Vertigo-inducing floor painting to combat mean diseases

“Mosquitoes, flies, ticks and bugs may be a threat to your health, at home and when traveling”, says the World Health Organization (WHO) on this year’s World Health Day. In an attempt to draw attention to so called “vector-borne diseases”, and explain how to prevent them, the Geneva-based organization made a vertigo-inducing floor painting at their headquarter and at London Heathrow Airport. Together with my daughter, we had the chance to swing by WHO to check it out. Take a look at this mind-boggling piece!

WHO Illusion 1

Now, what are we looking at…? A cracked road? A hole? A look into the future? Or the past? We see a giant, evil-looking, mosquito buzzing away from a little girl holding an ill-looking doll in her arms. A woman with a baby sitting next to a pile of trash. A water-filled car tyre. A pile of something blue. The illustration-illusion-thingy makes us wonder who these people are, if they are good health, and whether the skeeter has bitten them or not!

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Like Josi and me, most people stop, look, smile, jump and have their photo taken next to the “3D illustration” that was developed by London-based Red Door Communications. What a clever way to catch people’s attention! At Heathrow, WHO used the floor painting as a platform to test air travelers’ knowledge about malaria, dengue, schistosomiasis, leishmaniasis, onchocerciasis and other unpronounceable diseases. Take a look here:


My bicycle route to work takes me past Broken Chair in place des Nations. I grind my way up avenue de la Paix. On my left is the Russian Permanent Mission and then the International Museum of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. I look up at the former Geneva Carlton Hotel - now the head quarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross. The next building on the left of Peace Avenue is the Permanent Mission of the United States. On my right all the way is the United Nations.

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For three years, the hill which houses the Museum and upon which sits the ICRC is a massive construction site. Now the cranes are gone. The rubble is grassed over. The ICRC’s new visitor centre is a design master stroke. Two enormous, tiered, horizontal glass facades are set into the hill. I hear later that a stipulation handed down to the designers, Group 8, is that the new structure should not compete visually with the grandeur of the ex-Carlton. But, just as the sun rises over the distant alps on a crisp March morning, it does compete and beautifully so. It strikes a bold contrast of old and new: traditional stone, plaster, tiles and shutters versus modern, minimal, doorless glass.

Above the Museum there is the new centre’s restaurant. It too has stunning design features.

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A huge circular opening in the roof overhang accommodates a mature cedar tree: an ingenious juxtaposition of cement, glass and nature.

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Looking for more, I enter the restaurant. I am the first of the day’s customers for coffee. Mont Blanc stands tall in the distance. I like this place.

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An elegant, sleek, clean, curvy and cool guggenstairwell takes me into the heart of this ambitious project housing a new conference facility – the Humanitarium – and a refurbished Museum. The name of the first invites a look at what happens in the second.

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Red Cross people tend to favour rather sober surroundings for their deliberations. But, the atmosphere of the high-tech Humanitarium is mood-lightening. This is due, in part, to faux-clouds cleverly created by the shapes of and lighting between vertical ceiling panels. Bravo, Group 8!

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I meet the Director of the Museum, Roger Mayou. What does the reconstruction mean for his domain? He explains it brings additional space especially for temporary exhibitions. I ask him what aspects of the whole project he is most pleased with. He bristles with pride – and rightly so – inviting me to take a tour.  I am to discover that the spirit of innovative design that catches my eye from outside bores deep into the permanent exhibitions of the Museum.

The “humanitarian adventure” is a stunning ensemble of three contrasting visual concepts each interactive and each the brainchild of a different architect: “Defending human dignity”  - Bravo, Gringo Cardia!, “Restoring family links” - Bravo, Diébédo Francis Kéré! and “Reducing natural risks” – Bravo, Shigeru Ban! The exhibitions are joined by the common thread of witnesses. Each witness is a life-size touch-screen image; to hear his or her story I press my fingers against an outstretched hand.

