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Art Basel 2018

Gerda Steiner and Jörg Lenzlinger: Where the wild things are

From getting fit to analysing your tears, Swiss artists’ installation at the Museum Tinguely invites visitors to dive right in

Gerda Steiner and Jorg Lenzlinger’s installation Les Envahisseurs (2004) is being restaged as part of the show Gerda Steiner and Jorg Lenzlinger, 2018

What do tears, fitness machines, labyrinths, fertiliser crystals, secretaries, tree branches and meteorites have in common? Nothing, normally, but in the surreal worlds that the Swiss artists Gerda Steiner and Jörg Lenzlinger concoct, using natural and mass-produced objects, each has a role to play. For the exhibition Too Early to Panic, the Museum Tinguely is presenting labyrinthine installations that incorporate all these elements and much more. Nature, biodiversity and transformation are key themes in the duo’s work, and the immersive presentation is designed to awaken the senses and allow for the contemplation of concepts such as growth, beauty, death and fertility—and the impact on society of the choices we make.

“It’s a total work of art—a real gesamtkunstwerk,” says the exhibition’s curator, Séverine Fromaigeat, who worked closely with the artists on the show. It explores 25 years of Steiner and Lenzlinger’s working relationship, as well as what they did separately before they became a duo; but do not call it a retrospective. “We didn’t want to use that term because the concept is too much in the past for the artists and their work, and they use every invitation [to present] their work as an opportunity to do something new, to go further,” Fromaigeat says.

And go further they have. The exhibition space is divided into three temporalities: past, present and future. At the entrance, visitors can choose which way they want to go by selecting one of three doors. The door on the right takes you to the past, the middle to the present, and the left offers a glimpse into the future as imagined by Steiner and Lenzlinger. “We’re trying to create a universe within a universe within a universe. Every time you go through a door, you get a totally different experience; like going from one place of wonder to the next,” Fromaigeat says.

The journey to the past begins by entering a tiny garden shed packed with all the tools one would expect to find in such a place. Visitors then emerge into what resembles a typical museum environment, in which works such as drawings from the 1980s and 1990s are presented as if they were treasures. “It’s a bit like a cabinet of curiosities,” she says.

A labyrinth of colourful rooms of various shapes and sizes is a dominant feature of the “present” experience, where “all your senses are awakened”, Fromaigeat says. There, one finds videos, sculptures and drawings, as well as actors playing the roles of scientists, secretaries and physical trainers who are on hand to propose different experiences. Visitors can lie down under a meteorite, shed a tear and then look at it through a microscope, watch videos and shoot the breeze with a secretary. The future is represented by a jungle complete with real tree branches, natural and plastic flora, as well as that one element found in every major jungle: fitness equipment. Visitors can use the modified machines to activate their surroundings by moving branches and creating noise.

The exhibition continues outside, with an interactive installation involving a fitness studio and a series of bells to create music. Fromaigeat admits that extending the presentation outside was a risk, because “anything could happen—thunder, rain, etc… we aim to push the boundaries with every exhibition”, she says.

Too Early to Panic: Gerda Steiner and Jörg Lenzlinger, Museum Tinguely, Basel, until 23 September