June 2022 Basel Visit Report

13 Jun 2022
13 Jun 2022

During the first week of June, Dr Duane Jethro and Jade Nair travelled to Basel, Switzerland, as part of an artistic research project with Julia Rensing and Sindi-Leigh McBride entitled Ways of Reading After the Fire. We would like to thank Julia, Sindi-Leigh and the Centre for African Studies (ZASB) at the University of Basel for their collaboration and hosting during our time in Basel.

On 2 June, project partners Sindi-Leigh Mcbride and Julia Rensing arranged a field trip to the contemporary art storage depot, Schaulager, in Basel. Designed by the world renowned architects Herzog & de Meuron, Schaulager was opened in 2003 as a depot for the storage of modern and contemporary art. It sometimes functions as an exhibition space, and disavows the title of museum. We were guided through the rooms by Andreas Blattler, and showed the unique design features of the building as a storage space for extraordinary and unusual works of contemporary art. We learned about challenges of conservation, the scaling up of art storage for future research, and the intricate relationship between architecture and artistic storage for research and future display. We were shown video, sculptural and visual art stored in specially designed rooms on the building’s three floors. Robert Gober’s grand, arresting piece Untitled, and Rat King by Katharina Fritsch, the two permanent installations were highlights of the tour. No pictures were allowed inside the building during the tour.

Presentation at Eikones, Friday 3 June
On Friday afternoon 3 June, Duane and Jade delivered a presentation on curating the Jagger Library Memorial exhibition at the Eikones Centre for Theory and History of the Image in Basel, Switzerland. The presentation was delivered as part of  a collaborative project with Julia Rensing and Sindi-Leigh McBride, Ways of Reading After the Fire. The first part of the project entailed a workshop in Cape Town in April 2022, with scholars, artists and writers invited to visit and engage with the exhibition Of Smoke and Ash in Cape Town. 

Jade and Duane were invited to present on their curatorial process and the public reception of the exhibition. The hybrid presentation saw audience members tuning in from the US, South Africa and the Netherlands, and a physical audience of around 20 people, sit in to learn about the curatorial processes and choices deployed to commemorate the Jagger Library disaster and the salvage operations that followed. 

Visit to the Basler Afrika Bibliographien (BAB) Library and Archive
On 7 June 2022,  Jade and Duane were taken on a visit to the BAB Library and archive by archivist and librarian Antonio Uribe. As is described on their website, the “Basler Afrika Bibliographien (BAB) is a centre of documentation and expertise on Namibia and southern Africa, located in Basel, Switzerland. The institution comprises an archive, a specialist library and a publishing house, in addition to offering scholarly, cultural and socio-political events.”

Uribe showed us the poster collection–which covers elections in Namibia and South Africa, and other politically and socially significant affairs such as public health campaigns around HIV among other areas. We were shown their map collections and the unique storage cabinets, their newspaper collections. We also learned about their digitization policies and the challenges they face in managing such collections. 

We were shown the rare books collection at Klosterberg 21 and learned about the fire that raged in this library  on the night of 22 October 2000. Following the fire, the rare books libraryhad to be redesigned, and only a third of the original collection was salvageable. Directed  through the room of rebound books, we could still smell the smoke, as if fire was still present in the room. Their institutional archive still has reports, newspaper clippings and messages from the public about that time and made for striking resonances with the Jagger Library fire of 2021.

We wish to thank the BAB for its generosity in hosting us during our stay in Basel between 1 and 7 June 2022, and for showing us their archive and rare books library.