Carsten Höller curates JapanCongo in Grenoble
Belgian artist Carsten Höller showed us his fondness for all things Congolese back in 2008, when he opened the Double Club - a restaurant, bar and arts space in London that placed African and Western culture side by side - and now he’s indulging his passion once again at Le Magasin (Centre National d’Art Contemporain) in Grenoble. This time around, however, he is pairing Congolese art with that of the East.
For his turn as curator at the gallery, the former Wallpaper* Design Awards judge has delved into the vast African art collections of Jean Pigozzi, an Italian businessman-cum-photographer, who has also begun collecting contemporary Japanese art over the last three years.
’When Jean Pigozzi asked me if I would like to be the curator of his collection of contemporary African art, I was at first sceptical,’ says Höller. ’Only when he said that he also has recently built up a collection of contemporary Japanese art, I became really enthusiastic. That’s exactly what I am looking for - a new Double Club of sorts.’
Höller has selected the work of sixteen Congolese artists (including Pierre Bodo, Chéri Samba and Pathy Tshindele), confronting them with the same number by Japanese artists (such as Natsumi Nagao, Nobuyoshi Araki and Akihiro Higuchi). The Japanese works hang on a long straight wall, with openings onto small rooms behind, mirrored by a curving wall of Congolese art, with the most ’similar’ pieces hanging where the two walls come closest.
But the layout of the show contains a typical Höller twist. Visitors can take a conventional path through exhibition, following the main corridor and moving into the surrounding rooms, or they can go ’behind the scenes’, taking a route behind the walls. By exposing the makeshift nature of the installation and making it part of the show, he turns the traditional exhibition experience on its head.
A degree of interactivity has always been important for Höller, as with his Test Sites installation at London’s Tate Modern in 2006 - which saw visitors plummet into the depths of the Turbine Hall via a series of twisting slides. ’You could say that the real material I am working with is people’s experience,’ he once said. Here, it adds another interesting layer to his exploration of origin and cultural identity.