At the edge of little Arlesheim: The grand existence of reality in art

As a rule, the world does not usually travel to Arlesheim—not even through it. Rather, it tends to pass it by. The village is too small for grand narratives. True, it has a cathedral, and starting on June 24, there will be tai chi daily on the cathedral square. It has a couple of respectable mansions with swimming pools, and people like to get married in Arlesheim, perhaps because the village square is invariably peaceful, and because the registry office on the village square makes a “neat, classically stylish impression,” where “ventilation provides plenty of oxygen, despite close quarters,” as it says in the office’s own description of itself.

Arlesheim has also recently acquired a new source of oxygen. Down at Schorenweg 9 it exudes the potential for life into the Arlesheim atmosphere, not far from the waters of the Birs, and this whole thing could become for the village what the Great Oxidation Event, or the Oxygen Crisis, was for the earth 2.4 billion years ago: the end and the beginning of something, the adaptation of local life forms to the presence of a new kind of oxygen, the gate to a new world.

The oxygen is called Canal Street. A street beneath a factory roof, one hundred meters long. It isn’t real; its oxygen is artificiality, but it is nonetheless truthful. Its houses and rooms, buildings and construction sites are a depiction of reality and the architecture of imagination, a three-dimensional painting. It is Cinecittà, Fellini, Potemkin; nothing is real, and yet, everything is genuine. It is a street that begins in the somewhere of nowhere and ends in the nowhere of somewhere. A street that is like a candle burning at both ends. Its boundaries dilute both itself and the boundaries of those who move toward them.

Franz Burkhardt, German artist and bon vivant, is one of the creators of this world and its craftsman; Klaus Littmann is the mastermind. The creators invited—and continue to invite—other artists, including Oliver Sturm (Gebetomat), Fabian Monheim (graphic designer), Michel Blazy (Fontaine de mousse), and Markus Wirthmann (Aquaponic), to add more characteristics to the street. On Wednesday evening at around seven-thirty, the world came at Littmann’s invitation, apparently from all four corners of the earth, to Canal Street in Arlesheim in order to inhale the oxygen of this monumental sculpture, while at the same time exhaling a breath of sophistication. Among them were Arthur Cohn (Oscar winner, flown in from Munich), Edek Bartz (art lover and Alice Cooper’s companion, from Vienna), Cai Liangping (art patron from China, sponsor of the teahouse in Canal Street), Xiaokun Sunny Qiu (Shanghai, exhibits Littmann’s Real Fiction Cinema in China), Javier Ramirez (patron of the arts and friend of the house, from Madrid), Danful and Silvester Yang (delicate Chinese artist with a roll-up-your-sleeves kind of husband from Shanghai). A table as long as a street—eighty meters—stood there, and 182 people sat down to it, including Philippe Bischof, (Head of the Cultural Office in Basel), Lorenzo Rudolf (former art director, now head of Art Stage in Singapore), Christoph Marthaler (theater director), art ladies Vrone Burckhardt and Ulla Dreyfus, Simon Lutz (head of Aqua, which did the catering). Also seated at the table were Andi Spillmann (Landesmuseum), Bernhard Glanzmann (parking garage visionary), Salomée and Edwin Faeh (Carhartt, art aficiandos), Gusti and Annetta Grisard (Kunst und Kapital), Regina and Alex Fischer (formerly president of the art commission), Dorothée and Rudolph Schiesser (artists among hotel directors), Onorio Mansutti (self-explanatory), Beat Curti (former retail giant & media entrepreneur). All turned Canal Street into a stretch along the pathway of their lives for the whole night, until the birds began to chirp. Arlesheim slept, art was in Basel; in Canal Street life melted into one of these moments that have a touch of the eternally memorable. The street became a current of life, a marketplace of stories and a playground for the existential—and for dancing, too, as DJ Mr. Knister gave his beats to the street and some thought that the space-time continuum was something that only existed outside of Canal Street. Sometimes you left the street, ran down the steps and went through the door into the outside, into nature that seemed artificial. And met others, such as Werner von Mutzenbecher (painter), Enrique Fontanilles (artist, activist protesting today at the Messeplatz), and Renate Buser (artist, Frontside, Stadthimmel).

And returned to the “Canal,” where people made the street into a universe, or the street turned them into cosmoses. That’s how it was in Arlesheim on Wednesday night, when a small street was transformed into a big world. Or a big street into a small world. For life’s flaneurs, it’s the same either way.