Early Statement Edit Oderbolz Draws in Air


Edit Oderbolz’s coolly formalist but reliably gorgeous installations and objects are insistently sculptural and physical, yet nearly always evince the sensation of abstract paintings or drawings. The Swiss artist’s favored materials, curtain rods and thin, aluminum scaffolding, cut through the air or against white walls like line drawings, elegant and tensile. Brightly colored textiles, however, have a flat, graphic quality, even when fanned out across a wall or draped and hanging from a metal rod. These deftly placed bits of color easily evoke modernist abstract painting (as well as the bright, graphic collages of Hans Arp and the textiles of his wife, Sophie Tauber-Arp). Tellingly, the artist has said of her often site-specific installations, “The walls function almost like big canvases.”

This week those canvas-like walls will be just a little bit smaller, when Oderbolz’s installation for the Art Statements section of Art Basel, in which a curated selection of galleries showcase notable single-artist installations, goes on view in one of the fair’s pale, square booths. The constellation of new works that the artist will present (with Lullin + Ferrari, her Zürich gallery), employ her typical materials—skinny railing, brightly hued fabric, glass—and her always discursive and distinct line. “The main work I will be showing is based on an installation I did with curtain-rails that are torn out of the bar. They bend from the wall into the space, acting a bit spastic and switching between a fine drawing and a slightly more aggressive tension,” Oderbolz recently told me. For Art Statements, the work will also include a number of attached and arranged textiles in a few brilliant hues. “The fabrics open up a new gap that interests me,” she notes. “With their color they lead to a new aspect in the work.”

If Oderbolz’s attention to material is exacting, the materials that she relies on are not. “Everyday materials are commonly known, [they] work with recognition and memory, and they have a connection to the human body in terms of scale and size,” she says. But material is not her first thought when approaching a new work. “First it is the question of space. I want to find different or new ways to describe or look at space,” she says. “To make it visible, I need material.”

This mode of working began when Oderbolz moved to Basel in 1996 to attend the Academy of Art and Design (HGK Basel). Though she was born three decades earlier in Stein am Rhein, in the very northeastern part of Switzerland, she lived in Zurich for some time. After she finished art school, she decided to stay in Basel: “At first I thought I would go back to Zürich right after my studies, but then it turned out that we were a good crowd at art school and we began to do a lot of projects in public space.” Since that time, Oderbolz has exhibited internationally, but she has also done many projects closer to home. Last year, for example, she was commissioned to create a large, site-specific work for Kunsthalle Basel’s back wall. For Oderbolz’s work, she imagined the wall as a series of windows, for which she created a number of steel grids, alluding to those bars you see protecting windows (though not often in Switzerland itself). To break the cold, rigid grid, she hung small pieces of colored cloth on some of the bars, and then counted on the wind to add another element that would make the piece, as she said, “a live and ongoing process.”

Though her installation for Art Statements will not have the favor of wind at its disposal, it hews in other ways to Oderbolz’s work for the Kunsthalle. One of her new pieces, for example, features a long sheet of white curtain railing skating across the top of a wall, creating an ever-so-high horizon line. From it, a thin, glittery aluminum rod descends diagonally toward the floor, crossing a thin aluminum hoop. Some silky grey-and-yellow fabric drops to the floor as well, like a stage curtain only half drawn. The lovely shapes of the materials and the evocative negative space they create have all the formal balance of a composition, only this one juts out aggressively and comically, and is not constrained by a frame or ground.  
When I ask the artist about her practice’s relationship to drawing, she surprises me: “I never do drawings on paper. I can only draw three-dimensionally and not even on purpose; it always comes out of an installation, an object, or a sculpture.” Nonetheless, Oderbolz’s aptitude for crafting unnervingly beautiful compositions of line and space is no accident. “When I think about it, a line is one of the most beautiful things […] what a line describes from one end to an other can be so simple or powerful that you don’t need to ask for anything more.”