Magazine article Artforum International

Not Vital: PARKIN NOT DAL MOT

Magazine article Artforum International

Not Vital: PARKIN NOT DAL MOT

Article excerpt

What is a Mongolian tent, in perfect working order, doing in a park in Engadine, the beautiful valley in southeastern Switzerland where Not Vital was born? In fact, the park is actually a project that Vital has built over the years with many of his works, and the tent is part of the same declaration of poetics--and poetic action--that he has been developing for years, without which an understanding of his practice would be incomplete. In 1990, Vital built a hospital in Nepal with proceeds from the sale of bronze castings of the dung from Engadine's cows; lately, his ethnic, social, and humanitarian interests have shifted toward sub-Saharan Africa. Such endeavors are rooted in an investigation of connections across national and cultural borders. But Vital is first and foremost an artist, and he must and wants to act as such. Since 1997, his most important field of artistic action has been this park of roughly five and a half acres, which he has slowly been working on with his brother, the architect Duri Vital. There, the bronze dung castings clearly allude to all the shit that the West sells to the third world, but also to Picro Manzoni's Merda d'artista (Artist's Shit), 1961. Placing the nomad tent amid the most ordinary Swiss houses is a provocation, but it is also an excellent example of alienation and dislocation as a refined and elegant artistic practice, with a soupcon of exoticism. Meanwhile, in Agadez, Niger, where houses are customarily built of mud, Vital has made an oasis his field of action for the construction of an "ideal city" utilizing indigenous techniques. Sometimes one has the impression of finding oneself in the presence of Joseph Conrad's Kurtz, albeit a less despotic, less desperate, and above all less colonialist, more convincingly "correct" version of the character from Heart of Darkness.

What Kurtz and Vital have in common is a lucid delirium that allows them to create what, for others, would remain in the realm of dreams. …

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