Many of life's most interesting situations arise from unexpected encounters with strangers. Don’t Talk to Strangers was conceived to lead viewers into such experiences by integrating the unexpected into the very structure of an exhibition.
The book retraces some of the dialogues that emerged from the exhibitions, which took place in New York and Zurich, somewhere between the openness of an art space and the intimacy of a stranger’s home.
A chance meeting in the street, a vision on the bus ride home, even a website stumbled upon by accident can channel the power of the unknown into richly evocative new experiences.
The dialogues found in this book are a result of the exhibition Don’t Talk to Strangers, which took place in New York and Zurich. What’s special about it? It was conceived to lead viewers toward new experiences by integrating the unexpected into its very structure.
Artists presented their works in the privacy of strangers’ homes, while items belonging to those same strangers (furniture, books, and personal objects) were reinstalled in a public art space. Once the exchange was completed, gallery visitors were invited to ask private hosts, whose phone numbers were available alongside their displayed belongings, about the opening hours of their newly appropriated “home galleries,” a far more personal experience.
Visitors searching for a contemporary art fix were instead led on a pilgrimage in the name of art, replacing the passive act of viewing with an open and unpredictable experience of exploration. The initial disappointment at the lack of works within the art space thus became a chance to discover far more than the art itself in exchange for taking the time to do so.
A stranger’s home offered the perfect setting, the grand stage from which a narrative could weave itself between host, viewer, and work of art, linking private and public spaces and quite possibly making someone’s personal experience an inseparable part of the art on display.
If Don’t Talk to Strangers offered a more personal system for viewing contemporary works, it’s only because those involved with the exhibition accepted a leap into the unknown. Maybe, by reading through some of narratives we’ve retraced as dialogues in this book, you will too.
September 8, 2015Book presentation at Sundowner, an event series that brings people together every other Tuesday on the terrace of the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin.
June 18, 2015 Official book release at the Art Book Fair I Never Read in Basel, Switzerland.
Home Stories with Cory Arcangel, Alejandro Cesarco, Peles Empire, Selina Grüter & Michèle Graf, Aloïs Godinat, Federico Herrero, San Keller, Karin Lehmann, Richard Long, Thomas Moor, Karyn Olivier, Linda Tegg, Slavs & Tatars, and Strangers.
With special contributions by Ahmet Bugdayci (New York), Samuel Leuenberger (Basel), Cory Arcangel (New York), San Keller (Zurich), and various strangers.
If you want to learn what strangers from a faraway city said to San Keller when he asked to be let into their homes with a copy of this book in his hand, you can call San Keller (phone number is published on page two).
Publisher: Kodoji Press
Graphic Design: Atlas Studio
Alejandro Cesarco, whose work often explores the relationship between words and images, took part in Don't Talk to Strangers by publishing a booklet that retraces a dialogue he held with the collector Christoph Schifferli. The two exchanged stories (contributed by Cesarco) and images (taken from Schifferli’s collection of film stills), which were compiled for the occasion of the exhibition.
Everything starts with an idea that leads to a dialogue.
During the Don't Talk to Strangers exhibition in Zurich, the publication was placed in Christoph Schifferli’s extensive library on a shelf where Alejandro Cesarco’s previous books were usually stored. Those same books were put on display in the art space.
Cesarco dedicated the booklet to John Baldessari and Raymond Roussel.
The publication is kindly supported by Stadt Zürich and Ernst and Olga Gubler-Hablützel Stiftung.
Images: Selected film stills from the collection of Christoph Schifferli.
Texts: Excerpted from the bookshelves of Alejandro Cesarco.
Artists present artworks in strangers' homes in Zurich. In each household, an installation area will be designated, while existing items (furniture, books, and personal objects) will be reinstalled in the art space.
With the artworks thus displaced, visitors must directly contact the private hosts, whose phone numbers are available alongside their displayed belongings at Réunion.
The art world disrupts the private sphere and vice versa
Visiting another’s home leaves a lasting impression. From the authors on the bookshelves to the contents of the refrigerator, a personal dwelling offers almost imperceptible information about one’s life. Much the same, the artistic qualities of memories made in such a home correlate to the environment in which they occurred. This is a pivotal facet of Don’t Talk to Strangers, which atomizes preconceived notions of the gallery proper by casting a peculiar hue on the entrancing properties of that which we cannot live without: art.
