Curated by Sarah Johanna Theurer
Every year, Liste Art Fair Basel invites institutions, magazines, artists or curators for the Special Project, which expands on Liste's mission to highlight the latest developments in contemporary art with a cutting-edge approach. This year, Sarah Johanna Theurer curates the exhibition "Whistlers", which addresses the theme of sustainability with a focus on resilience.
Whistlers are a type of low frequency electromagnetic waves that occur in nature but cannot be sensed by humans. Rooted in this phenomenon, the exhibition interrogates what we perceive to be “natural”. Occupying the liminal and transitory spaces of Liste Art Fair Basel, works by Geocinema (Solveig Qu Suess & Asia Bazdyrieva), Holly Herndon & Mat Dryhurst, Invernomuto, Davi Pontes & Wallace Ferreira and Tomoko Sauvage act as whistlers to put the focus on minor shifts in our environment.
As we are navigating increasingly strange and unstable environments, the exhibition responds to the question of sustainability with a particular focus on resilience – a term that is often used to describe how ecosystems, individuals, communities, corporations and states respond to stress, adversity and rapid change.
Resilience is the capacity to absorb shock and maintain a balance, however precarious. Although it often stands in as a figure of hope in economics, engineering and forestry alike, resilience doesn’t change the world for the better; rather, it adapts. Resilience follows a software logic of a future that is always a version – every operation is a test, followed by an update. In this way, geo-ecological trauma is turned into an opportunity for innovation: technical, aesthetic and economic speculation. Uncertainty is the basic condition for resilience that asks for flexibility and fluidity instead of stability. “Whistlers” reassess the infrastructural, the elemental and the communal through flexibility and fluidity.
"Making of Earths" (2021), a video by Geocinema (Solveig Qu Suess & Asia Bazdyrieva), dives into the chasm between the lived experience of overwhelming uncertainty and the mass of data collected in order to predict and profit from instability.
Approaching the fragile balance between emergence and emergency from a different angle, Tomoko Sauvage’s sound installation "In Curved Water" (2010) is a musical improvisation made in collaboration with the environment. Through primordial elements augmented by technology, the work contemplates, tunes and connects both the material and the immaterial.
Davi Pontes & Wallace Ferreira’s "Delirar o Racial | Rave the Race" (2021), a choreography for dance and a video, likens dancers’ bodies to the dual nature of light – both particle and wave – to think about inseparability and difference.
This switch of perspective, extrapolating a bigger picture from only a tiny entity, is repeated in Holly Herndon & Mat Dryhurst’s "∞IV" (2021/2023), one of the first images made with the artificial intelligence image generator DALL-E. The serene landscape is pieced together from massive collections of data points.
While deep learning networks scrape the seas of digital waste, Invernomuto’s "Black Med" (2018–ongoing) projects an entirely different but equally real geography of the sea: the musical archive broadcasts tracks carrying diasporic histories from the wider area of the Mediterranean and transforms often-overheard whistling into a multivocal stream of sounds.
Sarah Johanna Theurer is a curator focusing on time-based art practices and techno-social entanglements. Her work at Haus der Kunst München ranges from new commissions of emerging artists, live events and symposia to historical surveys and retrospectives. She has previously worked at the 9th Berlin Biennale and transmediale Berlin. She sometimes acts as a dramaturg, writes on sonic and visual arts, and frequently publishes in catalogues and magazines.
Thanks to the artists in this program, to Nile Koetting and Orit Halpern, whose research has inspired and informed this project, and to Arts of the Working Class.
Special thanks to our partners Kulturstiftung Basel H. Geiger | KBH.G and Samsung for their generous support.