November 24, 2020

Thomas Bonny at the KuntsHalle Marcel Duchamp, Lake Geneva

Ai Weiwei Sunflower Seeds 2011

by Viola Emaldi

Nowadays there are many non-profit project spaces run by artists. These give birth to exhibitions, multiple productions, studio visits, magazines and publications all created with the cooperation of other artists, on the basis of common needs and interests.

Kunsthalle Marcel Duchamp

For many artists, curating is a ‘medium’ like any other, and managing an exhibition is an extension of their artistic work. A new contemporary example of this argument is the Swiss Kunsthalle Marcel Duchamp, a non-profit space founded and run by artists Stefan Banz and Caroline Bachmann. This is characterised by an exhibition and editorial activity that is combined together, as well as a tendency towards autonomy and research parallel to the contingencies of the institutional system of contemporary art.


If you ever visit this Kunsthalle – which means a facility for mounting temporary art exhibitions – in the Swiss town of Cully on the shores of Lake Geneva, you might admit that it is itself a curious work of art. You would stand in front of one of the five peepholes, explore inside from a selected perspective and peer around the 35x35x35cm miniature proportioned building, an architectural model designed by the Swiss architect Melanie Althaus. It is accessible to everybody, from passers-by to art lovers because is placed on the street, open 24/24 from Monday till Sunday.


The name is a homage to Marcel Duchamp, an artist who changed the course of art with his concepts and ideas, particularly his work Box in a Valise (1935 – 1941 and then published in different editions and versions). This was a portable miniature museum that the artist realized to recollect every single piece of his oeuvre, reproduced under the form of reproductions and scale models into one single box.


The Dada’s daddy is also more closely related to the KMD, thanks to location, near the Forestay waterfall. There in the summer of 1946 the artist took this particular waterfall as the point of departure for his last major art work Étant donnés: 1° The Waterfall, 2° The Illuminating Gas, an installation composed by a tableau (of a nude woman lying on her back with her face hidden and legs spread holding a gas lamp in the air in one hand against a landscape backdrop) visible only through a pair of peep holes, one for each eye, in a wooden door (that recalls the structure of  KMD). The work was revealed to the public only in 1969, by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where it has since been permanently installed. As Stefan Banz & Caroline Bachmann write, no research was ever done as to why the artist chose this waterfall and not another as the starting point for and ultimately the landscape of his famous final masterpiece, since 2010, when they organized and curated a symposium and exhibitions under the name “Marcel Duchamp and the Forestay Waterfall” . It was a multidisciplinary event in Cully, who attempted to provide answers to this and many other questions  about Duchamp’s work. After the event they published a book, in collaboration with JRP|Ringier, with important contributions from contemporary artists, historians and critics.


Launched in 2009, as the smallest exhibition space in the world, Kunsthalle Marcel Duchamp is a space which regularly exhibits the work of emerging and internationally acclaimed artists, chosen and invited to realize necessarily a site specific project. As well as every work of Duchamp when it is seen in a context of a museum, so KMD permits to subvert notions of conventional museum practice. In this sense, it is a curious and interesting type of experiment in exhibition making, where every individual gesture, no matter how small, can bring forth forces of unimagined magnitude. In this sense, in May/July 2011, a modified version of Ai Weiwei’s installation “Sunflower Seeds” has arrived at the Kunsthalle Marcel Duchamp — metamorphosing the huge installation at Tate Modern (Turbine Hall – The Unilever Series Oct 2010- May 2011) into a very tiny one featuring a different type of seed. The exhibition was dedicated to his fearless campaign for human rights and freedom of expression.


Ai Weiwei Sunflower Seeds 2011

In its eighth exhibition since its foundation, Kunsthalle Marcel Duchamp invited the emerging swiss artist Thomas Bonny (Geneva,1975) who presented an installation “The deviation of the needle”. We decided to ask him about his project and more.



Thomas Bonny at the Kunsthalle Marcel Duchamp


Is there a certain conceptual input into your work? Do you see yourself as an artist primarily concerned with ideas?




I do not think being I am a conceptual artist. Ideas are fully part of my world, they feed my artistic research and vice versa. I like playing with ideas and combining them. These are interesting creative moments when a more “intuitive” may intervene, which also gives the work a subjective dimension. In fact, the title “the turning of the needle” is related to a way to develop a reflection, to weave ideas together, in order to obtain finally, a sort of concept. This is a reference to zigzag, sewing, which allows to join pieces of fabric together and the idea of a non-linear path, which involves the notion of time to achieve completion. We find this theme, a more philosophical point of view, small paintings which take solutions of mazes, but this is flexible enough …


Je ne pense pas être un artiste conceptuel. Les idées font pleinement partie de mon univers, elles alimentent mes recherches plastiques et inversement. J’aime jouer avec les idées, les combiner, les télescoper. Ce sont des moments créatifs intéressants où une part plus “intuitive“ peut intervenir, ce qui donne également à l’œuvre, une dimension subjective.

D’ailleurs le titre « le détour de l’aiguille »  est en lien avec une manière de développer  une réflection, de tisser des idées entre elles, afin d’obtenir au final, un ensemble, une sorte de concept . C’est une référence au zigzag, en couture, qui permet de joindre des morceaux de tissu entre eux et de l’idée d’un cheminement non-linéaire, qui implique la notion de temps pour parvenir à une réalisation. On retrouve ce thème, d’un point de vue plus philosophique, dans les petites peintures qui reprennent des solutions de labyrinthes, Mais tout cela est assez souple…



Your work often has an extremely sensuous kind of quality. Are you concerned about letting feelings through what you produce?




