The Visitor

Kontaktraum Ausländer (Space of Contact – foreigner) – Ideas explored in the exhibition

The Visitor

visitorThe visitor arriving at the Contemporary Art Centre is invited to partake in a process of wandering and exploration through an assemblage of unfamiliar elements and to thereby make an experience of going beyond the well known. Upon entering the gallery, the visitor will, very probably, be astonished. Art works are not displayed on the wall, but on the floor; the cotton tarpaulins lying beneath him are covered with multiple layers of ornaments, perspective drawings, text fragments and traces of colour covering the other layers in a seemingly chaotic way. The visual signals are accompanied by distorted sound messages calling for attention, which somehow interact with the visitor’s route. What is more, strange objects are suspended from the ceiling and cut the viewer’s line of sight. At a closer look, they reveal themselves to be works of art of their own, tied up and nailed together, so that only their bare backs are visible to the baffled spectator.

A mix of earnestness and gimmickery is manifest in the auditory dimension of Felber’s installation. As the astounded visitor will soon find out, he/she triggers the acoustic element himself/herself by moving around in the art space, thereby becoming a creative player in the most literal possible sense. The music itself is distorted, calling for particular attention and an act of decoding. However, ensconced beneath these unfamiliar sound patterns, hide fragments of works of Luigi Nono.

Although Felber, unlike Nono, doesn’t seek the outright political, the two artists share their desire to go beyond artistic expression as an end in itself and to create works that are essentially about something. For both Nono and Felber, the receiver, listener or spectator, is the ultimate element by which their works need to be gauged. Both are marked by their awareness of the social, emotional, perhaps political ramifications of the artist’s work and stand themselves up against a meaningless art because of its potentially collaborationist character. And both choose, for this reason, to put the experience of their audience at the centre of their work. And so the visitor of Felber’s installation is called upon not only by Felber’s own messages of universality and loneliness, but also by the voids and depths of Nono’s sharp-edged and yet tender pieces of music.

There is yet another sense in which Felber’s undisclosed canvases underscore the importance of an active and participating beholder. The suspended art works, though exhibited by their very presence in the gallery space, cease to be proper objects of art when deprived of their communicative function. If they are no longer bearers of content, able to trigger a communication process between artist and receiver, they become mere objects whose presence cannot be but strange. Felber’s silenced canvases make very clear that aesthetic properties and artistic value are always relational properties, pertaining to both the art work and the experience of the spectator. They are, then, a very strong statement of the necessity of physical and cognitive inter-action in the process of creating, exposing and receiving art.

Marion Haemmerli, Lausanne, Switzerland