If it’s not meant to last, then it’s Performance

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Tim Etchells, Paul Hage Boutros, Sophie Jung, Clare Kenny, Hannah Lees, Wil Murray and Rafal Zajko


An explorative group exhibition that brings together work that are ephemeral, time-sensitive, or durational. As our lives become intertwined with digital media, we increasingly value transient experiences over permanent fixtures. Yet today’s art market continues to be driven by the need for permanence - whether guided by the conventions of museum conservation or the assessment of art‘s value for investment and future ‘resale’. 'If it’s not meant to last, then it’s Performance' examins a diverse group of works that question this status-quo through the lens of performance.

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There is one art form that sits on the periphery of the artworld system and need for permanence, which is performance. There have been many attempts to bring performance into the contemporary art market, but questions around its acquisition typically find themselves in tension with its ephemerality, whilst artists working predominantly in performance often struggle to find a place in the typical gallery model.

‘If it’s not meant to last, then it’s Performance’ brings together a group of works that utilise a broad range of materials and processes – from ice, water, and wax to light, words, and heat. Each evolves, decays, or develops over time. As such, each could be considered a performance: a transient experience designed to exist in a particular moment. The exhibition contemplates each of these works in this light and explores how plans for their legacy (or potential acquisition) tap into the current conversation around collecting live art.

Wil Murray’s unexposed and unprocessed negatives are packaged in envelopes and sent individually to the gallery by post throughout the course of the exhibition. The envelopes are designed so as to let in a small amount of diffused light so that the negative is exposed over the course of its shipment and exhibition. The envelopes are also painted with opaque paint strokes and contain loose opaque shapes that move around inside the envelope as it travels, blocking the light and leaving sections of the negative unexposed. During the exhibition, the works are exhibited inside their packaging. An acquisition of the work would involve the collector or institution taking a risk on the contents and choosing when to open and print the negative, if at all.

In Rafal Zajko’s work, the coloured ice that encases his metal assemblages melts over the course of a day, leaving dyed stains on the wall around the exposed metal skeletons. The ice is then replenished weekly throughout the exhibition. Were a collector to acquire the work, they would receive the silicon mould and instructions on how to ‘remake’ the ice sculpture.

Hannah Lees’ Hot Rock heaters contain perishable natural materials, wax candles, and incense, which are added to throughout the course of the show as the materials run, melt, burn, and transform. Her wine lees wall mural is painted directly onto a wall, following instruction, and allowed to slowly fade over the course of the exhibition. Lees considers these works as ’fast tracks’ to the evolution that materials will naturally undertake in time.

Clare Kenny’s fountain underwent a slower transformation. The coloured water that continually ran through the piece is soaked into the plaster sculpture, changing its colour and gradually developing the form of the fountain through erosion. The colour of the water changes weekly throughout the exhibition, resulting in a gradual build- up of hues - a visual account of the piece’s history.

Sophie Jung brings found objects directly into the gallery throughout the first phase of the exhibition and creates assemblage instructions based on a text and drawing from qualities of the collection. Invitations are then sent out to individuals to attend the exhibition and use the instructions to reform the assemblage. There is no one right or wrong way for the work to be situated, and it shifted regularly. On acquisition, a collector would receive the objects and instructions and will be able to continually recon figure the work.

Paul Hage Boutros ‘Rethinking The Fundamentals’ has already been sold. His work is a new iteration of the piece, which saw a cypress tree planted in a ceramic pot along with a 5ml vial of the artist’s blood. The collector is merely instructed to care for the tree, which will one day die. We have no idea when: it depends on the tree’s care.

Tim Etchells’ text piece ‘Further Provocations’ is comprised of 45 phrases, which are periodically painted onto the gallery wall before being covered over and replaced with a new line of text. First shown at TATE Modern in London, this work is presented for the second time at VITRINE, Basel. Like urban graffiti or changing billboard texts, these words are somewhat transient – seen one day, replaced, covered or partly covered over the next, in a process that allows residual traces of the ongoing work to accumulate in place.

Since VITRINE, Basel is situated in the public square and viewable 24 hours a day, the changing nature of each of these works can be constantly observed, giving those who walk by the gallery every day a more intimate knowledge of these pieces than those visit the exhibition just once. The final days of the show present a very different series of works than those seen at the opening: water pooled on the ground, wax melted, and plaster dyed.

When examining these evolving works, the curator raises an important question to the viewer, collector, and art market: rather than fitting performance into the current system, shouldn’t we be asking how performance could lead us towards a new model for buying, owning, and selling artwork? Each work approaches this question in a unique way; each initiates a discussion between artist and collector about value and longevity. In bringing these works together, ‘If it’s not meant to last, then it’s Performance’ aims to shift our gaze towards a new art market ecology.

Curator: Alys Williams.

Due to the changing nature of the exhibition, we photographed the show at regular two week intervals throughout its duration and uploaded these to a Flickr album.


