I notice a small ‘opening’ in the museum’s hallway, a mini door with nothing but a frame. I take a look at the label that reads Cripta (1994), Claudio Parmiggiani. A crypt, a hidden vault, no light; I crouch down to enter. Fearful at first, I ultimately get the courage to march in, ready for what I will discover. At first, nothing, it seems to be pitch black and I cannot and will not walk around without seeing where the room ends. My eyes start to adjust to the darkness and I slowly delimitate the back wall. I search for something, a sculpture, an objet but see nothing at all. It is only after a couple of long apprehensive minutes that I begin to distinguish the red lines on the walls that slowly make sense to me; hundreds of red and yellowish-orange hand prints appear. I look around and they start to emerge everywhere; only then do I sense the memory and heritage closely associated to this work. It is a celebration of our ancestors, a trace of history and the baggage of our memory. Resembling paintings dating back to Prehistoric times and feeding a religious parallel, Parmiggiani creates a spiritual and charged zone that touches on our most instinctive senses.
As I walk out of the crypt, my eyes need to adjust to the light again, it’s as if I was slowly creeping back to reality. I move along the long white hallways, through the museum and emerge in front of Gordon Matta-Clark’s Open House 1972 (1985). This piece is comprised of a large garbage skip parked in the middle of the room. This rusty old skip has a slight opening on one of its front ends. I peer inside to find recycled walls and doors dotted with graffiti. I am not sure if I can enter and ask: ‘Of course you can!’ an invigilator tells me. I step in, find myself in the middle of all this reused material that makes up little sections, hallways and enclosed spaces, as I walk through, doors slam and walls creek. I sense the perfomative aspect of this work and realise that this piece evidently screams for contact and human activity to pursue its life. The use of art in our everyday life, urban or street art, happenings; these aspects were in full turmoil when Matta-Clark first build this work. The title of the piece touches on this notion: Open House, for anyone and everyone to walk into as a wanderer or guest. This ‘house’ has no bolted front door, no roof, not even a ceiling. It welcomes humans and nature with open walls. A work created to evolve, dance, touch and sing in, a platform used to inhabit performance.
I leave the MAMCO in a semi-trance-like state. A little knocked out, but very touched by the work I have witnessed. The artworks are all, in their own way shape or form, sense-perceptive. These pieces need to be lived and experienced in order for us to grasp their essence. In this case, the works were permeated with this powerful energy given by the artists themselves. The grand achievement of producing an artwork that in fact, becomes an experience is an extremely difficult task. Yet in this case the artists have managed to strip their visual language to the bare essence of their ideas, provoking a compelling statement by following the motto less is more.