Switzerland : Klat (collective of five artists)
The first public event staged by the collective of artists Klat took place in Geneva between the 6th and 7th of September 1997 at Forde, an exhibition space which they would later run for two years. As the piece's title 1440' indicates, it was an unusually long performance (1440 minutes = 24 hours). The space stayed open during the whole performance and its windows offered the only view point on the vacant lot below, fenced off like a construction site. The artists had set up camp in this urban waste land -in a rather comfortable way though, since they'd brought with them food, music, tv, bedding material, furniture and drinks. As sole happening they offered very mundane activities: drinking, eating, sleeping, pissing, watching videos, speaking, etc. Centred around a mini van containing all the objects they used, the camp occupied a very narrow perimeter. Everyone seemed perfectly at ease with the promiscuity which the action's spatial and temporal parameters engendered. The spectators, placed in a voyeuristic position, thus discovered the image of a group of young campers/squatters through the windows of a contemporary art space reduced to the functions of observatory and electricity supplier. This representation seemed to condense most of the characteristic traits of the so called "youth culture": a community lifestyle which did not reproduce the taboos of social space, a meeting place on the edge of public space, a series of activities and attitudes informed by the medias, etc. However, 1440' was a representation, rather than a spectacle, in the sense that shows such as MTV's The Real World, sitcoms like Friends, or the recent gameshows based on the televised isolation of the participants are spectacles -they turn everyday life into spectacle and hence commodify it. Klat proposed a representation which, from the start, affirmed its status as a performance, as an artwork, in other words as a symbolic object which cannot be read too literally. Singularly though, the critical force of this representation came from its potential for literal understanding, from the protagonists' proximity to the referent of their action. 1440' could thus be understood as a mirroring and yet distancing take on the many forms of "youth-culture" commodification and on the exploitation of "teenagehood" as a marketing tool.
Exhibitions such as Ketchup and Forde's Needles organized by Klat at Forde, as well as their Fanzinothèque (built for the Musée d'art moderne et contemporain of Geneva and made operational during Xn00 at the Espace des Arts de Chalon-sur-Saône) did not differ in principle from this inaugural event. All the subcultures -in the sense defined by Dick Hebdige (see Dick Hebdige: Subculture. The Meaning of Style, Routledge, New York & London, 1979)- (re)presented, respectively from Z movies and tatoos to the production of independent supports of information, are used as vectors for mirroring and distancing the spectacularizing effect of the mainstream media. In this perspective, the exhibition becomes a true medium for resistance, and art a liminal zone to test other ideas, other spaces, other economies.
The field of contemporary art itself, insofar as it crystalizes mechanisms of authority, power and mediatization, is not left untouched by this critical operation. Plan B was an ironic staging of artworks left aside by art history -and by its institutional representative, the Mamco, from whose storage the works were taken. The pieces were placed on a slanted wood floor and lit one after the other by a projector. Another project, the group's contribution to an exhibition at the Museum für Gegenwartskunst Migros in Zurich, consisted of a wallpainting reproducing Monopoly squares, thus turning the curators and the artists' joint attempts to incarnate "young contemporary art" into a game both infantile and pathetically submissive to the dominant order.
Whether they take over vacant lots, invite tattoo artists to move their studio into the gallery, or build blue jeans tepees customized with different elements (together with Sylvie Fleury), the stake is always to find a way to dwell in the space of art without however ceasing to inhabit the world. In an exemplary fashion for our times, Klat use their inscription in a determined system to replace conventional methods of esthetic production and their so-called neutrality by an image of art as dwelling, as an ecology.
Lionel Bovier & Christophe Cherix
Geneva, June 2000