Enjoying the unexpected is an essential aspect of any great city break, and this year Dutch artist Malou Cohen was invited to explore the Switzerland’s capital of culture, Basel, in preparation for a special exhibition at Affordable Art Fair Brussels 2024.
In her artistic practice, Malou transforms discarded materials and lived moments into captivating works of art. Her approach is somewhat reminiscent of the Swiss artist Jean Tinguely, who was inspired by the Dada movement and repurposed everyday objects and discarded materials to create his kinetic sculptures and installations. This special collaboration with This is Basel and Switzerland Tourism invites visitors to reconsider the role of unexpected materials and happenings in life and travel.
Famed for being home to an abundance of architectural treasures, from historical landmarks such as the Basler Münster, the city gate ‘Spalentor’ and the former brewery Werkraum Warteck to modern architecture such as The Kunstmuseum Basel’s new building (by Christ & Gantenbein), Fondation Beyeler (by Renzo Piano), Museum Tinguely (by Mario Botta) and Vitra Design Museum (by Frank O. Gehry). Basel, also proved to be full of character, contrast and fountains.
Learn more about Malou Cohen’s practice and why Basel is a perfect canvas for spontaneous experiences by reading the interview below.
Interview with Malou Cohen
What did you enjoy about Basel and what surprised you about the trip?
During my trip to Basel in May, I had the opportunity to stay for two nights and explore the city. Prior to my visit, I had no real expectations, but the city positively surprised me as I roamed its streets. I was amazed by the fact that Basel has so many different neighbourhoods. The city seamlessly blends impressive stately architecture with more raw areas. Both coexist in a natural way. This visual contrast between the two was particularly inspiring for me.
I also appreciated the convenience of the BaselCard, which is provided to every hotel guest on their arrival to a hotel in the city. This card granted me free access to public transport, making it incredibly easy to explore the city.
Basel hosts abundant water features, from the Rhine River running through the city centre to the numerous water points and fountains which can be found across the city. Its vibrant cultural scene and hip restaurants added a very enjoyable dimension to the city.
Found objects and situations play a significant role in your work. How do you select and incorporate these objects into your creative process, and what do they represent in your work?
My work combines found materials and objects with photographs or text heard from conversations in my surroundings. I take photographs of things that catch my eye and resonate with me, often without a specific purpose in mind at the time. When I work on the composition of my works, I take all the different found materials, photographs of my lived situations and play around with them. Each of these pieces represent a fragment of everyday life and together they form new realities. They often look like some kind of theatre stages. For me ordinary or even worthless things are often more precious to me than shiny, new materials.
What objects and situations did you bring back to your studio from your trip to Basel? And can you tell us a bit about the Basel-inspired artworks that you have created?
During my brief but inspiring stay in Basel, I took 350 pictures. It tends to amusing details that catch my attention. In terms of physical materials, I collected some construction foam, fake leaves (in a box outside someone’s doorstep with things to give away) and a bag filled with stones from the beaches next to the Rhine River.
Basel is a very clean city, so it was a challenge to find materials I could work with in the city.
All works I am creating for the ‘Enjoy the Unexpected’ exhibition are based on the weekend I spent in Basel but not all will be recognizable as such. The numerous fountains, for instance, have made me include water in my work and the city’s reliefs drove me to experiment with clay. There were also a lot of new alternative horizons hiding in Basel like hidden landscapes which caught my eye.
Your works often serve as gateways to new worlds. Can you describe the emotions you hope to evoke in viewers when they see your artwork?
I hope to evoke a sense of wonder and curiosity in the viewer, much like the emotions I experience when I stumble upon something truly special. These moments make my daily life more meaningful and playful. I want the viewer to look at the world through fresh eyes, unburdened by preconceptions, and find the extraordinary in the ordinary. It brings me great joy when people get lost in their own dreams while discovering my work.
What would you recommend someone going to Basel for the first time?
Walk around Basel with fresh eyes, and follow your own senses and discover where they take you.