Back to Childhood…in a Slaughterhouse


This summer, the New York-based Swiss artist Urs Fischer is the chosen disciple to carry out the annual exhibition project commissioned by the DESTE foundation. Situated on the Greek island of Hydra, the site-specific assignment of Mr. Fischer revealed the possibilities of joy and creativity resulting from sculpting clay in a venue as startling as the island’s former eerie slaughterhouse.

Established worldwide art collector, Dakis Joannou founded the DESTE Foundation for Contemporary Art in 1983 with a clear mission to “broaden the audience for contemporary art, enhance opportunities for young artists, and explore the connections between contemporary art and culture”, as stated on the non-profit’s website. Having long been the favorite destination of many artists, writers and intellectuals, it comes as no surprise that Hydra was the preferred spot for the foundation’s expansionary project for Contemporary Art.

The project is unique in many aspects. The first exhibition started in 2009 with Matthew Barney and Elizabeth Peyton’s combined performance and exhibition, followed by artists such as Maurizio Cattelan, Doug Aitken, amongst others. However, it is the experience en soi that is also unique. The journey first started on the hydrofoils “Flying Dolphins” that transports you from the Greek capital to the beautiful and historical island of Hydra in a short hour and a half trip.

Reaching destination, I hurried to discover more about this year’s project. Throughout the summer of 2013, Urs Fischer calls all visitors of the slaughterhouse, of all ages, to participate in creating art with a medium as simple -and reminiscent of childhood- as colored clay. Yet, the distinctive feature of this year’s exhibition undoubtedly resides in the role that the artist takes on, the role he assigns to the visitor and the interaction of the latter with the space.

Inside the Slaughterhouse

Inside the Slaughterhouse

The notion of the artist as a curator is not a recent one. In some cases it is indirectly incorporated in the nature of the work or the way the artist intends his work to be displayed. In other cases the artist is directly commissioned to act as a curator such as the MOMA’s annual exhibition initiative the Artist’s Choice. Nevertheless, the visitor-artist relationship is anchored in Mr. Fischer’s project in the trust he allocates to the visitors and what he  wants them to experience.

An anonymous work

An anonymous work

Mr. Fischer commissions everyone to act as artists by totally embracing creativity in a medium as fun and entertaining as clay. He even takes it one step further by inviting the visitor/artist in directing the choice of the location and the display of their work. For instance, one of the visitors decided to produce a small-scale figurine that he later installed as a hanging man on one of the external pipeline of the slaughterhouse. Mr. Fischer had envisioned that by acting this way, the visitor/artist evolves to the role of visitor/artist/curator.

Moreover, by electing to keep the identity of the creators anonymous, not only does Mr. Fischer suggests the equality residing between the artist and the visitor, he above all implies the universality of art. Who knows, perhaps my own work of art now resides next to the talented Urs Fischer on the beautiful island of Hydra…


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