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The message tree, Architect: Diébédo Francis Kéré, Photo credit: MICR Alain Germond

One theme bowls me over. “Restoring family links” is poignant in the extreme. I push through a dense curtain of limb-entangling chains. The links slide coldly over the back of my hand: the hand that will, in a few minutes, initiate contact with witnesses who have lost links to family through conflict. This is a design feature that is brilliant and engaging; it is a little unsettling. In my experience, touch is a sense rarely stimulated in museums.

The first display I encounter in this theme is the mind-numbing collection of 6 million registration cards of the International Prisoners of War Agency established by the ICRC in 1914 shortly after the outbreak of World War I. There is a desk where I can carry out my own search for an individual prisoner. My second encounter is with the “message tree.” Its branches  are hung with Red Cross messages: sometimes the only means of contact between detained people and their loved ones. Powerful! Visit this Museum!

This week, the United States threatens Russia over military forces and flags in Crimea. The stuff of war! Diplomats in their black limousines, shuttling heatedly up and down avenue de la Paix between the respective Permanent Missions, must pass right in front of the Humanitarium and the Museum. I hope they too notice the glass facades and stop to see what is behind them.

Miriam Kerchenbaum and the Dragon

Miriam Kerchenbaum 1I have encountered her work in the past, I have even bought one of her paintings. So I arrange to meet Miriam Kerchenbaum to talk about her exhibition next week in Carouge at Galerie Marianne Brand.  I cannot escape a glimmer of apprehension. Do her other-world images represent her character? I meet her in her studio and am happy to report that she is calm, charming and articulate. Her discourse is reassuringly at odds with the subject matter of her work. She recounts with total objectivity her eclectic influences ranging from Giotto to the Simpsons via Hieronymous Bosch, art brut and Paul Klee. She attributes her fertile imagination to her parents; her father was a painter and her mother, a biologist.

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Theatre poster for “Mein Kampf (farce)”, 2007.

Miriam studied fine arts in the 1990s. Now, she divides her time between her studio and acquiring stage props for Geneva’s bijou theatre culture. No surprise then that she is solicited to produce posters and flyers for a wide variety of theatrical productions. She acknowledges with modesty that her unusual work is immediately recognisable and has won her wide acclaim. The high point of her creative career, she tells me, is when she first saw one of her posters on the side of a Geneva tram.

Miriam’s reputation has won her an invitation from Drozophile publications  to illustrate a book of her choice. There is something inevitable about the publication she chose: Evgeny Schwartz’s “The Dragon.” She exhibits these illustrations at Galerie Marianne Brand from 6 to 10 March.

The Dragon tells the story of a Soviet-era Lancelot who sets out to slay the dragon: a soul-destroying Stalinesque figure. The dragon, of course, is only the figurehead of a brutal and all-powerful bureaucratic hierarchy. Meet the dragon in his childhood!

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Illustration for “The Dragon,” 2013.

The adult dragon-in-power has perfected his forced smile and the means to drain people’s souls.

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Illustration for “The Dragon,” 2013.

Miriam’s work is difficult to describe. Resist the temptation to refer to it as childish. It evokes words like absurd, grotesque, humourous, visceral, imaginative and intriguing. Whatever, all her work is carefully composed and beautifully executed. The apparent naivity of her technique is often enhanced by her materials. Many of her paintings are on brown paper stitched along the edges or on graph paper. I find them compelling and mesmerising because they are intensely narrative. I am drawn into their stories. If a critic, richly endowed with artspeak, were to point out that Miriam Kerchenbaum “lays bare the essence of the human condition,” I wonder if, for once, these well-worn words might just be appropriate.

“Utopique Airlines” is a showpiece for Miriam’s technical abilities.

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“Utopique Airlines,” mixed materials on paper, 99cm x 100cm, 2010.

When I first saw “Seduction,” I burst out laughing. This is why I bought it. Who is being seduced? What is on the menu? Don’t you love the little serrated edges on the knives? Delicious and vicious! Is this about gluttony?

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”Seduction,” acrylic on paper 15cm x 25cm, 2009.

