L/B in Cape Town
by Karin Frei
The Swiss artist couple of Sabina Lang and Daniel Baumann, aka L/B, are currently showing their second work in Cape Town. One year ago, Zayd Minty, director of the Cape Festival, commissioned the two artists to do a mural, which can still be seen on an outer wall of the SANG. For their current show at the Bell-Roberts they are showing a series of inflatable pieces. This is not the only new work the duo will be unveiling. During their two month long stay in Cape Town, Bruce Gordon, owner of the legendary Jo'burg Bar, engaged the art duo to work on a lounge to spoil future Jo'burg Bar guests in.
The best way to understand the art of L/B is through sport. Sport brings people together yet at the same time divides them. Sport works like a wonder drug, it makes one forget everything for a moment, catapulting one to the highest heights of the lust for the game, as well as into the lowest lows of losing. Sport also allows people to identify themselves nationally, and it is a social phenomenon that operates throughout all layers of society. It also makes little difference whether one is an active or passive participant when it comes to the intensity of the experience. Sport does not separate the producer from the consumer at the moment of the event, quite the contrary.
The art scene longs for the intensity and power of sport, and therefore observes it with curiosity and jealousy. Art does not have the same effect on mass audiences, nor hold the same fascination for them, except perhaps for Blockbuster exhibitions, for which people do queue.
The attempt to reach a broader audience, which is more open to the visual arts, might be one reason why the artist couple L/B connect their art with sport and design. The explicit link between art and sport also happens for a deeper reason, as is exampled in their works that rename soccer stadiums, and sometimes even redefine them by employing curved ('designed') ground-lines made of chalk. Sport serves as a model. A life model. An art model. Rules and competition, or the meaning of money and collectivity, as they are handled and understood in sport, have a metaphorical level that is applicable to many other areas of life.
Not that it is necessarily those parallels describe L/B's work, although those metaphorical concepts do have resonance. More central , however, to their work is the play between individual and collective experiences. In order to mediate those in a comprehensive and tempting way for the public, the duo use a design language borrowed from the 1960s and 1970s. The general character of their wall- and ceiling-paintings, that bring unity to a space and the carpet-and couch-design, allows the observer and/or user to dive into an environment of unification, in which they can simultaneously feel themselves to be an anonymous part of the public mass, or an individual amongst other individuals.
The mural Beautiful Wall #6 that L/B installed at the SANG in March 2002 did not completely achieve this ambivalent experience due to the limitations of the physical parking area. But the attempt to dissolve the simple square of the wall into wavy sequence of lines succeeded in a wonderfully irritable way. The slightly dirty colouring of the mural breaks the 'in situ' laws of the park idyll with its soft-green dominated colour palette.
The inflatables at the Bell-Roberts, titled Comfort #2, suggest an ambivalence between individual and collective experience. On the one hand they look like sporting equipment produced for gym-enthusiasts. They invite one to play. On the other hand, when one tries to actually use them for sitting, lying or jumping on, they turn out to be too big or too bulky to be used. All one can do is lean against them to sip a drink. Although the outlines are based on graphic or geometrical forms, which suggest a proximity to the communicated contents, they become illegible and abstract in their three-dimensionality when blown up.
Signs, forms and materials have always suggested that the work of L/B follows a certain fashion or mass trend. Still the individual use of their installations is never conformist. This describes the actual core concern/concept underpinning L/B's output. The Swiss artist couple merge collective norms, individual patterns of behaviour and daily needs into the final product that is their art.
Opening 6pm, Wednesday March 12
Closes: March 23
Bell-Roberts Art Gallery, 199 Loop Street, Cape Town
Tel: 021 422 1100
Fax: 021 423 3135
Hours: Mon - Fri 8.30am - 5pm, Sat 10am - 1pm
Karin Frei is a freelance curator and art consultant living in Switzerland. She received a grant from Pro Helvetia to research a group show 'Notions of Paradise', which will include South African and Swiss artists, some living in their home country, others having chosen their own kind of paradise elsewhere in the world.