Magazine article Art Monthly

Sonsbeek 2008: Grandeur

Magazine article Art Monthly

Sonsbeek 2008: Grandeur

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Sonsbeek 2008: Grandeur

Various venues Arnhem June 13 to September 21

A procession can go either way, in my experience. It is either joyous and liberating or pompous and controlling, depending on the conditions of its inception, production and execution. The changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, for instance, has little in common with Notting Hill carnival--and this is just within the one city. Imagine if we were to compare a Mexican Day of the Dead parade with a northern European state funeral. Despite this vast divergence within the cultural spectrum, when it comes to community-based arts we tend to imagine that proceedings will be fairly jolly, perhaps a little slender on the art side of things, but life-affirmingly convivial nevertheless.

The procession that preceded the opening of the 10th Sonsbeek, a somewhat irregular regular international public sculpture exhibition in Arnhem, the Netherlands, defied any such expectations. The event was a prologue to the opening of the exhibition proper, comprising a parade of 26 sculptures by international artists through the town to Sonsbeek Park, where they were installed over the ensuing week. The sculpture bearers, all local residents, were so sombre during the hour-and-a-half-long event that it almost became funny again, while onlookers either clapped earnestly or barely paused during the serious business of shopping. It is more than possible, though, that my memory has been coloured by the marching orchestra's rather mournful refrain, a specially composed piece that thumped along funereally, occasionally rising to a melody sounding a little like the beginning of Star Wars, before slumping back into a lament.

Each piece was carried by a guild of the town, chosen by the artist. The homeless, young lawyers, creative thinkers and gardeners were present, among many other clubs, factions and trades, although one request for the guild of prostitutes could not be met. The artists were briefed at the point of commission that the work should be portable, by whatever means possible, which was taken on board with varying levels of observance. Some played ball entirely--Michel Francois's tree was carried intact on a trolley before being 'planted' horizontally in the park and Alain Sechas's white reclining nude slinked along like a cat-headed Henry Moore--while others resorted to models or metonymy. Thomas Saraceno paraded a diminutive balloon as a stand-in for his huge spawn-like cluster that plugs the gap between trees in a darker, forested part of the park, for instance, while to represent his wooden hut in the form of an Aztec head Charlie Roberts conscripted two warriors in pelts to brandish spears and charge one another on trolleys pushed by townsfolk, and Ana Maria Tavares fabricated a watery sculptural analogy--a canopy of dangling wrist bands that moved like a shoal of vertical minnows to the sway of its bearers--to evoke her concrete contemplation platforms at underground springs that had been pinpointed by a water diviner.

Sonsbeek Park itself was originally a landscaped country estate, and features such conversation pieces as rocks from the glacial era and the country's only waterfall. Although many artists chose a spot that resonated with their final work, as with Jean-Michel Othoniel's giant crown made of Milanese glass strung up among the tree trunks in the 'cathedral trees' area of the park, few made much concession to the people activating the work during the procession. …

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