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Issue 224

How Zurich’s Shedhalle Rethinks Exhibition Making

The group show ‘Extra Worlding’ tries to revive the political core of utopian thinking

BY Philipp Hindahl in EU Reviews , Reviews | 26 OCT 21


Occupying a realm between the physical and the digital, the works in ‘Extra Worlding’ at Shedhalle – by artists including Shu Lea Cheang, Tarek Lakhrissi, Ceylan Öztrük and Jacolby Satterwhite – speak to the possibilities of ‘worlding’, a term that refers in science fiction to the creation of universes and describes the breakdown of boundaries between subject and environment.

‘Extra Worlding’ is the fourth iteration of Protozone, a curatorial concept devised by Shedhalle’s artistic directors, Thea Reifler and Philipp Bergmann, which puts process-based art practices centre stage. Drawing its title from protozoa, minuscule organisms with undefined boundaries, the format is malleable. The initial, high-intensity phase of the exhibition – which gives space to performance and discourse while the artworks remain in flux – acts as an open-ended becoming. The second, more introspective phase has the appearance of a conventional art exhibition.

Shu Lea Cheang, UKI Virus Becoming, 2018/21, open casting performance with Titilayo Adebayo. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Carla Schleiffer

Reifler and Bergmann, who joined Shedhalle in 2020, have backgrounds in theatre and performance, which accounts for some of their curatorial choices. ‘Extra Worlding’, for instance, not only features the three-channel projection UKI Virus Rising (2018/21) by Cheang, who represented Taiwan at the Venice Biennale in 2019, but also hosted an open audition for the artist’s upcoming film as a public performance. While the work on display is only a prototype for the final project, a cyberpunk narrative is already discernible: obsolete technologies, sex workers and virtual worlds abound.

Tarek Lakhrissi, Spiraling, 2021, video still. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Mateusz Smolka

A number of the works have been specially commissioned for the show, such as Paris-based Lakhrissi’s crisp HD video Spiraling (2021), produced in collaboration with Haus der Kunst, Munich. Inspired by Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s performance Untitled (Go-Go Dancing Platform) (1991), Lakhrissi filmed queer stripper Mila Furie performing on a pole inside the museum. ‘I’ve found a place where my body was not allowed,’ a voice whispers as the camera tracks towards the dancer. Staged within the Haus der Kunst, an exemplar of fascist architecture where the Nazis held the ‘Degenerate Art’ exhibition of 1937, Spiraling speaks to ways of reclaiming representation.

Doireann O’Malley’s VR work New Maps of Hyperspace_Test_01 (2020), which first premiered online, goes in the opposite direction: away from the body. The piece – shown in a plant-filled, glass-walled adjunct space – enables viewers to float through a world of shapes and abandoned architecture until they feel dizzy and disembodied in a landscape of technological ruins. This deserted environment is narrated by a once-human character, who is now trapped in a faulty simulation that keeps crashing and restarting, as if created by a demiurge.

Ceylan Öztrük, Soft Column, 2021, installation view, Shedhalle, Zurich. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Carla Schleiffer

Shedhalle owes its existence to 1980s counterculture: following riots in Zurich, the area’s derelict brick buildings were turned into a cultural centre in 1985. This vast, former industrial structure, with its saw-tooth roof, is uncannily animated in Öztrük’s Soft Column (2021), as the Zurich-based artist replicates one of the building’s steel supports in silicone, rendering it soft and bendable. Akin to the patches of artificial mould in Öztrük’s Mollusk Solidarity (2021), what might appear to be a surrealist joke connects to the show’s central concept of worlding.

In this exhibition, nothing is fixed, not even the architecture – or so the curators would like us to believe. Dystopia and utopia are tired categories, especially in exhibition-making, but ‘Extra Worlding’ tries to revive their political core by showing how things can be radically different.

Extra Worlding is on view at Shedhalle, Zurich, Switzerland, until 31 October 2021.

Main image and thumb: Doireann O’Malley, New Maps of Hyperspace_Test_01, 2021. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Carla Schleiffer

Philipp Hindahl is a writer. He is based in Berlin, Germany.