From the outside, Eichstrasse 6 is a large, solid-looking building. The facade presented to the street is unobtrusive and respectable. Inside, however, it is densely subdivided into three flats, one stacked up on the other. The many rooms are small, the interior walls and floors are thin and sound travels easily up the central staircase. Thirty people, all members of the same extended family, are said to have lived in the building, and you can imagine you still feel the latent tension of all those interwoven relationships. It is soon to be demolished for a much larger block of flats with underground parking. As you might imagine, the house has, as if aware of its own impending demolition, suddenly become more beautiful than it ever was in its prime years. The garden has run wild. The rose bushes that were carefully trellised have turned into something resembling a tropical vine heavy with flowers. Alex (Alexandre Cottier, the curator) got permission from the owners to hold an exhibition in this soon-to-be-demolished barque, and he has gathered together quite a group of Swiss artists, who themselves sometimes resemble a large and scrappy extended family, for a lyrical last show.
Sam Porritt has a sculptural work in the first room: a piece showing a row of housing blocks, in which the buildings, viewed from above, spell out the word HELP. The houses are made in the same way as book covers: card covered in gesso and canvas, so they don’t look quite like models, nor do they look like paintings. The pedestal for the work resembles a desert island. Like much of Sam’s work – and this sounds like a cliché, but I absolutely mean it – they slip between the categories that normally define art production. Sam’s sensibility has honed itself on quiet ambiguities. His work doesn’t get written about enough, and the reason, I think, is because it’s hard to write about. There’s no elevator pitch. You can’t just look at it, get it, and move on. Rather, it’s all about unfinished business. There is no punchline. The word help, for instance, is strange. “Self help”, is the marked, unusual form. On its own, HELP is usually an imperative, “help me!”. But who is this cry for help addressing? You, the welfare state, a dead god? The work manages to be complex and non-committal, intimate and very politely distant.
In the next room along, Tina Z’Rotz has taken a router to the floor and made a kind of drawing of great charm and delicacy, considering it was carved in the parquet with an electric saw. In every rental apartment I have ever lived in, I’ve been terrified of damaging the floor. It must be cathartic to intentionally tear one up, but Z’Rotz’s work is also careful handcraft, an ornament that bases its pattern on an enlarged image of the damage typically caused by woodworms, as if they, too, have to be respected as carvers.
It feels like some of the quite established artists involved enjoyed the return to their artist-run, low-budget roots. Zilla Leutenegger also has two video works in the show, works that would normally be installed at great expense and technical complexity by mighty institutions (viz. the exhibition that is currently on display in Chur, that has received extensive press). Here, she has a couple of projectors rigged up, with power cords draped over the plumbing. The house is already so domestic in atmosphere, so saturated with context, that her intervention can be minimal, and this gives her media pieces a directness and casual intimacy that works like a personal greeting. On the ground floor, Esther Kempf has set up a realtime audio work. Esther’s experiments play upon the bizarre acoustic properties of the interior, a series of interlocking soundboards and vibrating surfaces that make the seemingly respectable interior behave as if haunted.
There’s paintings, as any good house should have, condemned or not. Paintings by Hans Stalder, David Chieppo, and Luca Nejedly, all well known (Stalder is currently on show at the Kunsthalle Bern). Stalder, for his part, has been holding solo shows since the 1980s, but the intertwining of method and content in his paintings suggest that he is still fascinated with the experimental possibilities within the medium. He is a curious painter, by which I don’t mean that he is odd, but that he is curious about painting. When I arrived, Chieppo was packing up from an all night session of painting in the gallery. He said he liked working there, because he felt like he could pace all night without disturbing the neighbours. This house, once so tightly possessed, every corner fought over, is now almost abandoned, and can finally breathe. Neither public nor private, not a home but also not a gallery for very much longer, this house is just a thing, a thing for hanging out in, having conversations in, smoking in, drinking in.
Some Place Else, Eichstrasse 6, 8045 Zürich, 6–27 June 2021, mit Werken von Selina Baumann, David Chieppo, Alexandre Cottier, Esther Kempf, Zilla Leutenegger, Luca Nejedly, Sam Porritt, Hans Stalder und Tina Z‘Rotz
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Knock at Eichstrasse 3, Specker & Cottier
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