BY Alexis Jakubowicz in Reviews | 19 MAY 13
Featured in
Issue 10

Aldo Walker

Mamco, Geneva

BY Alexis Jakubowicz in Reviews | 19 MAY 13

Aldo Walker, Neues aus der Innerschweiz, 1981, Installation view, Mural, stencils

Looking at Aldo Walker’s_ Logotyp VII_ (1976) at the Mamco in Geneva brings to mind a quote by Swiss linguist and semiotician Ferdinand de Saussure: ‘the word dog has never bitten anyone.’ A stylized wooden fox terrier ‘sitting up and begging’, as the artist once said of the best-known work of his series – or so it seemed. Though we inevitably identify the sawed-out form as a dog, as a so-called ‘logotype’ nothing definitively guarantees this identification. The would-be animal is confined in a strange iron framework in which it can only slide up-and-down, like a low-tech automaton, above a metallic food bowl that it can never reach. The discrepancy between a common domestic scene and a complex apparatus recalls Saussure’s claim about words and concepts being two different categories of meaning.

Stefan Banz, who curated this long-overdue retrospective of the Swiss Conceptual artist’s works, writes that Walker’s two main groups of works – Logotyp and Pictogramme – participate in an ‘effort to trigger a cerebral process of perception’. The Logotyps, on the one hand, are object-like arrangements created in the 1960s and ’70s that might be termed visual puns. Tisch 2 (1965), for instance, plays off its possible identification as two discrete objects: a table or a mattress. Resting on four rough ‘legs’, the sculptural hybrid, suggests that sleep and hunger are co-dependent states. Pictograms, on the other hand, are figurative line pictures that are recognizable and yet have no precise definition. In Neues aus der Innerschweiz (1981), Walker hacks our linguistic assumptions by interfering with the logical connections between objects, words and concepts: the ironic, minimalist ‘fresco’ – made up of blue templates affixed to the wall – displays on its main surface dark blue pictograms of decapitated dogs, cats and birds. As their heads are painted separately in the upper right corner of the same wall, the viewer is unconsciously required to match them with the bodies. Neues aus der Innerschweiz can be read in multiple ways: as an idiomatic expression (as the French would say, ‘to call a cat a cat’); as an extension of the popular belief that headless animals can live; as a basic puzzle for toddlers; or as a parody of 19th-century vernacular Swiss painting.

All the works equally take part in an experimental system that questions the viewer’s participation in the reception and interpretation of art. Aldo Walker, who would have turned 75 this year, allows the public to absorb his hieroglyphs without imposing any critical analysis. Each of his logotyp and pictograms relies on our mind’s eye and reactivates our very own values, memories and sensitivity. Considering meaning ‘as a perpetual construct of our own imagination’, as the curator also writes, the artist has been able to take Duchamp’s challenge to the viewer to its highest conceptual level, without referring to the clichés of the ready-made.