McLaren’s French Twist on Basel

Amidst the endless celebration of the “new” in today’s art world, Art Basel’s Film Program takes a moment to reflect this week—the final work of the late British artist and punk impresario Malcolm McLaren closed day one of the acclaimed Swiss fair’s 2013 edition. Titled “Paris, Capital of the XXIst Century,” the hour-long feature, premiered shortly before the artist’s death in 2010, is constructed as a collage of found footage set against McLaren’s own soundscape.

“[The film] is a personal and subjective journey that began firstly by ambling through a century’s archive of thousands of cinema commercials about the city (its inhabitants, what it sells, how it looks…)” explained McLaren in an artist’s statement in 2009. “Secondly, by gathering impressions (choosing what to exploit, covet, and keep) jotting them down only when I return to my studio. Then, using these specific scenes as a palette and my voice as a brush, 21 portraits emerged of a Paris I had never witnessed before.”

Utilizing French TV commercials from across the 20th century, McLaren’s oeuvre spans the banal to the exotic—from ads for soft cheese, minced meat, and mineral water to snippets of Catherine Deneuve and Kodak’s Instamatic cameras from the 1960s. McLaren’s unapologetically British perspective on Paris is underlined by the film’s chaotic and non-linear nature, and remains a consummate example of his work, according to the Film Program’s curator, Marc Glöde.

“I think that if you take a closer look at all of Malcolm’s work, you see an intense working process, whatever he was working on,” says Glöde. “Especially with his films, you can discover a continuous interest in different layers of dealing with images. Of course, there is an interest in the political implications of images and how they are used. But especially with Malcolm’s last film, ‘Paris,’ one can discover a beautiful and subtle way of playing with rhythms and forms. It is something that you can only see if you watch the film in its full form and not only excerpts. It is great.”

McLaren’s film joins a full evening program for the week, which includes work by German sound artist Carsten Nicolai (AKA Alva Noto) and the Egyptian artist Hassan Khan’s “Blind Ambition”—shot entirely on cellphones.

“Personally, I am very excited,” says Glöde. “Malcolm was always such an inspiring and unique artist, who had the capacity to challenge our own understanding of art as well as its formal and institutional dynamics. This work, looking young and fresh, stands out and resonates beautifully with younger positions (in the Basel program) that also deal with topics like found footage, commercial images, pop, or institutional critique.”