Residencies can mark an artist’s life and Patrick Hari’s exhibition at BolteLang, ‘Jantar Mantar: Several-Ring-Circus’, displayed works largely made during a recent year he spent abroad. Not in India, as the title might suggest, but in Kunming, China, Zurich’s twin city. Long residencies present the artist with interesting quandaries: what constitutes appropriate scavenging? How much local culture should be digested? Hari side-stepped the problems of cultural relativism by largely avoiding references to the appearance of his temporary home, in favour of focusing on the material infrastructure that supports it.
Air-conditioning ducts and radiators were the basis of an installation dominated by two large mechanisms. CYCLOTRONE (2012–14) takes its name from a particle accelerator, but is actually a steel air duct shaped as a rectangular form with rounded edges, supported by a delicate wooden scaffold. At the base of the metal loop is a glass-fronted box that displays a few wooden objects akin to furniture maquettes. When the CYCLOTRONE is turned on, a fan blows air around the loop, propelling strings of silvery adhesive that accumulate over the small props from a glue gun inside the unit. At the exhibition’s opening, several alternative display cases stood waiting for their turn in the wind tunnel at later stages of the show. One contained a miniature flight of stairs suspended from the ceiling of the case, another tiny crowd barriers, a third seemed to be a section of a raked auditorium.
The mechanism of the second installation was even more difficult to discern. On one wall was what appeared to be the control unit for SIGNALLING TO THE BRAIN THE POSSIBILTY OF FUNCTION I (2012), a curved wooden hood propped open to show a row of valves attached to glass vessels via clear rubber tubes, overlooked by a postcard image from Luc Besson’s post-apocalyptic film Le Dernier Combat (The Last Battle, 1983) of a protagonist wrapped up like an early Arctic adventurer. A handful of tubes were connected to nine vehicle radiator panels suspended from the gallery ceiling to form a dark, musty chandelier. I could hear low-key bubbling and flowing within the system, and I was told that water passing through the wall unit was being filtered of its loaded particles, while the radiators were taking charged particles of static electricity from the air and adding them back to the water. It seemed of little importance whether this was truly taking place, as long as there was an impression of a closed, circular system. Both of Hari’s devices – one blowing air in circles, the other charging water and discharging it of energy – appeared to be of no practical use and created scarcely any visible products.
Despite this sense of invisibility, there were allusions throughout the exhibition to the invisible contents of the air and to the basic human need to breathe. Any city must be a place where air circulates, as Hari reminds us again in his Space Plates (2012–14) – mixed-media drawings displayed in idiosyncratic white fabric-covered frames. The glass on each frame tilted slightly inward (another echo of a hooded, protected space) while small, round grilles were set into the backdrop of the shallow cases of the frames. These grilles seemed to echo a recurring rib motif, also found among the tubing of SIGNALLING TO THE BRAIN … – their fragility suggesting little protection for the lungs they encased.
Many parallels between China and Switzerland could be drawn from this exhibition and, inevitably, it underscored Zurich’s privileged position: the city’s pure air, outsourced industrialization and pleasant climate. The filmic adventurer and the Indian investigation of the stars to which the show’s title referred allowed me to indulge in romantic ideas of exploration, too. Yet Hari also thwarted my expectations time and again by refusing conventional narratives. The exhibition was infused with impressions of unfamiliar experiences, yet, in its crowded complexity, the specifics eluded me. Instead, ‘Jantar Mantar: Several-Ring-Circus’ revealed more about our own fragile biotope in the centre of Europe, the place from which we look inquisitively elsewhere, as if our worlds were discrete.