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iPhones and Falcons

On the perplexing nature of Anne Imhof's new performance, Angst

Trying to organize visits to two fairs, a host of satellite exhibitions and not-for-profit presentations, while also fielding any number of party and aperitif invitations, means time is at a premium throughout Art Basel. Yet during a week where standing still for more than 10 minutes feels like a luxury, I found myself sitting on the floor of the Kunsthalle Basel for almost three hours watching the premier of Anne Imhof’s Angst.

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Anne Imhof, Angst, 2016, documentation of performance at Kunsthalle Basel. Photograph: Dominik Asche

Anne Imhof, Angst, 2016, documentation of performance at Kunsthalle Basel. Photograph: Dominik Asche

It’s hard to explain the allure of an Imhof performance to someone who has never seen one live. Typically, performers interact in highly stylized, choreographed movements, within an installation of objects, paintings and branded consumer products. The result is strangely engrossing despite the lack any real action. The most striking ‘scene’ I witnessed in Basel, for example, saw one performer lay facedown on the floor while another smoked and held her iPhone above him as if trying to charge his lifeless body.

anne_imhof_angst_2016_documentation_of_performance_at_kunsthalle_basel._photograph_philipp_hanger

Anne Imhof, Angst, 2016, documentation of performance at Kunsthalle Basel. Photograph: Philipp Hänger

Anne Imhof, Angst, 2016, documentation of performance at Kunsthalle Basel. Photograph: Philipp Hänger

I suspect that part of the pull is the mystery. For instance, what is the significance of Imhof’s widely publicized live falcons (who, at least while I was there, wore tiny noise cancelling masks and didn’t move an inch)? Or the Pepsi cans that are sometimes drunk by the performers but are ordinarily opened and left scattered around the space like the sticky aftermath of a children’s party?

Anne Imhof, Angst, 2016, documentation of performance at Kunsthalle Basel. Photograph: Dominik Asche

Anne Imhof, Angst, 2016, documentation of performance at Kunsthalle Basel. Photograph: Dominik Asche

Anne Imhof, Angst, 2016, documentation of performance at Kunsthalle Basel. Photograph: Dominik Asche

An eight-page booklet produced for this performance may go some way towards dispelling the enigma created by Forever Rage (2015), which won Imhof the prestigious Preis der Nationalgalerie last year, but when I was in the room no one was reading it. Instead, like me, the audience preferred to watch the work unfurl before them: sometimes perplexed but always captivated.

Lead Image: Anne Imhof, Angst, 2016. Photograph: Nadine Fraczkowski

Chloe Stead is a writer and critic based in Berlin.

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