Overlap of Public and Private Space
In this reappropriation of an exhibition, artists present installations in the households of participating Zurich residents, rather than in the Réunion art space. Curators work closely with each dwelling’s artist to designate an installation area from which all existing items are relocated and installed at the gallery space.
Once the exchange is complete, viewers are invited to contact private hosts, whose phone numbers are available alongside their displayed belongings, to ascertain operation hours of their newly appropriated “home gallery.”
A Far More Personal Experience
By design, Don’t Talk to Strangers challenges viewers’ expectations and impishly suggests an alternative experience that is far more intimate than typical art viewings in gallery settings. While visitors of Réunion are initially denied access to the work they desire, they find reciprocity in elite-access at the cost of their time.
This inventive model encourages a deeper level of participation by diverting the impulse to passively consume. If the viewer takes full advantage, each visit to the art space offers another phone number, another unique experience, and another opportunity for adventure.
The heightened sense of participation, contacting hosts and making appointments, results in a heightened sense of investment. In this way, Don’t Talk to Strangers’ reaches beyond an exhibition. Viewers searching for a contemporary art fix will be challenged to pursue a pilgrimage in the name of art, allowing exploration to play a role in their eventual experience of the work.
Consequently, the initial disappointment from lack of artwork becomes a chance to discover far more than the artwork itself.
Polyphonic Roles of Host and Viewers
Meanwhile, the host wears many hats—fellow man, homeowner, art expert, guide, and institution. By welcoming viewers into their home, they also welcome the possibility of new perspectives and interpretations of the artwork at hand.
Though the newly-formed relationship between host and viewer may end post-viewing, while together, both parties are of one ambition: to let art happen outside of the institutionalized art world, as well as to rediscover their autonomy as art viewers and enthusiasts.
Such a circumstance, however, also forces the host into a position of influence, just as any art institution influences its patrons. As a result, the host’s life story is on display like the art in their home. This creates a more personal system for viewing contemporary works: an intimate environment that will no doubt lend itself to a fond and vivid memory in the archive of the viewer’s life.
Random Institute entreats its audience to bask in the unknown and to reap the reward of memories, knowledge, and experience. The home of a stranger offers the perfect setting, the grand stage from which a narrative will naturally emerge amongst the trio of host, viewer, and artwork. This narrative becomes both a tale closely linked to the home and, quite possibly, an inseparable part of the artwork displayed in Don’t Talk to Strangers.
ARTISTS Alejandro Cesarco / Alois Godinat / Cory Arcangel / Federico Herrero / Karin Lehmann / Peles Empire / Richard Long / San Keller / Selina Grüter & Michèle Graf / Slavs and Tatars
The exhibition took place from February 6th–17th at Réunion in Zurich. Art works could be visited at the apartments of the hosts, independently of Réunion’s hours of operation. → Facebook Event
The first edition of the show took place in New York.
The project is kindly supported by Stadt Zürich and Ernst + Olga Gubler-Hablützel Stiftung. We would like to thank all hosts, as well as Ringer Collection (Zurich) and Galerie Tschudi (Zuoz) for their collaboration.
Juliette Chrétien (Project Plan) & Matthew Cianfrani (Installation Views)
Home is where the art is.
Because the curators’ project was to take an existing artwork out of the art world and reinsert it in a place central to its concerns (in this case that place was the “home”), Guido van der Werve’s film was not screened at the Museum Bärengasse (now Gasthaus zum Bären). Instead, the TV screens comprising the installation simply showed the first frame of van der Werve’s film.
The show Learning from Warsaw was curated by Nele Dechmann, Nicola Ruffo, and Agnieszka Sosnowska and was the result of their two month research activities in Warsaw. The curators found inspiration in the architectural classic Learning from Las Vegas.
The exhibition was accompanied by a catalogue designed by Atlas Studio, which was honored with a Most Beautiful Swiss Books award. It was edited by Nele Dechmann, Nicola Ruffo, and Agnieszka Sosnowska.
The project was made possible by Artists-In-Residence Laboratory at the CCA Ujazdowski Castle and was supported by the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia, the Warsaw City Council, and Kultur Stadt Zürich.