Joie de vivre Hans-Joachim Müller Creation has never really been finished. The seven-day plan could never be adhered to. As soon as the man stood on two legs, the woman was missing. And then the end of the day was over again. And because there is always something to make up, the centre of creation has also passed on the responsibility for creation to art. And since then, the argument has been about who is more successful, evolution or the sculptor Claire Ochsner, who cultivates a little garden of paradise in Frenkendorf in the canton of Basel-Landschaft, where the whims of creation peek so joyfully over the walls that one immediately becomes envious of neighbours and passers-by. Not that the colourful population only felt at home outside. But outside, in the garden park, between beds and bushes, on the edge of paths and on small wall ledges, that’s where they really feel at home. And that is where it is at home, where the species can be recognised from afar by its brightly coloured costumes and softly flowing silhouettes, where it can act a little proud with its slender body and stretch out and curl up its supple limbs like antennae. It is gymnastics and dancing on the fine line between the organic and inorganic world. The forms seem unoriginated and familiar at the same time. One seems to be formed from cone and cube, the other from fruit and plug root. None in which the welded shells could not also be leaves, none in which wings, tails and legs could not just as easily come from the geometric as from the vegetative repertoire. Some have more body, others more ornament. Some are reminiscent of an insect, others of a figure, here more of a bird, there more of a plant, a jellyfish, an octopus that must have just crawled out of the water and is spreading out its arms as if in a receiving position. They stand still or move gently in the wind, rotate with the sun and do well under a blue sky and no less well under the snow caps that winter puts on them, and come into their own when the clouds hang low and the days remain grey, and they are truly the only ones who do not lose their colouristic cheerfulness. They are all marvellous experts, top dancers, virtuoso balancers, peacock-wheel performers, gravity mockers, balance artists, good-humoured creatures, light-handed deniers of the straight line, masters of the snake travesty, stick figures with heads shaped like hearts and arms that curl up into curly tails and snails. And they are all quick-change artists, like the mythical sea god and seal keeper Proteus, who you could never really get close to because he had already slipped into another form with lust and skill. Things are similar in Claire Ochsner’s realm. Once you’ve spent some time there and looked around, you discover all sorts of similarities, but the variations and mutations are just as striking. Let’s put it this way: the most cheerful utilisation of the creative powers imaginable. The species cheerfully reproduces itself, and the species that reproduces itself cheerfully reminds us of the hanging spiral, which seems infinite to us because we cannot decide whether it is turning upwards or downwards, because we can only watch as it always seems to keep turning. A realm of art without struggle and competition, in which the things of art cultivate a friendly neighbourhood in radiant this-worldliness and luminous vitality and are far too busy pleasing themselves to cast proud or even envious glances at one another. That is rare in a work. And it is also a bit precious. And this is probably only possible because the choreography is called “Joie de vivre”, for which the artist has called on her sometimes more graceful, sometimes more muscular ballet dancers. The piece is truly an old piece and an everlasting piece. And there is an old and everlasting picture to go with it. Matisse painted it over a hundred years ago, painted everything he knew about the “joie de vivre”, how he imagined the joy of life. People are making love in an earthly paradise and flowers are being picked and music is being played and people are dancing, and a stable high stands over the Mediterranean, making it a pleasure. But the stage is far away, and the tall trees not only provide shade but also shield, and there is not much invitation to mingle with the distant people of pleasure, and certainly no encouragement. It is rather unlikely that we will ever make it to the distant shore. And that is the difference to the stable high above the little garden of paradise in Frenkendorf in the canton of Basel-Landschaft.
Claire Ochsner’s work exudes a wonderful closeness. For her, “joie de vivre” means participation, not exclusivity. There is never a forced form, never a surface other than flatteringly smooth, no workpiece that is not freed of all edges, no tip that does not curl up into a volute, no volume that does not round into cosy bellies and slim down into elegant necks, no curve that does not play out its dynamism with relish: how else to describe it than sheer grace, grace without pathos? You are never faced with difficult riddles when you mingle with the joie-de-vivre performers made of aluminium and painted polyester. You don’t need a degree or a licence to start a conversation with them. Their idiom is not a foreign idiom. And their way of opening a conversation with us is, in fact, a way of awakening and vitalising original language possibilities in us. Because what they speak to, what they echo, has always been in us – only it has sunk there, overgrown by everyday chatter, buried under the use of life that is called reality. It is not forbidden to discover the wishful formulas and dream images and signs of longing in the colourful population. What you will not discover, however, are the sighs that are usually heard when the wishful formulas, dream images and signs of longing come to themselves. Grace without melancholy is itself astonishing. As astonishing as the whole colourful population. As if their descendants had gently landed from birds of a feather or had just slipped out of the water with a splash and had straightened up a little for an inviting, encouraging astonishment. Everything about them looks easy, nothing like hard-won artistry. They can just do it, stand on one thin leg without getting tired, and they can manoeuvre the crescent moon above the trees on their tentacled arms, and it’s as if the moon puts up with that too. So they stand there in their little garden of paradise, free as they are. Free as fools, pranksters and carnival revellers are. You can imagine many stories of freedom, sublime, combative, heroic. But the most beautiful are the ones that tell of the freedom of creative responsibility.
Hans-Joachim Müller, art historian, Freiburg DE