Franz Burkhardt and other artists build Canal Street – a Littmann Cultural Project

Canal Street, Part 1. Schorenweg 9, Arlesheim.

Accessible almost exclusively by car. Streets without sidewalks. Industrial zone, an empty warehouse. On the second floor, a street: the aforementioned Canal Street. A street inside a building—not buildings on a street.
In Manhattan, a very large and very real Canal Street divides Soho from Tribeca. It is a wide street that carries a lot of traffic from the Hudson to the East River—a cross street with rows and rows of shops. Where goods practically gush out of the stores. In New York, the street is legendary; there, they say, “Canaaal.”
Very likely there are Canal Streets everywhere, in Amsterdam or Stockholm. A particularly famous one is the Canal Grande in Venice. But there is also one nearby—in Arlesheim, namely.

Cathedral of erotic misery

The “Canaaal” at Schorenweg 9 should actually be called Franz Burkhardt Street, after its builder. Since the end of April, ever since the carpet dealer lugged his rejected wares to the top floor, Franz B. (actually a gifted creator of figurative drawings, born in 1966 in Wolfenbüttel, Germany) has joined the ranks of construction workers. Using light materials—so-called bulk rubbish, trash, and found pieces—he has built a one-story street with two sides. It looks almost like a mirage, a trompe l’oeil. Deceptively real and totally fake. But rendered with such accuracy, such sensitivity, that the visitor rubs his eyes and sees art. Installation art—or, better: environment. Cinecittà.

Burkhardt, the erotomanic artist who usually produces drawings, is now building and painting streets. The name Kurt Schwitters comes up, and with it, the notion of the Merzbau as a cathedral of erotic misery. Franzbau. With the drawings facing it, the first sign promises “Culture & Leisure,” just like the artist in his live/work space in Meuschemen, Belgium (how could it be otherwise?).
A grandiose, obviously dilapidated dwelling place, you can see and smell the wonderful patina Franz has given his buildings. Dirty tiles and torn-out electricity cables, blinds, feathery light washbasins, yellowing radiators, dusty windows. He’s christened his favorite bar “Chouette,” or Night Owl, and it’s very nice, clearly a nightspot. Anyone who went to the tea ceremony at 13 A Canal Street, or didn’t manage to acquire a pile of carpets will certainly find comfort here. The boon of the “modest lifestyle” proposed here emanates dazzling charm, as if the Hartz Concept had also arrived in Basel. A chamber of curiosities, of poverty and beauty. Ivory Coast in the shop window.

Cycle of Needs

Klaus Littmann and Franz Burkhardt offered other artists some territory; Markus Wirthmann’s aquarium project is already cleansing an eternal cycle of self-sustaining needs; a prayer automat with more than a thousand offerings fills the spiritual void. Others things will be added in part two, including street fairs.
“It’s best to do what you can do best,” Franz plastered on a wall. He has lived up to this risky ambition. But he hasn’t fulfilled another: do nothing very quickly. Indeed, the opposite is true.

Guido Magnaguagno was head of the Museum Tinguely from 2001 to 2009. Prior to that, he was assistant director at the Kunsthaus Zurich. These days he is a freelance curator.

Rows of Shops and Spaces Along Canal Street

Arlesheim. For weeks Franz Burkhardt has been building his Canal Street in an old factory in this small village. It’s the artist’s biggest project to date; up until now, he has been mainly known for his drawings. In cooperation with Klaus Littmann, he has realized several public art works.
Canal Street is not a setting for a fictitious street. Rather, it is a Gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art, with fascinating dimensions and details. A variety of shops and spaces are lined up, one after the next: a carpet store, a Chinese tea house, a gaming arcade, a gallery, a shop with West African sculptures, a bar. Real exhibits and objects—including some that are for sale—are mixed with what could be called reproductions of furnishings, such as mailboxes, heating units, IWB utility boxes, sinks, stickers, and posters. Working very elaborately, Burkhardt has made them so that the eye cannot distinguish them from their originals. Many carefully applied layers of paint provide a patina that gives Canal Street an intentionally shabby appearance.
One remarkable thing about this project is its size: inside a one-thousand-square-meter hall, the street segment is 160 meters long, while each façade is 2.5 meters high.
The street’s façades are not yet finished. Canal Street. Part 1 is the first phase, which will be extended after the summer vacation. The street will continue to grow and change. Besides Franz Burkhardt, Brad Downey, Danful Yang, Markus Wirthmann, Oliver Sturm, Stefan Winterle, and Fabian Mohnheim are involved in the first part. Other artists will join them.

Rafael Suter