Pierre Huyghe, Recollection, 2011 (live marine ecosystem, glass tank, filtration system)
In these early days of the year, I want to think back to work I’ve seen in the last year to see what’s stayed with me. A good starting point for that is to think about the big stuff: the days when art overload is a significant threat. Days like Frieze Art Fair. I don’t always get to Frieze; some years I just can’t face it. The scale of the thing puts me off somewhat and I’m really not a fan of the art world en masse. It’s possible I’m just slightly allergic to art fairs. Art needs time and at Frieze the pressure to see everything can be overwhelming so last year I decided to browse in a really unsystematic way and just spend time with the things I chanced upon that interested me most. Perhaps inevitably that means that what I remember most clearly are some of the things that were tucked away in corners, works that could be seen in isolation rather than against the backdrop of the fair.
Pierre Huyghe’s Recollection – a hermit crab inhabiting a mask modeled on Brancusi’s Sleeping Muse in a tank shared with spider crabs – shown in a darkened room that felt calm despite the number of visitors, was beautiful and compelling to watch. The alien landscape in the tank gave the scene an otherworldly feel. The smooth serenity of the mask was pleasingly at odds with the its host’s apparent urge to explore the landscape within the tank continuously. This work – one of the Frieze Commissions – weird and fascinating in equal measure, was definitely a highlight of the show for me.
New galleries are able to show at Frieze within the Frame section. Galleries featured here have been set up within the last six years and each show the work of a single artist. It is in this section at the stand of Istanbul’s Rampa Gallery that I encounter Open Phone Booth, the work that I can still recall most clearly. In a three screen video installation accompanied by a series of still photographs, Nilbar Güreş tells the story of a Kurdish village where, in the absence of landlines, villagers climb high into the surrounding mountains in search of a mobile phone signal. Visually, there is humour in the films as villages stand on rocks holding mobiles aloft and turning in search of the best signal. When a signal can be found, the calls tell of families trying to maintain contact in difficult circumstances; the often mundane nature of the calls – pleasantries are exchanged, the weather is discussed as is which day someone will arrive home or to visit, requests for visitors to bring particular things with them when they travel to this isolated village are made along with details of what produce will be sent home – somehow heightens the emotional charge of people staying in touch with loved ones against the odds.
As evening approached, what felt like a world away from the slick centrality of the likes of White Cube, Gagosian, Sprüth Magers et al, I came across Ibid Projects who had brought the front room of their Hoxton Square space to Frieze. The wood paneling has always looked odd in its home context; removed from its host building and transported across London, its familiarity provided a strangely cheering end to the day.
Frieze Art Fair took place in Regent’s Park from 13-16 October 2011.