Kunsthalle Basel‘s current exhibition calendar includes the first solo show by the Cuban artist Adrian Melis. In the centre of the work of the 1985 Havana-born artist who is now based in Barcelona, workers are out of work, in both the socialist and capitalist economic system. Melis’s early projects were concerned with working conditions and with the disinterested attitude of employees towards their work in Cuba’s state-owned enterprises. The lack of motivation and an indifference to the activities to be performed are common symptoms that indicate a deficiency or a loss of identification with the existing political and economic system. Normally, such an identification depends on the personal commitment of the individual and includes a belief or acceptance of a supportive system ideology. The general lack of productivity, which is typical of many Cuban farms is the starting point for Melis observations that lead to the emergence and “co-production” of paradoxical situations and activities and an intrusion into the everyday routine of the workers.
This aspect of his work includes various forms of negotiations with the workers about their participation as a performer or provider of certain services or products. In the exhibitions of Adrian Melis its findings of labour relations in the form of videos, photographs and installations are shown. Various kinds of complicity and secret alliances among the workers – which include partly the artist – play an important role in these projects, administrative where to nonconformity as weak opposition manifests and institutional opportunism.
In its production plan of Dreams for State-run Companies in Cuba (2010-2012), the artist asked workers Cuban company, which he describes as “particularly vulnerable to lack of productivity” to capture their dreams in writing, which they “produced” when they fell asleep during working hours. Apart from a series of photographs documenting the project and its protagonists, the text and drawings of the workers included in small wooden box and are presented as an archive. The workers who are unproductive in their official, actual employment will be active as a dreamer and as a result, take part in another, the artist organ catalysed production.
In recent projects, Melis focused on the current financial and economic situation in Spain. The focus is on the existential meaning of work as a source of income in the neo-liberal economic systems of Europe. The installation for the Best Effort (2013), which will be on view for the first time at the Kunsthalle Basel, the artist has launched an advertising campaign in Spain for a job in Switzerland. Each call from a job seeker to the specified phone number by Melis means that the exhibition space is an excerpt from a speech by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is heard. In this speech, the Prime Minister on 4 November 2012 was, he announced the creation of five million new jobs.
In The Value of Absence, Adrian Melis explores two opposing economic systems, and the associated drastic differences in to the value of work, already featured in the 2011 two successive group exhibitions How to Work and How to Work (More for) Less participated in the Kunsthalle Basel. While the projects are studies of the importance of working in Cuba’s economy in the first part of the exhibition, where work is little more than a form of pastime, illuminating the works dealing with the problem of unemployment in Spain, the connection between the economic and the symbolic value of work and emphasise the dramatic consequences of the lack of work for the individual.
Adrian Melis: The Value of Absence, 24 March until 26 May, Kunsthalle Basel, Steinenberg, 7 CH- 4051, Basel. www.kunsthallebasel.ch
Image: Adrian Melis, The Value of Absence, Kunsthalle Basel, 2013, Installation view. Production Plan of Dreams for State-run Companies in Cuba, 2010-2012. Courtesy ADN Galeria, Private Collection Belgium, Collection Los Bragales, Museo de Arte Moderno y Contemporáneo de Santander, Collection Teixeira de Freitas, Private Collection Switzerland
Photo: Serge Hasenböhler © Kunsthalle Basel, 2013