On the (Artists) Record: The Versatility of Vinyl at Art Basel
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Hailed as a platform for cutting-edge works by contemporary artists, the special exhibitions sector of Art Basel welcomes back Artists Records for its 4th year. Since 2007, the Artists Records program has been a unique highlight of the fair, featuring a multitude of artists records that are both innovative displays of art history and visual treats in themselves. The Artists Records project emphasizes the growing range of media implemented by artists in contemporary art, while also highlighting the rich history implicit of past eras.
The vinyl record is the centerpiece of Artists Records, which has become an archetype of the 20th century, due to its multiple uses and implications in the world of art and music. For years, artists have enjoyed the versatility of the vinyl record, as a cutting-edge canvas or unique medium in creating contemporary works. The added benefits of cheap production costs, ease of distribution, and the many ways to exploit the uses of the record – from pressing, printing, and recording – make this object an ideal tool for artistic expression.
Art historian and contemporary art editor Lionel Bovier was chosen to curate this innovative sector of the fair. In association with John Armleder and Ecart/Villa Magica Records (Geneva), Bovier, in conjunction with Stéphane Kropf and Benjamin Valenza, gathered the creations of numerous artists and set up a literal “record shop” chock-full of items from the collections of artists and editors. Recently, MutualArt.com spoke with Bovier in an exclusive interview, and the curator detailed what’s in store for this year’s Artists Records.
This is Art Records fourth year at Art Basel. How has this project evolved since its inception?
In 2005, Art Basel began devoting part of its exhibition space (in the context of Art Unlimited) to a very special kind of object: the artist’s book. Recognizing that the media and formats used by artists are constantly developing, Samuel Keller, then Director of Art Basel, asked me to stage a survey of this unusual field of work. After an initial panorama of the artist’s book in the 21st century (2005) and an exhibition showcasing the “small press scene” of the 1960s and ‘70s (in 2006), the 2007 project focused on Artist Records. The new management, Annette Schönholzer and Marc Spiegler, liked this project and proposed to run it simultaneously and additionally to the Artists’ Books one in 2008. I’ve initiated the first project with John Armleder and Ecart/Villa Magica Records (Geneva), and since then continued to do so, but the real person in charge is the artist Stéphane Kropf, who, in collaboration with Benjamin Valenza, deals with the shop on a yearly basis.
What has been the public’s response? Can you describe the goal of the project?
For the past two years, we’ve associated the two projects, Artists’ Books and Artists’ Records, in a booth that migrated a bit within Art Unlimited. The public’s reactions are great and we now have our regulars. The project assembles works by numerous artists and also consists in maintaining a “shop” with stocks supplied by record publishers, galleries, and the artists themselves. This provides visitors with access to an emblematic art form while at the same time encouraging the renewed dissemination – in the special, temporally limited framework of the show – of projects emerging from it.
What was the inspiration for the idea behind Art Records?
As a 20th century artifact, the vinyl record is heavy with symbolism, and various of its features have prompted a host of artists to employ it as an artistic medium: its comparatively inexpensive production costs, ease of distribution, and undeniable conceptual qualities. In the first show, the decision to present works by only a very few artists was aimed at generating a more systematic interpretation of these various themes and illustrating that artists exploit every single aspect of the vinyl disc – from recording possibilities to covers, from pressing to printing, from audio to visual.
Can you give some specific examples of how artists have used the vinyl record in different genres of art?
A case in point was, for instance, the series of nine 45 rpm records created by Jack Goldstein in 1976 on the basis of sound effects used by Hollywood film studios: the wind dying away (“Dying Wind”), the crash of falling trees (“Three Felled Trees”), and the roar of a tornado (“The Tornado”) are early attempts at Appropriation art. Christian Marclay explores the various qualities of the platter-shaped object in his famous “Record without a Cover” (a sleeveless record that develops individually as it is subjected to wear), one-sided records, records with spiral grooves, or with the help of pick-ups repositioned on the turntable. Rodney Graham’s dual focus on music and films since the 1970s has had a very productive effect on his record productions: the pieces he composes and plays slot into the narrative world of his visual work. For Jutta Koether, as for Steven Parrino, with whom she has frequently collaborated in concert and on record, rock music is likewise inseparably connected with the painting, film, and installation work – different techniques whose mutual enrichment is the linchpin in a relationship to the world. Genesis P-Orridge embodies the musical side of this relationship: amid the radical cultural movements of 1960s and ‘70s Britain, he founded a performance group, Coum Transmissions, subsequently enjoying a successful career in the punk-rock scene with Throbbing Gristle and later with Psychic TV. In the 1990s, many artists turned to electronic music as a supplementary, parallel, or principal form of artistic production: for example, Carsten Nicolai, whose Raster-Noton label is a very active arena for electronic minimalism, uses processed digital sounds to compose works that are equally effective as sculptures and installations in questioning the creative potential of the codes that surround us.
What types of works are in this year’s Artists Records exhibit?
After this initial exhibition we continued to develop relationships with contemporary producers, collectors, and sellers, and built this unique resource as a “pop-up” shop that only exists for a week in the Basel art fair. So now we have hundreds and hundreds of artist’s records, tapes, CDs, etc. It goes from Yves Klein’s recording of the void to New Humans’ latest releases, passing through Marclay’s, Yoko Ono’s, or Cage’s famous records, but as well Tobias Bernstrup’s, the whole program of Christmas music by Villa Magica Records, and so many other things… Come visit!