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By Culturekiosque Staff

BASEL, SWITZERLAND, 19 MARCH 2013 — For most of the past decade, the French artist Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc (b. 1977, French Guyana) has worked with the history of colonisation and decolonisation, in which he explores the complex relationship between the struggle for independence and the construction of identity. Specifically, the Paris-based artist (winner of Le Meurice Award for Contemporary Art 2011) uses drawings, installations, photographs, interviews and archives to counter collective amnesia and erasure of experiences, traumas, historical facts and figures endangered by oblivion or misinterpretation.  

Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc  (b. 1977, French Guyana)

At Kunsthalle Basel, Abonnenc’s new exhibition, entitled Songs for a Mad King, transforms the main exhibition space into a temporary memorial to the music and personality of the American musician, singer, and composer Julius Eastman (1940 – 1990). Eastman’s singular and inimitable contribution to contemporary, avant-garde classical music is on display in Switzerland for the first time, with his three compositions for four grand pianos — Evil Nigger (1979), Gay Guerrilla (1980), and Crazy Nigger (1980) — publicly performed during the duration of Abonnenc’s show. The installation itself (presented at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris as part of La Triennale 2012: Intense Proximity) consists of the grand pianos, which are used during rehearsals held three times a week, as well as during the public concerts taking place every Saturday during the run of the exhibition. Together with professional pianists from Basel, the Parisian conductor Jean-Christophe Marti will rehearse Eastman’s three works for piano in front of the exhibition audience, who will also be asked to participate in the performance of Crazy Nigger.

Evil Nigger, Gay Guerrilla, Crazy Nigger, for Julius Eastman, 2012/2013
4 grand pianos, music scores
Courtesy the artist

The exhibition’s title refers to a 1969 recording, Eight Songs for a Mad King, by Peter Maxwell Davies. At the center of this theatrical musical composition stands the figure of a flamboyant king who attempts to teach a group of caged birds to sing. It was Eastman himself who sang the role of the infamous king in Davies’s recording, leading Abonnenc to title his Kunsthalle Basel show — a work of strange, affecting homage — Songs for a Mad King.

Time schedule public rehearsals and concerts:

Evil Nigger, 1979, Gay Guerrilla, 1979, Crazy Nigger, 1980 -
Compositions for four pianos by Julius Eastman (1940-1990), rehearsals and concerts led by Jean-Christoph Marti, played by the pianists Marta Casulleras, Andriy Dragan, Benoît Hennecart, Lukas Rickli, Faristamo Susi and Judith Wegmann.

Evil Nigger, Gay Guerrilla, Crazy Nigger, for Julius Eastman, 2012/2013
Installation detail
4 grand pianos, music scores
Courtesy the artist



Sunday, 24 March at 6pm: Evil Nigger, 1979; Gay Guerrilla, 1979; Crazy Nigger, 1980

Public rehearsals

Wednesday, 20 March, 2 - 5pm
Friday, 22 March, 2 - 5pm
Sunday, 24 March, 11am - 1pm

The exhibition is supported by the Embassy of France, Berne. In collaboration with La Bottega Del Pianoforte, Lugano. 

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