As an artist attached to the materiality of her surroundings, Sophie Nys sees how things are the witness of history and ideologies. How ideas are entangled in the matter of the things that have been made, sculpting the real. Her practice of displacement of things reveals this engraved ‘text’. It is therefore by no means a surprise that Sophie Nys’ works move between publication and sculpture. Elena Filipovic, curator at the Kunsthalle Basel positions the artist as: “expanding the legacy of post-conceptual art through an active attachment to the materiality of found things, narrative sources, and a quirky, almost chance approach to research that drives her production of a vast array of media: lm, sculpture, installation, photography, book-making, sound-works, painting, and other less easily qualifiable objects.” Previous exhibitions include solo shows at Bozar, Galerie Greta Meert and La Loge in Brussels; Archiv and Binz39 in Zurich; Kiosk in Ghent; Crac Alsace in Altkirch; Circuit in Lausanne and Projecte SD in Barcelona. Her work has been included in group exhibitions at Helmhaus, Archiv, Haus Konstruktiv and Kunsthalle in Zürich; Kunsthalle Vienna; Venice Biennale; Artists Space New York; Maniera, Etablissement d’en Face and Wiels in Brussels.
SAA: Would you tell us something about the artwork you will present at the Swiss Art Awards 2018?
SN: I will show a set of three works consisting of a video work, a two dimensional piece and a take-away artist publication of 2’000 copies.
The main topic is a fountain designed and produced during the cold war in order to protect the public drinking water from an attack. In 1973, Alfred Aebersold, trained as an interior designer and founder, won the competition organized by the Water Supply Department of Zurich for the design of a fountain. It was the visible part of a vast, autonomous and secured water supply system of 89 identical fountains distributed throughout the territory of the city.
Aebersold, founding member of studio Gruppe 3 together with Jörg Hamburger and Herbert Merz, was representative of a Swiss design that followed the formal vocabulary of Max Bill. The fountain, designed in the 1970s, recalled through its formal vocabulary a modernist, stable, and reassuring sculptural language, expressed in the organicity and solidity of its forms, already is a kind of historical anachronism. But furthermore it’s also a visual symptom, displayed in the public space, of a necessity for a continued, ahistorical defense. The context changes, but the threat remains. And the fountain, masking its deeper purpose in the functionality of its bowels – not unlike a Duchampian modus operandi, where the meaning assigned to forms is obscured and diverted –, tirelessly spurts the its pure and clean liquid.
SAA: Which worlds does your work involve, address, and how?
SN: Within my work I try to bring together sculpture, printed matter, photography, and video that examine, with some wry sense of humor and play, historical, philosophical and architectural matters among others. With minimal interference and reduced means, objects and images from everyday life are transformed and repositioned. In doing so I like to ask questions about cause and effect, transience and continuity and try to open up new spaces for reflection, resistance, creativity and thought.
SAA: If you could work with a specialist, from which field would that be and on what kind of project?
SN: English literature. Exploring the mysterious black pages by Laurence Stern in the Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, published in 1759.
SAA: Is there a place (in and out of Switzerland) that inspires your work?
SN: Because many of my works originate from specific localities and contexts, I can hardly limit this to a few places. But it is certain that outside my own original cultural context I am rather easily stimulated and inspired. The fact that I have lived in Switzerland for the last 6 years is therefore clearly visible in my portfolio.
SAA: What is the mark you want to leave behind?
SN: I think the medium publication — that frequently appears in my practice — is a generous way to spread art in a fairly autonomous and inexpensive way. It is more than certain that the artists’ books I make will leave a trace of my artistic activity many years after my life.