Solothurn, Switzerland

Costa Vece

Kunstmuseum Solothurn

In the picturesque baroque city of Solothurn, Costa Vece presented a dark take on the notions of cultural identity, religion, and Heimat (homeland), and, ultimately, on the very possibility of social inclusion. Born in Switzerland, the son of Greek-Italian immigrants, Vece seems to have experienced the chilly as well as the warm side of his home country. Yet he clearly retains a deep, if mistrustful, affection for its customs and traditions. His installation Heaven Can Wait (all works 2006) is made out of darkish gray wooden planks, recalling the covered bridges seen everywhere in the canton of Appenzell, where he spent his childhood. The romantic image here turns into a narrow, claustrophobic structure that, for an outsider, recalls barracks more than bridges.

Inside, one first encounters a sparsely lit chamber where uncanny heads with woolen hats stare out from the darkness. Their faces carved from loaves of bread, they evoke scary carnival masks or shrunken heads. A second wooden chamber has inscriptions carved into it: “Was stehst du hier und gaffst? Wär besser dass du schaffst. Anstatt hier zu stehn, sollst du weiter gehn” (“What are you doing, standing here staring? It would be better if you would work. Instead of standing here, you should move on”), and other phrases that evoke a strange combination of moralism and cynicism, not unlike the infamous inscription “Arbeit macht frei” on the entrance gate at Auschwitz.

The path leads around a corner to where a looped sequence from Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964) is being screened on the rear wall of a chalet. It’s the crucifixion scene. The hammering and the screams of the tortured and the cries of mourning are followed—after the image has disappeared—by lines from Isaiah beginning, “You shall indeed hear but not understand.” Just outside, one faces the symbol of the cross once again in Dark Swiss Flag, rendered in black and white and patched together from pieces of underwear attached to a tree trunk hanging from the ceiling. T-shirts, panties, and a baby jumper, loosely held together by safety pins, serve as poor replacements for the patchwork of individual identities that make up a country.

Vece has gained international attention for his installations made out of junk material, such as cardboard boxes or pallets, mostly with looped film sequences directly screened on the makeshift surfaces. Typical is House of Cards, 2004, with its reference to Richard Serra’s One Ton Prop (House of Cards), 1969, in which the minimalist balancing act of massive iron plates leaned against each other is translated into fragile cardboard, implying the precariousness of social constructions. Inside, a sequence from Sam Peckinpah’s The Getaway (1972) is screened, showing the protagonists being tipped from a truck onto a garbage dump. Vece draws from a wide pool of images—from newspapers, art-history books, the Internet. In the publication accompanying this show, his sources are arranged in visual clusters like an iconographical atlas, reminiscent of the “atlases” of Aby Warburg or Gerhard Richter. In his exhibition “Heaven Can Wait,” as ever, Vece mixes historical and pictorial references into a dense, cryptic, and disturbing space of experience, deeply scrutinizing the moral values inherent in certain national and religious symbols.

Eva Scharrer