8th Swiss Sculpture Exhibition Biel
The 8th Edition of the Swiss Sculpture Exhibition
Art in the streets – Art on exterior walls – Art that interferes with urban life – Art that gets in the way – Art on "Work" – Sculptural Art
Since 1954 the city of Biel has periodically played host to the sculptural arts – so far there have been seven exhibitions. Each one of them was different from those that went before; each one of them was new in its very own way. We owe this great variety to the artists, whose imagination and inventiveness has always held new surprises. The variety has also been due to changes in the exhibition concept. The earliest exhibitions allowed us to discover that the sculptural activity in 1950s Switzerland was of an astonishing diversity and range; however, very few if any exhibition venues were available. Subsequent shows presented the diversity with some thematic focal points: sculptors working with iron were given their own space; sculptures became colourful; the environment was showcased before the topic of "art in architecture" took centre stage – the shifting focal points also entailed changing exhibition venues. Initially, Marcel Joray found the more sheltered space of the Rittermatte secondary school amenable; later on, the park-like shore area of the "Strandboden" served as a venue before the inhabited city itself was included, then the Kongresshaus, the Old Town, and finally, the promenades along the Suze river running into Lake Biel and the parks.
Change is part of the Sculpture Exhibition; it can only survive if it keeps developing.
This year's eighth edition of the Swiss Sculpture Exhibition is the most uncompromising yet as regards making use of the urban space as a setting.
The Biel organisers of the past Exhibition of 1980 realised that the available funds would be too stretched for another comprehensive show of the traditional kind. They sought ways of keeping the Exhibition smaller and more manageable while focusing more on the artists, but without having to surrender the Exhibition's representative character. An important point to be considered was the fact that, in the meantime, numerous sculpture shows had sprung up elsewhere – among them the International Sculpture Exhibition of Basel. Some of them have more haphazardly presented works from all over Switzerland. It was therefore decided that a new concept should allow Biel to continue to play its leading role as the "capital of Swiss sculpture".
Artistic director Niklaus Morgenthaler is responsible for this year's exhibition concept.
From the beginning, it was clear to the new artistic director that an attractive, tasteful Swiss sculpture show that was to fairly include all genres would become artistically debatable, and impossible to organise. Instead, Morgenthaler has devised an exhibition concept that has made clearly-defined demands of the artists:
The Exhibition is to integrate itself into its urban environment; the works are to be designed and created in response to this situation; moreover, they are to address the topic of "work".
The new concept has appealed to artists who do not create their works in the isolation of their studios, but express themselves in public space, responding to their environment, attempting to influence, change and shape it, thereby making a contribution toward the public's greater and new awareness of their own environment.
This is no argument against studio art: valid and valuable art is being produced in studios; art that is effective in and of itself, and in a neutral pleasant parkland setting. The decision this year has merely been to place the accent differently.
It has been part of the concept to set an overarching theme. This used to be quite common, but has come to smack of condescension. Who has the right to define an artist's theme? Does not any theme restrict the artistic freedom that is supposed to bring complete salvation? Of course a theme entails some restrictions; on the other hand, it also creates connections and interrelations among the various works of art. And so, from a different angle, restrictions may have a liberating effect.
"Work" has many faces.
Work is a problem for those who have too much of it; at the same time, there are those who suffer because they have none; some are addicted to work while others realise the very meaning of their lives in work; many suffer because they cannot do the kind of work they would love; some people take refuge in work, others take refuge from it; there are those who provide work; others do it – the list of variations is virtually endless. The artistic elaboration on "work" is artistic work. Many people may discover that artists must work very hard indeed, and that they can rarely take the results and rewards of their work as granted as other workers can.
That is why it is part of this year's concept to pay artists' fees. This is the first Biel Exhibition to earmark such a large part of its budget to remunerate participating artists. Whereas a rather symbolic fee was paid for early projects, each artist will receive between 5,000 and 9,000 Swiss francs for completed works. However, money has not been their only reward. The artistic director felt it was just as important to give the artists time to design and develop their projects, and to allow them to mature. This has, of course, included visits, conversations, discussions.
Art is a product of engagement: with the location and the space; with people; with materials later on; and – very soon now – with the general public.
President of the Exhibition Committee
© Translation from German, August 2008: Margret Powell-Joss