“Winter Line”- at the Kunsthalle
January 17 – March 23
by Shirley L. Kearney, German by Martin Pütter
“Winter Line” at the Kunsthalle Basel marks the first comprehensive presentation of the work of the two Scottish artists Ross Birrell (*1969) and David Harding (*1937). Both have close ties with the Glasgow School of Art: Ross Birrell is currently a lecturer at the Forum for Critical Inquiry, while David Harding was the founder and for many years head of the influential Environmental Art Department, whose graduates include numerous artists of international renown. The two artists pursue a multifaceted practice that embraces film, sculpture, installations, literary works, sound installations and musical compositions. Their collaboration began in 2005 with the film Port Bou: 18 Fragments for Walter Benjamin. The show brings together works that take up and offer variations upon Ross and Harding’s individual interests and earlier works, which are here pursued in dialogue with each other and with the conditions imposed by the Basel venue. In “Winter Line” the viewer follows narratives about different places and points in time – narratives that establish connections between history and society, art and literature.
One historical journey takes us to the Battle of Monte Cassino, the longest and bloodiest battle in the Second World War. The Polish Army Corps had earlier adopted and eventually enlisted into their company, a Syrian brown bear whom they named Wojtek meaning “he who enjoys war” or “smiling warrior.” This bear did not live a simple and passive life as their mascot, but, in reality, handed out mortar shells to the soldiers. After the war, the bear ended up in the Edinburgh Zoo where David Harding met Wojtek; this touching acquaintance inspired Harding to create a sculpture of this unique soldier.
In the large-formatted video installation “Winter Line”, accompanied by Ross Birrell’s composition Sonata, a trio presents dissimilar narratives which are nevertheless connected. The original performance was held in a cemetery in Rome.