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exhibition: stories written — zurich art prize winners 2007-2023

The exhibition Stories Written – Zurich Art Prize Winners 2007–2023 honors the long-standing partnership between Museum Haus Konstruktiv and Zurich Insurance Company Ltd. This group show presents selected works by 14 previous winners of the renowned Zurich Art Prize. Pieces by Adrián Villar Rojas, Mariana Castillo Deball, Nairy Baghramian, Leonor Antunes, and Damián Ortega among other artists will be on display.

The selection of works, with a focus on more recent pieces, provides up-to-date insight into each respective artistic practice. Together, the exhibits offer a refreshing overview – not only of contemporary art in Switzerland and abroad, but also of approaches to incorporating the history of constructivist-concrete and conceptual art.

Maintainers D (2018) by Nairy Baghramian explores the process of creating cast sculptures. The work exhibited here is made up of several closely related elements: a rough rectangle of cast aluminum, two organic forms in polished wax, and clamps made of metal and cork. The latter join the aluminum panel onto the matt-yellow wax body. The material used in Maintainers D, its degree of processing, and the combination and positioning of the individual components, all inherently suitable for forming a sculpture, evoke ideas of connection and dependence, as well as preservation and destruction.

Driven by her interest in historical facts, in traditional myths, and in experiences and methods pertaining to time’s measurability, Mariana Castillo Deball has realized numerous immersive art projects, including Calendar Fall Away (2022), her contribution to the 59th Biennale di Venezia. In Venice, this artist transformed the entire floor of the Mexican Pavilion into a walk-through picture, with a series of woodcuts. The depictions carved into the wood tell of the colonization of America from the early 16th century onward, incorporating a multitude of historical references. Allusions to the Spanish colonizers’ belief systems, and their notions of time and space, are just as present here as symbols or other traces of pre-Columbian civilizations. Three large-format woodcuts from the multi-part series are now on display at Museum Haus Konstruktiv.

As fragments, they provide access to the former overall composition and make it possible to experience the dense web that Castillo Deball spun, even in this smaller space. Calendar Fall Away 85, for example, shows an illustration of the letter ‘N’ from Diego de Valadés’s mnemonic alphabet, which played an important role in the Christianization of the population. There is also an element from a handbook for Franciscan missionaries, which itself harks back to a Valadés copperplate engraving from 1579. The section is rounded off with decorative features that the artist remembers from her grandparents’ home.

Adrián Villar Rojas conceives long term projects, collectively and collaboratively produced, that take the shape of large-scale and site-specific installations, both imposing and fragile. Within his research, which mixes sculpture, drawing, video, literature and performative traces, the artist explores the conditions of a humanity at risk, on the verge of extinction or already extinct, tracing the multi-species boundaries of a post-anthropocene time folded in on itself, in which past, present and future converge. In Stories Written, Villar Rojas presents three sculptures rooted in the series Brick Farm, inspired by the Argentinian hornero bird, which makes its nests from mud, straw, and rubble, adapting them to human-built surroundings. In the new work, however, there is a shift from the organic ephemeral sculptures inspired by the hornero to a more artificial, yet still more-than-human, mode of materiality.

Using an amalgamation of software systems collectively described as the Time Engine, Villar Rojas generated a series of intensely detailed virtual worlds and placed sculptures within them. Simulating conditions – ranging from environmental to socio-political across timespans ranging from hours to millennia – the Time Engine has allowed him to develop his already experimental sculptural practice to create work in places and times that surpass our tangible realities. As the extreme conditions of each world bore down on the sculptures, they became ever more complex and harrowed. Fires scorched them, altered gravity distorted them. Unrest toppled them, wars wounded them. Other life forms sheltered within or bloomed upon them. The artist modeled worlds, which in turn modeled the sculptures.

The leather structure hanging from the ceiling is by Leonor Antunes. Part of her random intersections series, which began in 2007 and is still ongoing, this work is a modification of leather ropes used for horses. It is based on collages by the Italian architect, designer and photographer Carlo Mollino (1905–1973), which he produced as preliminary studies for the construction of Società Ippica Torinese, a riding school in Turin, built in the late 1930s but already demolished in 1960. As is the case for most of her works, Antunes collaborated with artisans (in this instance, experts in traditional leather processing techniques) to produce her objects with the utmost care. The artfully intertwined leather straps are connected to the exhibition space by a hemp rope. In the interplay of light and shadow, they develop a haunting presence, while the title of the series draws attention to literal and metaphorical ‘intersections’ – where not only lines and surfaces, but also art history (or art stories) and contemporary art meet.

Two works by Damián Ortega can be seen. These are based on Theo van Doesburg’s spatial studies for the 1920s project Maison Particulière. Ortega has transferred Van Doesburg’s floating structures (in primary colors, white and black) to thin wooden floor panels. While Ortega largely retains the unity of the isometric drawing for Deconstructing Theo, he goes a step further in Sinnlos Theo (Meaningless Theo). By shifting individual panels after the aforementioned transfer, the artist disrupts the sobriety and coherence of the historical model. The title of this artwork refers to the impaired legibility that taking apart the visual structure entails. It also refers to Ortega’s time in Berlin, to ‘slips’ and misunderstandings that occur in communication using an unfamiliar language.

+ information about Stories Written