HaVE YoU SeeN (& Heard) ArT BaSEl ?

Text by Steve Piccolo

This year most observers seemed to agree that Art Basel was all about economic Brexit jitters, wealth conservation and “investment quality” works. From the amazing ground floor of the main fair (literally like a stroll through an enormous though very disorganised major museum, in terms of the historical importance of many of the works on view) to the fairs for younger galleries (Liste, Volta), all this translated into a focus on things to sell, namely paintings. Photography was banished to a rather squalid satellite location, innovation was rare, technology (sound art, web art, etc.) almost non-existent (with the outstanding exception of works by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer both at Unlimited and at the very exciting solo show at a very exciting place). During a careful walk through Liste, one seemed to hear a nearly deafening cry for protection and reassurance, with room upon room of soft, cuddly, often childish things, embroidery, quilting, textiles, and a rather general lack of political or technological engagement. 

In the midst of this retreat into sure things – or actually hovering above it – Hong Kong-based artist Samson Young did a performance, dressed in a police uniform and standing using a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) – a sonic weapon police use against protesters – 8 meters in the air, playing birdsong.

A few weeks later, his witty and understated take on sound art became sadly timely, as police (literally) deafened peaceful Black Lives Matter protestors with a grotesque sound cannon. For more information on the LRAD and military (ab)uses of sound, see the very interesting book Sonic Warfare by Steve Goodman (MIT Press, Cambridge, 2009).