If you can make it to the opening vernissage of Miriam’s exhibition at Galerie Marianne Brand on 6 March, you might get to meet her …. and the dragon. Don’t be afraid!

Aussie frogs

GarthThe last time I see him in England, he is wearing his trademark battered top hat. He struts his muscomorpha stage persona. A frenzied crowd reach out to touch of his silver-skull-encrusted costume. The Divide is pumping out wave upon wave of metal sound for the last time. The band’s front man, Mr Fly is buzzing off to Oz. Few fans know that this one-time-graphic-designer-outragious-cartoonist-retired-policeman who harbours a profound passion for and knowledge of herpetology is heading downunder forever; maybe because there is only one species of frog in England; there are 208 species of frog in Australia.

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Scarlet-sided Pobblebonk, Limnodynastes terraereginae

You have met Garth before. He Talks Beautiful Stuff from Queensland, Australia. I visit him there and we do a road trip to the Glass House Mountains. It is hot. Storm clouds gather. His excitement mounts. “Tonight,” he says with relish, “we go frogging!”

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Graceful Tree Frog, Litoria gracilenta

It starts with late evening lightning. Fat raindrops splash onto the dusty tarmac of a back country road. Fifteen minutes later, the downpour makes it is difficult to see through the windscreen. Moving at 5km/hour, our headlights are picking out hundreds upon hundreds of frogs that have lain dormant in the brutal Australian heat waiting for the rain and the opportunity for mating brought by the temporary puddles and streams.

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Great Barred Frog, Mixophyes fasciolatus

It is early morning and a soaked Garth is still leaping out of the car every ten metres to chase, net and photograph the objects of his life-long passion. Each image will be minutely examined and catalogued once the frog is identified.

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Stony Creek Frog, Litoria Wilcoxii

On the drive home through sleeping Brisbane suburbs, he tells me that he is going to turn his hand to serious herpetological illustration. For the results of this decision, see above! I am happy that Talking Beautiful Stuff is first to publish his truly beautiful and precise work. It is a labour of love.

Art Genève 2014

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The first thing at Art Genève that I notice going up the escalator is a tree hanging from the ceiling. Then I notice two more. Their roots are not much above head height. The branches get lost in the massive steel infrastructure of Palexpo. Henrik Håkansson’s “Three Hanging Trees” makes you stop and think.  The work is disconcerting but people wander around underneath it chatting happily.

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Henrik Håkansson, Three Hanging Trees, 2014

There are 68 galleries represented this year. The exhibition spaces are staffed by pleasant young men and women sporting young beards, narrow ties and woollen miniskirts. Some are guardians of really important works. I find the odd Picasso, Miro, Hirst and Hodgkin. But as this event is dedicated to “contemporary art,” there is no small quantity of broken pieces of wood, plastic bottles, infantile daubs, torn shirts, burnt paper and photos of mum. Even if, on the kissing stakes, the frogs outnumber the princes, it is worth the trip to Palexpo. Bravo to the organisers! Art Genève: another Art Basel in the making?

If you go this weekend, here are some of the young royals to look out for…..

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Alexander Kosolapov, Molotov Cocktail, Acrylic on Canvas, 140cm x 117cm, 1999

Works by Gilbert and George always contain images of themselves. And yes, there they are!

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Gilbert and George, Gunpoint, Mixed media, 151cm x 127cm, 2011

A young women comments to her friend “O….M….G…..!! It’s a vagina!” I’d love to know what Keith Sonnier would say to this.

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Keith Sonnier, Bamboo sheets no.4, Neon / argon, 76cm x 57cm, 2001

I come across this really beautiful, powerful, balanced and textured “painting” by Donald Sultan.

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Donald Sultan, Lantern Flowers Liquid Blacks Sept 24, Enamel, tar and spackle on tile over masonite, 122cm x 244cm, 2010

In my opinion, Kim Sooja’s remarkable photo “To Breathe – A Mirror Woman” sits on the throne this year.

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Kim Sooja, To Breathe – A Mirror Woman, Duraclear photopgraphic print in light box, 185cm x 138cm x 16cm, 2006/2009