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Tim Etchells (b. 1962, Sheffield, UK) lives and works between London and Sheffield and is Professor of Performance and Writing at Lancaster University. He has produced major commissions for public space internationally including ‘With/Against’ in Gateshead, presented by the Great Exhibition of The North and BALTIC, and Frieze Sculpture 2018, Regents Park, London, presented by VITRINE. His work has been exhibited at institutions internationally, including solo exhibitions at Kunstverein Braunschweig, DE (2017) and Tate Exchange, TATE Modern, London (2016), and group exhibitions at Heidelberger Kunstverein, Heidelberg, Germany (2018); Kunsthalle Mainz, Germany (2017); Turner Contemporary, Margate, UK (2015); and Hayward Gallery, London, UK (2014).

Paul Hage Boutros is a Lebanese artist based in Gothenburg, Sweden. He received his MFA from Valand School of Fine Art, Gothenburg, Sweden and his BS in Mechanical Engineering from American University of Beirut, Lebanon. Recent solo exhibitions include ‘Chorale of the intimate’ at Supermarket Art Fair with Gallery Box, Stockholm (2017) and ‘Visions of Time’, Gallery Mors Mössa, Gothenburg, Sweden. Recent group shows include ‘La Ginestra’, Alberta Pane Gallery, Venice (2018); ‘Ghosting of beings and worlds’, Grey Noise, Dubai; and ‘Portrait De L’artiste En Alter’ FRAC Haute-Normandie, France.

Sophie Jung (born in 1982, Luxembourg, LU) lives and works in London, UK, and Basel, CH. She received her BFA from the Rietveld Academy, Amsterdam (2011) and her MFA from Goldsmiths, London (2015). In 2015 Jung spent 6 months in New York at ISCP, courtesy of the Edward Steichen Award Luxembourg. She won the Swiss Art Award in 2016 and the Manor Art Award in 2018. Recent Solo exhibitions include: ‘The Bigger Sleep’, Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel, CH (2018); ‘Come Fresh Hell or Fresh High Water’, Blain Southern, London, UK (2018); ‘It’s Not What It Looks Like’, Sophie Tappeiner, Vienna, AT (2018); and ‘Thusly’, Primary, Nottingham, UK (2018).

Clare Kenny (b. 1976, Manchester, UK) studied her BA at Chelsea School of Art London and MA at HSLU Luzern, Switzerland, and has been living and working in Basel, Switzerland since 2007. She is listed in SIKART, Lexikon zur Kunst, Switzerland; has twice been shortlisted for the Swiss Art Awards; and was awarded the Kunstkredit Prize from the city of Basel in Switzerland in 2013 and 2017/18. She was an artist in residence at Residency Unlimited in New York, USA (2018), at the Institute for Provocation in Beijing, supported by ProHelvetia (2015) and the IAAB cite des artes, Paris (2013). Kenny has exhibited internationally, including in her rst institutional solo show at Touchstones Museum, Rochdale, UK in 2017, and in ‘Le vent nous portera...’, Kunsthalle Basel, CH (2018).

Hannah Lees (b. 1983) lives and works in Margate and London. She graduated with a Postgraduate Diploma in Fine Art from Chelsea College of Art, London (2011) and BA (Hons) Fine Art from UCCA, Canterbury, UK (2004-06) and UWE, Bristol, UK (2003-04). She was recently included on the Gasworks’ International Fellowship Programme in Pivô, São Paulo, BR and British Council UK/ID Exchange Residency in Bakudapan, Yogyakarta, ID. She was also nominated for the Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize in 2017. Recent solo exhibitions include: ‘Hannah Lees’, Nicholas Kirkwood, London, UK (2018); ‘The Trees That Yield’, Whitstable Biennale, Kent, UK (2018); ’Smoke’, ReadingRoom, Melbourne, AUS (2018); and ‘When branches emerge undivided’, Slugtown, Newcastle, UK (2017).

Wil Murray (b.1978, Calgary, Canada) lives and works in Berlin. He received an honourable mention in the prestigious RBC Canadian Painting Competition and his work was featured in the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art’s 2008 exhibition for national top-painters ‘Carte Blanche Vol. 2’. Recent solo exhibitions include: ‘THE ONLYES POWER IS NO POWER’ at VITRINE, London (2017); ‘The Enemies of the Novel’, Back Gallery Project, Vancouver (2015) and ‘On Invasive Species and In delity’, The Art Gallery of Alberta, CA (2015). His work has been included in the Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art twice: in 2017, at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Canada, and in 2015, at the Art Gallery of Alberta, Canada.

Rafal Zajko (born in 1988, Bialystok, PL) lives and works in London. Zajko attained his Foundation Diploma in Art and Design at Central Saint Martins in 2009, and studied for his BA in Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art until 2012. He has been nominated for the Nigel Greenwood Award (2016), was the winner of the Hippodrome Art Film Award (2013) and the AMCE Chelsea Studio Award (2012). In 2016 he was in residence at Koppel Projects The Hive in London. Recent Solo exhibitions include: ‘SOFTWARE’, Three Works, Scarborough UK (2018); ‘Jaka Praca Dzis - Takie Nasze Jutro’, Castor Projects, London UK (2018); ‘UNPUTDOWNABLE’, White Cubicle, London, UK (2018); ‘Hopeless Roma_ntic’, Changing Room, London, UK (2017).

 If it’s not meant to last, then it’s Performance
May 2019
7:00 pm
Group show

If it’s not meant to last, then it’s Performance



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