Another first for Basel and Switzerland: a Pray-O-Mat in the entrance hall of the Spiegelhof Customer Centre of the Justice and Security Department Basel near Schifflände.
By Shirley L. Kearney, German by Martin Pütter
We are familiar with automats which dispense food, drinks, cigarettes, personal items, and more, but prayers? And not just a few prayers in one or two languages – programmed in this automat are 320 prayers in 65 languages, a number which coincidentally mirrors Basel’s ethnicity.
Acknowledgment and thanks for having this unique “art” object in Basel go to German artist Oliver Sturm (*1959), who created three examples of the automat in 2008 specifically for placement in public spaces, and not in museums; and also to Basel’s innovative cultural entrepreneur Klaus Littmann and to Baschi Dürr, the Director of the Justice and Security Department Basel-Stadt. The perpetual balancing / opposition between what is secular and what is religious is answered by Dürr with the comment that: “God exists only when one believes.”
When such an item is exhibited in a location not connected to art, it becomes an everyday object to be used and not solely to be seen, but nevertheless it is art. The Pray-O-Mat is a hermaphrodite: a copy or a parody of an automat; a piece of art which coincidentally is a commodity.
When you enter the building the Pray-O-Mat is to your left. The red machine is easy to operate, just push on the buttons. However, you may encounter a queue as others wait to touch and listen. The automat’s time in the hall is limited; mid-august it will begin its journey to other Swiss cities.