Our picks

“Back to the source of how art is created” – Marc Olivier Wahler shares his views

The art world sometimes looks like a gigantic caravanserai constantly on the move. Over the past two months, thousands of gallery owners, exhibition commissioners, artists, collectors, museum curators and journalists have travelled to all corners of the globe, in a year that is even busier than normal.

It started with the Whitney Museum’s biennial in May, followed by the Venice Biennale then Documenta (14) in Kassel and Athens and Skulptur Projekte held once every ten years in Munster, culminating with Art Basel.
In this kind of marathon, fatigue is inevitable and sometimes becomes an all-consuming weariness. Every visitor has a strategy for slowing down, to restore the brain and find the energy it takes to fully appreciate all the subtle layers of interpretation in a work of art. After two months trawling exhibition areas full of outputs and results, often presented as products, I need to get back to the source of these creations and immerse myself in that period which might produce nothing at all at first. Such time allows the artist to test theories, hit dead ends and short circuits, think impossible thoughts, produce, destroy and produce again, without caring about the immediate results, and explore with fresh curiosity, convinced that the impossible is just a starting point, the start of a new adventure.
These studio visits often lead to long-term associations. One example is my ten year working relationship with Robin Meier, an artist who explores synchronicity and collective intelligence in the biological, animal and digital realms, working with scientists and laboratories all over the world. Two months ago, my art museum (MSU Broad at Michigan State University) opened a group show called The Transported Man, featuring a major installation by Robin Meier.
Inside a tent, in a biosphere where humidity and temperature levels are controlled, fireflies are seen all flashing at the same rhythm, crickets chirp in unison, and discs play sounds at specific times. At first, this visual, olfactory and audio information seems sparse but the longer the visitor remains immersed in this strange world, the more a sense of balance appears. We realise that all this different information is perfectly synchronised with the incessant swinging of two pendulums that influence the fireflies and crickets. To achieve this, the artist spent many years working with researchers in Asia, Europe, South America and elsewhere. He carried out research in Thai mangrove swamps, studied with entomologists in Japan, worked with architects in Russia, developed software with programmers in France etc. This kind of work, combining scientific research and artistic innovation, reflects the new and fascinating directions that contemporary art has taken in recent years.