There is art for art’s sake and then there is foolish bravery. It’s unclear which one Passage 2011 is.
Beginning on May 24th, German artists and mountaineers Thomas Huber and Wolfgang Aichner (known together as Global Aesthetic Genetics) will travel with a red boat from Munich to the Venice –but they will hardly touch water until they reach the Grand Canal. They’ve chosen to get themselves and the boat to Italy the hard way: by dragging it bare-handed through the Alps.
The press for this “Actionistic Alpine Drama” relates the work to Fitzcarraldo, the hubristic character (famously played by Klaus Kinski) in Werner Herzog’s film who, in an effort to make quick funds in harvesting and transporting rubber in Peru, attempted to circumvent treacherous rapids by transporting a steamship by land through the Andes. The filming of the movie itself was an insane feat; it involved truly dragging a 320-ton boat over a mountain without using any special effects. At one point, in reference to the idiocy and wonder of the act, Herzog called himself “A Conquistador of the Useless.”
Passage 2011 will also be filmed happening in reality, just in this case it will be shared via the internet. The German firm ESRI will take part by supplying a GIS web application that visualizes the route of the mountain crossing and serves as a “log book” for media content. A cameraman will accompany the artists through the Zillertal Alps via the Schlegeis Glacier, and beginning May 29th will share experiences daily on www.passage2011.org and onscreen at the exhibition space in Venice.
(Image: GAEG: Thomas Huber & Wolfgang Aichner, Passage 2011, Grialetsch. Site-specific performance, installation and documentation. Courtesy of the artists)
The artists and curator Christian Schoen make references to “Sisyphean exertion” and “Neo-Romantic” aspirations when explaining the project. But… “Neo-Romantic” in what way?
In the 21st century, bodies grow soft and memory grows short as physical experience in the real world is forgone for its virtual counterpart. Meanwhile feats of “bravery” on reality television are done less for honor than in blustery response to a dare. In the case of Passage 2011 there is no damsel in distress, and no noble cause other than the opportunity to show at the Venice Biennale, which indeed could be achieved by much less physically strenuous means. But the thought that real, uncynical risks are taken for our virtual contemplation knocks up the value of the work a few notches. It’s a new kind of honor: perhaps we the artgoers are the damsels in distress.
Check in at the exhibition space after June 29th to see if they’ve made it with their skins to Venice –and succeeded in saving us. Then you can decide if it was art for art’s sake or foolish bravery, or both.