Magazine article Artforum International

Kaye Donachie: Maureen Paley

Magazine article Artforum International

Kaye Donachie: Maureen Paley

Article excerpt

In 1973, Harald Szeemann--while working on his Museum der Obsessionen--became himself obsessed by the Swiss utopia Monte Verita, near Lake Maggiore, and eventually a museum was established to celebrate the site's history. The mountaintop retreat--nominally founded by the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin (at a time when it was still known as Monescia) in the 1870s--flourished between 1900 and 1940, when it attracted anarchists, nudists, and Theosophists alongside such figures as Martin Buber, Hugo Ball, Tristan Tzara, Rudolf von Laban, Isadora Duncan, Hermann Hesse (who famously had his alcoholism treated there), and the sexual revolutionary Otto Gross. (In fact, Szeemann portrayed Gross in Otto Muhl's 1987 film Back to Fucking Cambridge, and ever since, Gross scholarship has been tied to Szeemann's work on the mountain.) In this alpine hideaway the curator sought to pursue his endless quest for "individual mythologies," and he desperately tried to establish a new order based on the utopia's ideals.

Kaye Donachie, clearly beguiled by the place, or at least its myth, captures hazy, ecstatic scenes from its chronicles, basing her compositions on images from the community's heyday. The moments she captures, at times drenched in almost cinematic drama, subtly suggest that something darker lurks behind the blissed-out states experienced on the mountain by these reformers of life. She hints at something downright sinister and postapocalyptic, an alluring and almost addictive quality. Days piled high collapse and How colourfully each other self unwinds (all works 2005)--her titles are taken from Dada poetry by Emmy Hennings, a Monte Verita habitue and one of the founders of the Cabaret Voltaire--are the most resonant depictions here of the wistful atmosphere of the mountain, successfully rendered through the prism of more familiar visions of its distant cousins of '60s counterculture. …

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