In the forecourt of the Kunsthaus Baselland, Leopold Kessler (*1976, lives and works in Vienna) premieres his eight-metre-long Volks–Shoeshine Machine (2008) in Switzerland. The fully functioning machine, mostly known — in a smaller format — from hotel lobbies, offers passersby the opportunity to brush their shoes.
Based on the notion of the social pressure of wearing polished shoes which, as much as healthy teeth, represent a successful functioning in society, the artist explores how the machine is used in different environments, and which thematic assignments are associated with it and its use. Its oversized dimension emphasizes the collective-socialist aspect and is here deliberately adapted to contrast with the interests of the individual. The notoriety of the object supports the reaction and action of the passersby, while its unusual length provokes a new and different behavior. The placement of the Volks–Shoeshine Machine in the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris showed that tourists might mostly use the machine in order to photograph each other cleaning shoes. They perceived the installation as a service to them provided by the city. The new adoption of the Volks–Shoeshine Machine on the forecourt of the Kunsthaus Baselland, an institution that is marked by its proximity to sports facilities and an adjoining industrial area — an atypical territory in the classical art field — promises interesting moments of encounter of random passers-by and those interested in the arts, because of the international audience attracted to Art Basel.
With his interventions in public space, Leopold Kessler explores the ‘small’ and the ‘big’ activities people execute in everyday life and those that contribute to succeed in social life. For the video Service Active/Passive (2007) the artist cleaned car windows in New York (under Mayor Giuliani, this was deemed illegal) and gave his earned dollars to a person who handed out soaps and towels in restaurant toilets. In exchange for the socially accepted request of a stranger for a cigarette, he requested a photo of the person doing the inquiring (Schnorrer, 2006—2008, digital slide show with 60 photographs). In these interventions, Kessler questions the current ideas of exchange and service in our society.
Text by Sabine Schaschl