Thank you …

There are more intuitive moments that I mentioned earlier that involve more awareness of the artist. It must come from there …

It is necessary for me to have a sensitive and personal dimension in my work. It allows a more direct  and emotional contact between the work and the viewer, which eventually can lead to more conceptual understanding of the work. … But it also depends, I think, on the sensitivity of the viewer ..


Il y a ces moments plus intitifs dont j’ai parlé précédemment qui implique davantage la sensibilité de l’artiste. Cela doit venir de là…

C’est nécessaire pour moi qu’il y ait une dimension sensible et personnelle dans mon travail. Elle permet un contact plus direct et émotionnel entre l’œuvre et le spectateur, qui  eventuellement, peut amener à la compréhension plus conceptuel du travail. … mais ça dépend également, je crois, de la sensibilité du spectateur..



Your work for the Kunsthalle Marcel Duchamp is composed of elements that require a long execution time. What is the importance of this aspect?



I love the idea of ‘planning time lost’.

A concept that I was inspired by Duchamp, different people have written about the use of his time. This is the theme of departure that I worked on, in relation with Marcel Duchamp.

For example, one of the important parts of the installation is a long root that I cleaned and comes from a plant I have grown for three months, especially for the exhibition.

I wished that, despite the small size of the exhibition space, the installation was not only the expression of an idea but a lot of elements participating and that a detailed plastic realization was set up. A way to focus on the game of miniaturization that can also be found in the Box in a Valise.

J’aime beaucoup l’idée de ‘planification du temps perdu’.

Une notion dont je me suis inspiré de Duchamp, dont différentes personnes ont écrit à propos de l’emploi de son temps. C’est le thème de départ sur lequel j’ai travaillé en lien avec Marcel Duchamp.

Par exemple, une des pièces importantes de l’installation est une racine que j’ai longuement nettoyée et qui provient d’une plante que j’ai fait pousser pendant trois mois, spécialement pour l’exposition.

Je souhaitais que, malgré la taille réduite de l’espace d’exposition, l’installation ne soit pas que l’expression d’une idée mais qu’un grand nombre d’éléments participent et qu’une réalisation plastique minutieuse soit mise en œuvre. Une manière de mettre l’accent sur le jeu de miniaturisation que l’on retrouve également dans la Boite-en-Valise.



The KMD has miniature proportions that, as you wrote, is so configured that the visitor’s view of space is never anything but fragmentary. In this sense, which solution did you chose?




Each wall is invested and involved in the installation, you can not see all at once. It is the network of threads, starting from the root, that reads and sets the whole ensemble as an installation and the same does the ground, made of tar and pieces of mirror, that covers the entire exhibition surface. Everything is connected to the inside but the viewer must look through all the windows in order to imagine the whole.

Chaque mur est investi et participe à l’installation, on ne peut donc pas voir l’ensemble en une fois. C’est le réseau de fils à coudre partant de la racine qui les relit et définit l’ensemble en tant qu’installation, ainsi que le sol réalisé en goudron et morceaux de miroir qui recouvre l’entièreté de la surface d’exposition. Tout est connecté à l’intérieur mais le spectateur doit regarder par toutes les fenètres afin d’imaginer l’ensemble.



The significance of artists being able to support themselves and art in general, by opening spaces, organizing shows is major, i think. In 2000 you co-founded */Duplex/*, a space for contemporary arts in Geneva where you organize exhibitions. How important do you think is for artists to show in « alternative » spaces  apart/beside the necessity of being represented by a gallery and being part of the commercial art system?



Alternative spaces are meeting places that cultivate artistic dynamics. It is important that in a city, places like this exist in parallel to the galleries and museums.Both for the public, often artists, and for artists who show, this provides belonging to a community around a common interest: Art, which I think is enriching in order to develop their artistic universe. For then, perhaps approaching the more “professional” side …

These are also places where the curatorial projects of artists or young curators may take shape. An experimental ground as well as festive at times.

Finally, it is quite rewarding and nice to be invited by another artist … thank you Caroline Bachmann and Stefan Banz for participation in the project of the Kunsthalle Marcel Duchamp!

And thank you to you and * The flâneur

Les espaces alternatives sont des lieux de rencontres qui cultivent des dynamiques artistiques. Il est important que dans une ville, des endroits comme cela existent en parallèle aux galeries et musées.

Autant pour le public, souvent des artistes, que pour les artistes qui exposent, cela procure une appartenance à un milieu autour d’un intérêt en commun: l’Art, ce qui me semble enrichissant afin de développer son univers artistique. Pour ensuite peut-être aborder le côté plus “professionnel“…

C’est également des espaces où des projets curatoriales d’artistes ou de jeunes curateurs peuvent prendre forme. Un lieu d’expérimentation mais aussi festif par moment.

Enfin, c’est assez valorisant et agréable d’être invité par un autre artiste…merci Caroline Bachmann et Stefan Banz pour la participation au projet de la Kunsthalle Marcel Duchamp !!

Et merci à toi et à The flâneur*


Place d’arme / Quai de l'indépendance,
CH-1096 Cully, Switzerland

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