June 16, 2024
Art Gallery

Swiss Artist Silvia Bächli Exhibits At Centro Botín in Santander, Spain


The practice of drawing for Silvia Bächli is interwoven with her body and its movement, be it within the domestic space or in nature. Her drawings resemble physical gestures, they can be read as traces of sensorial records, a walk in the woods, perhaps even a poem. They are light on their feet and alive—always moving, pulsating, breathing.

Centro Botín in Santander, Spain is presenting the Swiss artist’s latest body of work in dialogue with her earlier drawings. Co-curated by Bächli and Bárbara Rodríguez Muñoz, as its title Partitura (musical score) suggests, the exhibition has been conceived much like sheet music for the gallery space. It features new work Farbfeld (color fields), a wall installation made in collaboration with Swiss visual artist Eric Hattan, as well as works from Bächli’s presentation at the 53rd Biennale di Venezia Swiss Pavilion.

Bächli tends to work in a sequential way, drawing on sheets from a pile, approaching one after another then arranging constellations of works on her studio wall to be examined and interrogated, rearranged, rejected to the point of perfection, or simply at the right moment of surprise. She says: “Drawings are actions. Lines tell stories. What do these lines do? Where is the beginning of a line, does it touch another line? How does it touch them? Words appear, which ones come to the tongue?”

I spoke with Bächli about the Centro Botín exhibition and her approach to art.

As the exhibition title Partitura suggests, you have created a musical score for the gallery space. Can you speak of the process of curating, and the challenges you faced when composing the sequence of rhythmic clusters of drawings?

I conceived the exhibition like a piece for voices that spans several rooms. I wrote a score, similar to musical notation, with dense passages, isolated points, repetitions, echoes, rhythms, clusters and pauses. In the studio I move the drawings around on the wall for weeks and months asking what proximity is possible, and when do they lose contact? It’s like inviting (friends) to dinner: who do I sit next to whom, and which seating arrangement will make for interesting conversations?

When do you know when it’s time to stop and how to then exhibit the work?

Once the placement of the drawings has been found, I make a hanging plan. This way, my “piece” can be presented in the same way in the exhibition space. Each drawing is a sound: each tone has a strength, a color, an extension, a clarity, a weight. The pauses and the spaces in between, the white wall, have exactly the same importance. I am the composer—you are the musician.

Your work is so alive, always moving, breathing. How important is the communication, the dance if you will, of your groups of drawings?

It’s very important. My ideal exhibition visitor, if he had chalk on the soles of his shoes, would make an expansive floor drawing like skating—back and forth, closer, turning, and spiraling back again—then sit down on a chair and continue skating with his eyes, stretching threads through the exhibition room.

I like that image. Why do you choose to work with simple tools, white paper, ink, charcoal, gouache, pastels and color pencils?

I like to have tools that need no preparation, tools that I can start with immediately. I need little, just a table, a pile of paper, brushes, paint, water, a plate, a chair, light. To me drawings are movement; lines tell stories. What do these lines do? Where is the beginning of a line, does it touch another line? How does it touch them? Words appear, which ones come to the tongue? Good drawings are larger than the format. They are plain, simple, reduced to the essentials; they have breath, they expand in space.

What was it like exhibiting at Centro Botín?

I always ask for the floor plan first when I’m invited to exhibit as I develop initial ideas based on these plans. I visited Centro Botín for the first time in September 2022 to see what the rooms physically look like—the floor, the light—to see if there are windows, and see in which direction to walk through the rooms. One of the rooms is almost exactly the size of my pavilion at the 2009 Biennale di Venezia, which helped us decide to show the work in Santander.

What has been the experience of co-curating the exhibition with Bárbara Rodríguez Muñoz?

The collaboration with Barbara was wonderful. We played ping-pong with ideas and wishes, as well as concerns and doubts going back and forth, together in search of the Partitura. In April 2023, Barbara came to Basel where I had built a 1:10 scale cardboard model and we discussed various options. Our ping-pong continued with photos of the model, which I sent by email. Our question was always: what works, and what sequences make the room resonate?

Ultimately, what does art mean to you?

A work, a language, a possibility to discover something more surprising than our own imagination.

“Partitura” by Silvia Bächli is at Centro Botín, Santander, Spain until October, 20th 2024.

Read my interview with Julie Mehretu, see Personal Structures dynamic group exhibition in Venice, and read about other art exhibition highlights here.



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