Alpine Breeze in July: Swiss Institute’s Summer Exhibition ‘A Sunday in the Mountains’

Roman Signer, 'Explosion of A Box' (all images courtesy the artist and Swiss Institute, New York)

Roman Signer, ‘Explosion of A Box’ (all images courtesy the artist and Swiss Institute, New York)

Founders’ Note: We’d like to welcome Filthy Dreams’s contributor Osman Can Yerebakan who we met as he was performing in extreme performance artist Ron Athey’s “Gifts of the Spirit: Automatic Writing” workshop and performance at Participant Inc. Read more on Osman on our About page!

Heidi to me has always been one of the most atypical cartoon characters ever. Adventures of this orphan Alpine girl had such an indefinable melancholy that it has never failed giving me unusual blues. Besides her provincial innocence and naivety, Heidi was always undeniably quiet, calm and placid, just like her homeland Switzerland.

When Europe is a discussion, Switzerland is not necessarily the first destination that comes to mind. And when it is actually addressed, the first adjective that is attributed to Switzerland is usually ‘cute’. France is lyrical and cool, Italy is dreamy and romantic, and Switzerland is cute. This very assumption mostly comes from the country’s safe, organized and neutral image among enfants terribles of Europe.

Not hyped as much as its sister countries, Switzerland on the other hand, is not a part of a major controversy or lampoon at the same time. Snowy Alps, savory Emmental cheese and ageless watches are some of the few essentials that make up the Swiss image in the world as well as its systematic military and steady economy.

Visiting A Sunday in the Mountains, the current exhibition at Swiss Institute, shakes these established perceptions towards this Central European country. Inspired by a non-fiction novel with the same title by Daniel de Roulet, the exhibition presents some issues that are not usually pointed out about Swiss culture such as terror, war or consumerism.

Similar to the novel that it is inspired from, the title of the show suggests a breezy and calm Sunday in the Swiss mountains; but again very much like the novel, the title is a slight contrast to the content of the exhibition.

Curated by Gianni Jetzer, the exhibition brings together works that provide a different look at collective Swiss history, and more importantly Swiss culture. A very good example of this approach in the exhibition is two photography works by Karlheinz Weinberger (check out this interview with John Waters on Weinberger). Taken at the very first Rolling Stones concert in Switzerland, these two photographs from 1967 depict then-emerging underground culture among the Swiss youth.

Traces of growing underground culture of the 70‘s are also visible in Andreas Züst’s photographs of spray-painted figures by graffiti artist Harald Naegeli. Züst’s photographs of Naegeli’s politically-infused graffiti works serve as a glorious homage to this rebellious pioneer street artist. It would be fair to say that rebels with dangerous minds are not in the minority in this show.

Superstar duo of the art world Peter Fischli and David Weiss grace the exhibition with their critical work titled “Der Brand von Uster (The Fire of Uster)”. The photograph that mimics the suburban neighborhoods of Uster, the Swiss town where a fire was laid in 1832 to protest the fast industrialization of the city, carries that sarcastic hence declarative voice that the artist duo is known for. In an exhibition that primarily speaks about Swiss culture, objects and images that contribute to the construction of this culture unsurprisingly appear in many playful and allegorical ways.

Oliver Mosset's 'Toblerones

Olivier Mosset’s ‘Toblerones

Olivier Mosset’s “Toblerones” fill the main gallery of this SoHo space with giant versions of Switzerland’s most famous chocolate, Toblerone. Using Matterhorn and a hidden bear in its logo, this chocolate is a key symbol in Swiss culture; and on the other hand, Toblerone is the eponym of anti-tank obstacles used in World War II due to those obstacles’ high resemblance to this infamous chocolate.

Valentin Carronm 'Death Race 2000'

Valentin Carronm ‘Death Race 2000’

While the contrast between sweetness of a chocolate and the bitterness of World War II leaves a bittersweet taste in visitors’ mouths, Valentin Carron’s “Death Race 2000” puts a catty smile on everyone’s faces. At first sight this everyday looking tricycle seems like any other vehicle with its ordinary look; however a second look at this vehicle shows that it is actually a mobile death machine with its additional blades on both sides. Very common in many European countries and especially in Switzerland, bicycle culture and the point that this tradition has arrived in today’s consumerist world gets ridiculed in a concrete yet allusive way.

Chocolate and tricycles are nice but what about explosives? Roman Signer fills this gap with “Explosion of A Box” that uses two well-known common objects in Swiss lifestyle, a compost wire cylinder and a standardized PostPack. What Signer presents in this exhibition is the aftermath of an explosion that destroyed the PostPack inside this wire cylinder. A perfectly executed explosion attempt leaves behind this equally neat installation of a mess. Again in this work, the conflict between the serenity and the chaos salutes the visitors through the traces of mundane Swiss lifestyle.

And I leave the gallery with a strong craving for some Toblerone and a breezy day in the mountains.

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