curated by Valentine Meyer and Adrian Notz
Spiegelgasse 1 Zurich
6/9/2012 - 6/1/2013
At the beginning of our collaboration, and with Cabaret Voltaire as the birthplace of dada in Switzerland as his reference point, Claude Lévêque settled on developing the idea of a romantic stroll. This idea was motivated by the artist's image of Switzerland as a romantic place, a notion very much confirmed during his research trip to Zurich in December 2012 when getting off the train he stepped into the Christmas market in Zurich's main station and was faced with a huge Swarovski Christmas tree. This tree offered a monumental projection space for this romantic, indeed kitschy notion of Switzerland, and Lévêque admitted that, although he had never been much of a Christmas tree lover, this 15 m high tree decorated with crystal stars and crystal balls was extraordinary.
Lévêque spent the few days in Zurich and its surroundings pursuing his vision with both a detective's and a child's curiosity, capturing on camera many impressions, moments and details of which we—his companions—could not quite say where they would lead him. He photographed a wooden bench shaped like a snake in the yard of a kindergarden, or a short tree-trunk cut down to size in the front garden of a house. We accompanied him to the dada archives in the Kunsthaus Zurich and spent a considerable amount of time studying the texts in the dada magazines, on dada posters and fliers. Lévêque was fascinated and thrilled by these documents and thought they should be republished so as to be available to everyone.
Far from the classic places of art as well as the historical centre of Zurich we went to scrap yards, sawing mills, small villages outside of Zurich and even forests. Lévêque's search and his curiosity took us to very simple, elementary and, for him, also fascinating places. Seen through his eyes we discovered pockets of time and anachronistic places, which can apparently only survive in places such as Switzerland. Unexpected objects that residents had arranged in a meticulous, loving and rather eye-catching way especially attracted Lévêque's curiosity, such as plugs made from brushed metal, massive wooden chairs or a cast-iron barbecue device fitted with a clever pulley. And he never stopped turning his attention to trees and branches, to the make-up of the forest.
At the end of this three-day walk, which thanks to the artist can also be called a romantic stroll, Lévêque presented the project Weisswald for the crypt of Cabaret Voltaire: the erratic vision of a romantic stroll combines into a whole and the spirit and opposites of dada's birthplace unite. Lévêque is the first contemporary artist invited by the Cabaret Voltaire to deal not with a dadaist theme or a dada artist but to devote himself explicitly to the place as the secure and protected birthplace of dada.
During our collaboration with Claude Lévêque we noticed that his work method creates installations which, to some extent, can be called poems. He mostly works with urban and industrial objects and infrastructures, or urban and industrial ready-mades. For Cabaret Voltaire, however, he found his ready-mades in Switzerland's "nature." In his works he tries to imbue these objects with resistance, to take issue with them in order to get to their real core, their essence, which he then exposes so as to touch our perception more strongly and directly.
He takes elements from our familiar surroundings, appropriates and defamiliarises them in order to confront the beholder with the violence of "naked truths." Concise application of light and sound in his installations turns the subject of nature, normally quite a strong subject, into a disturbing one that causes the beholder to oscillate between various states—freedom and imprisonment, comfort and danger, magic and banality, or seduction and disgust.
One of Lévêque's most important references is Michel Foucault, who has not only given him inspiration but has helped him develop his work. There is no need, however to have read Foucault to experience the "topoi" that come up against each other in Lévêque's work, to feel personally what might be meant with the concepts of entropy and heterotopy. In Lévêque's works Foucault's intellectual concepts become corporeal experiences.
Le Grand Soir (French Pavillon, Venice Bienniale 2009) and Basse Tension (Solo exhibition gallery Kamel Mennour, Oct./Nov. 2011) deal with the idea of entropy. "Entropy" is taken from thermodynamics where it describes the process taking place in isolated systems: order always results in maximum chaos into which our ordered world disappears. Weisswald and Diamond Sea (CRAC Sète 2010) work like heterotopias, binding various spaces to one physical place, which creates the simultaneous existence of utopias and real places. The work Weisswald turns the crypt of Cabaret Voltaire into an imaginary place, a cave, a boat, a grotto or palace, just as it happens when kids build a hut. With Lévêque's eyes and Foucault's ideas also Switzerland can be regarded as such a refuge where time and the reality of the outside world are cancelled out, as happens during a coffee break or in the eye of a storm.
Weisswald invites Cabaret Voltaire's visitors to an exalted, decadent reverie, which awakens our spirit of adventure and stirs our resistance towards kitsch in everyday life where everything is controlled and sugarcoated.
- Valentine Meyer, Co-curator of the exhibition.