On a curatorial research trip through Switzerland, curator Rosie Olang’ Odhiambo shares her impressions in five postcards with a loved one in Nairobi.
Arrived in Basel a little after 6 pm today and it was still light out when I got to the hotel after 8. It’s firmly in the summertime now and it makes me remember how much you love the longer days at this time of year. The airport Basel-Mulhouse is right at the border of Switzerland and France, and I thought it odd that you could exit into either, in some ways a reminder of how arbitrary borders are.
Looking forward to meeting everyone tomorrow. I sense that the days will fly by. Ten days all across the Switzerland arts landscape. We start in Basel and stop by Bern en route to Geneva and Lausanne before we get to Zurich. I hope there will be some wildcards in there too. In the online meet-and-greet last month, our hosts, the curators Camille and Mohamed, sounded keen to closely tailor the days to fit our interests. Excited to see how it all unfolds.
I also forgot to pack the universal adapter (I can see exactly where I left it) and all my machines are blinking red. Anyway, a tomorrow problem. Listening to the poems by Danai Mupotsa from the Think from Black symposium earlier this year, I see why M. has been raving about them. I think you would enjoy them too.
Most people arrived today and goodness how lovely to meet in person, and not just as little avatars on the internet. Khanya from Capetown, Oyinda working out of Lagos, Essé now based in Accra, Sarah from Addis, and Mirembe now working between Capetown and Kampala.
I woke up feeling a kind of first-day-of-school excitement and that carried through the day. We started at the Swiss Art Awards exhibition and I was reminded how pivotal awards can be in the career of an artist. An allowance to practice outside the everyday pressures of making ends meet. I thought it wonderful that up to six artists are honored instead of a single “chosen one” or sometimes up to three, and in the words of our philosopher Lady Donli, “divide the national moi-moi, divide the national cake.”
We were dined at a lovely Thai place called Boo today by the Pro Helvetia and artlink team that convened the trip. The good food and company were certainly a sweet midday pick-me-up before we headed to Liste for the rest of the afternoon. So much to see and finally allowing myself to come to terms with the fact that I won’t be able to see everything. I will spam you with photos from the galleries today – you will have already received them long before this gets to you.
Goodness goodness goodness!
Moved to tears today at Fondation Beyeler witnessing Doris Salcedo’s work. The space felt sacred. Across the nine large-scale installations, each visitor moved with a palm-size exhibition guide, an experience that allowed for private moments but also a shared astonishment. Salcedo’s rigor is evident, as are the tender gestures she employs that name, remember, and grieve victims of violent and exclusionary socio-political realities that she addresses in her work. I read a conversation between her and Tim Marlow in which she says, “I have to find ways to talk about violence without recreating it . . . In my work every single human life matters. Every life should be cherished, and everyone’s suffering and extreme experiences must be grieved for by all.”
The last time I made zines with R., they referenced keguro’s essay in which he says “One can’t be lazy about form,” and this sensibility of slowly considered attention resonates.
This may all be a long-winded way to ask: when was the last time you cried beholding a work of art in whichever form?
Lately, I have been thinking more and more about pocket-size books. The ease of passing on a little loveliness from one person to another. This mode of publishing has been turning cogs in my mind. You of course talk about anthologies as being the sum of gathered parts, and what if some of those parts were printed excerpts of longer writing, or broadsides or a pamphlet of a few poems? The Kwanini series and Chimurenganyana are some of my reference points and I also saw some great examples at the Never Have I Read book fair, during which I certainly maxed out my spending for Basel.
We also stopped by Libraire la Dispersion when we were in Geneva and I am obsessed with how carefully the space is curated with such a broad selection of books from all over the world, and a delightful section for young readers too. I picked up a few more titles here too, among them Pauline Oliveros’ Quantum Listening. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on it. Ever grateful for your introduction to her work through Sonic Meditations those many moons ago.
In one passage she says, “I see and hear life as a grand improvisation – I stay open to the world of possibilities for interplay in the quantum field with self and others – community – society – the world – the universe and beyond.”
Doesn’t that read as a life manifesto, something to commit the rest of one’s life to?
I am somehow a little surprised at how quickly last Monday turned into this Monday.
On the final leg of the trip now, having arrived in Zurich this afternoon. It was lovely to come in while the pride flags were still up from the parade last weekend. Today is a day off and we’ve all had a little time to catch up on emails and some of the things that await once we leave on Wednesday.
I spent the evening seated by the river eating an overpriced supermarket salad, attending to my journal which I have been terrible at keeping up with tbh, but wrote a brief list of delights from the last few days, and share an abridged version here:
– Wildflowers on the 30-minute walk to Fondation Opale and the brilliant exhibition there, Interstellar.
– Train rides: the conversations, naps, and views between the cities
– The endless blue of the lake and the mountains in the distance.
– Stopping by Kunsthalle Bern and seeing Jackie Karuti’s exhibition, Body Machine Location. (Loved, loved the play on space with the installation, and the warping in time in the video work.) The Mousse magazine write-up is spot-on.
– Getting to dance endlessly to Juliana Huxtable’s set at the House of Mixed Emotions on Wednesday night in spectacular company.
– The Photomachinées exhibition at the Collection de L’Art Brut, and the sale on postcards in their gift shop.
– Lunch at Parfums de Beyrouth in Geneva – the Lebanese food was finger-licking good.
– The zine Wages for, Wages Against (I think you’ll love it, carried a few copies for the comrades too).
– Last evening in Geneva, hanging out at Cherish (such a lovely community of artists) and going out after.
– Last evening in Zurich and the wonderful potluck meal convened at Zentralwäscherei.
– A cheeky little dip in River Limmat after the thunderstorm.
– Seeing you soon.
Always, always, always
Rosie Olang’ Odhiambo is a writer, artist and independent curator living and working in Nairobi, Kenya.
This text was produced with support from Pro Helvetia Johannesburg, the Swiss Arts Council.