Lara Almarcegui's contribution to Basilea is a large-scale installation of excavated stone that will sit alongside Recetas Urbanas’s mobile structure. Gravel is a time-based installation that will see Messeplatz dominated by piles of building material taken from a nearby active quarry. These piles will grow incrementally during the week of the fair, mirroring the average volume extracted from Basel's quarries. It’s an approach typical of her practice: at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013, she filled the interior of the Spanish Pavilion with an amount of rubble that was equivalent to the amount of material used to create the building itself. Almarcegui is also creating an accompanying guide to the city’s empty gravel pits, of which there are now many in the surrounding area, encouraging her audience to ‘reflect on new uses of these abandoned terrains, and on the consequences of extraction’. The city coexists with nature, but this is often an uneasy relationship: what are the consequences of urban development, of human progress? Almarcegui’s work forces the viewer to consider how it is we got here – to Messeplatz, to the Herzog & de Meuron building that adjoins it, indeed to Art Basel itself.
This attitude towards the urban social environment is what unifies the Basilea project: investigating Basel’s potential as a space for dialogue about how we coexist – with other people, buildings, and nature, equally. ‘The project is formulated as a query about public space and its uses, not only in Basel but also elsewhere. What does “public” mean? What does it mean to be “in public”?’ asks Dyangani Ose. The truth is that in an age of fake news and filter bubbles, bringing audiences together through collective aesthetic experiences has a unique currency. Elvira Dyangani Ose believes this is crucially relevant to showing art today: ‘Providing experiences is becoming more and more important – taking the opportunity to be together in a context in which we engage with what it means to be human, what it means to be part of something larger than oneself.’
In this sense, there’s a necessary blurring of the lines between audience members and participants in Basilea, but each aspect, from gazing up at a growing pile of quarry rock to knocking another nail into a reclaimed plank of wood, reimagines the public space as something open and available, something that is up for grabs for all citizens.
Ultimately it will be up to those who become involved to decide what to make of the occasion. As Dyangani Ose puts it, rather cryptically: ‘The ways you can participate will be unveiled once you are there…’ Basel, we hope you are ready.
Josie Thaddeus-Johns is a writer based in Berlin.
Messeplatz performances will take place from Monday June 11 to Sunday June 17. For more details about the open call, click here
On Saturday, June 16 from 3pm to 4pm, Isabel Lewis, Enrique Fontanilles, Senam Okudzeto and Elvira Dyangani Ose will be discussing the role of citizens, communities and artists in activating public spaces as part of Art Basel's Conversations program and in relation to the Messeplatz project. Location: Auditorium, Hall 1.1