View of “Alex Hanimann,” 2012.

View of “Alex Hanimann,” 2012.

Alex Hanimann

Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain

View of “Alex Hanimann,” 2012.

The temporary exhibitions mounted in the former industrial space that is now MAMCO almost never claim the status of “autonomous” solo shows; instead they demonstrate the complex facets of a contemporary art museum. This is particularly evident in MAMCO’s recent exhibition of Alex Hanimann, whose work can readily be linked to Conceptual art. Hanimann, who hails from the northeastern corner of Switzerland, near the border with Germany and Austria, concerns himself with syntax and semantics in several languages, and more broadly with questions pertaining to the philosophy of language. What is most crucial in his work is the unpredictable impact that pictorial or object-based processes have on language. The connections between the words and sentences in his gouache-on-paper paintings, his works applied directly to the wall as stickers, and his light boxes are frequently indebted to the principles of montage, practices of listing, and strategies of mirroring. Sometimes several syntactic variants appear in a single linguistic/pictorial field, as though following mathematical permutations or blind chance. For instance, on a gallery wall, one reads the sentence A PART OF THE ENERGY GENERATED BY THE SUN FALLS ON OUR PLANET; taking this logical and correct statement as a starting point, Hanimann generates a list of variants, sorted into paragraphs, that sound bizarre, utterly absurd, or surprisingly deep. They’re the kind of senseless or unintentionally funny constellations that sometimes show up when you’re using computer translation programs; they take on a tone of profundity in the context of the systematic list. Ingenious combinations sometimes produce wonderfully baffling gaps in understanding: “Sun falls on a part of energy / A system on a system / Our system as a part of the fall out / A sun system as part of our energy system.” Stéphane Mallarmé or Hugo Ball meets the playfully systematic digital-text generator.

Hanimann organized his show through linguistic systems, arranging his work alphabetically rather than chronologically or thematically, using the first letters of each text, so that the individual rooms contain works in various media using different languages that might not otherwise have been juxtaposed. Even the show’s title plays with language switching: “No proof, no commentary, no double entendre.” The seemingly French expression “double entendre” exists in English, but not in French. Hanimann’s many-layered processes of linguistic displacement are further augmented via typography, punctuation, underlining, strikeouts, mirror script, or colored fonts.

The show is organized as a circuit with two possible starting points, various moments of passage and pause, and not many side rooms. The appearance of enormous letters on individual side walls recalls the signage once used in this former factory while at the same time invoking the conceptual logic of a thesaurus. Mutually exclusive classification schemes collide and thereby reveal their incommensurability. And yet, in raising the number of possible combinations to a higher power, these systems also set in motion an endless process of reading and rereading that keeps changing direction as one moves through the show. Hanimann turns Geneva, one of the homes of the United Nations, into a stage for his Babylonian confusion of tongues.

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.