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Zur frohen Aussicht: Art Installations that Play on the theme of “Home”

The seven promising young artists chosen to show work in the village-wide summer exhibition “Zur frohen Aussicht” (“To the Happy View”) came to Ernen in March earlier this year. In inclement weather, they had to be convinced that the village was more than just a sleepy alpine town. The main square was void of people, the residents hunkered down inside their wooden houses because of the rain. But each artist had come to determine what their installation would be, and where it would best be placed, so each one would look at the village with a keener eye. For together, artists Moritz Hossli, Thomas Julier, Andreas Kalbermatter, Céline Liebi, Celia und Nathalie Sidler and Kathrin Zurschmitten − hailing from other places in Wallis and the rest of Switzerland – had been asked to reflect Ernen’s unique pulse in new works of art.

What is Ernen today, and how does present itself? What motivates and inspires its residents? In a wide variety of artistic forms – video art to architectural sculpture, sound installations to performance – what resulted was each artist’s answer to those enquiries. What’s more, their installations sharpen perception and boost appreciation of various aspects of the village and its inhabitants, not just for visitors from out of town, but also for those who live here year round.

At the official opening of the “Zur frohen Aussicht” on Saturday, July 8, Francesco Walter, who heads the cantonal Cultural Advisory Board and is also Vice-President of the Ernen municipality, introduced the exhibition’s Curator, Josiane Imhasly on the scenic Dorfplatz. Some 100 people joined to hear her speak about the artists and their achievements, and afterwards, toast the success of both over local cheese, smoked beef and Walliser wine.

The artists Celia and Nathalie Sidler also colored the opening with political presence in their “Reclaim the Streets!” performance. The sister’s multicolored banners hung prominently around the center of the village, but the event’s call to activism was even more spirited, complete with the raised fists that recalled the two Afro-American athletes at the Munich Olympics. Here in Ernen, their faces hidden by yellow masks, the two artists scrambled onto the Platz and mounted the Cardinal Schiner monument to question the background of the village’s building boom and the rules and regulations that order the Ernen community. Broadcasting through two large megaphones, they reminded us that the Dorfplatz had once been the very center of village life, alluded to the shrinking number of youth in rural communities, and the suspicions of one’s neighbors. The overriding message: “Why not organize ourselves differently? Build a slippery slide on the Dorfplatz!” It was as entertaining as it was thought-provoking.

On Sunday, July 9, the public was also invited to join the artists on a tour through the installations, and get a real feel for the spaces their interventions filled. Artist Moritz Hossli shared the technical details of his insightful “golden bird, “Galgenvogel” a timepiece that he said “stands for all birds” and emerges from the round window at the very top of the historic Rathaus’s façade to chirp its two-tone announcement of every hour. Given that the Rathaus served historically both as high court and prison, the metaphor of the bird as symbol of freedom was nicely chosen. Later, Hossli presented “Warteräume” (”Waiting Rooms”), his second installation (of three) in one of many small and empty Spycher once used to store hay and farming implements. He had labored hard to clear the space and pay tribute to its laboring past, exposing its merits in ancient wood, its 13 individual storage bays for as many parties, and the soft daylight streaming in through the cracks. Admired for its inherent sculptural beauty, though, the empty Spycher also stands as a symbol of an uncertain future.

Having grown up in the area, Thomas Julier deliberately chose to show his work in the space of the old Youth Center, a few modernized, white rooms in the bottom of the historic Kaplaneihaus. He remembered the gathering place, he said, as one “where things were done,” not all of them, good. He drew for his work on recent historical events that were dark, mysterious, and sometimes inexplicable. One of these was the accusation of arson leveled at one local young man who later contended he had spoken with the Devil in the nearby Bonn Valley. In “The Arpeggiator of the Mind,” Julier also points to the excesses of Pan, the iconic images of the late ‘70s, and the “flight” of the modern hang-glider, often contrasting the tenets of Hedonism with those of Catholicism.

Two floors above him on the upper floors of the same building is something of a different kind. Céline Liebi’s elegant installation “Zu Besuch” (“Visiting”) contrasts short citations that Ernen residents gave about their village with photographs of personal treasures in their homes that Liebli thought deserved attention. Whether printed with word or image, Liebi’s white fabric panels are strung taut on lightweight white cords, and apportion the space into neat horizontals. Again, the setting chosen had a tremendous impact on the work; the Kaplaneihaus has been beautifully restored, and its upper windows let in streams of warm light. In the village itself, Liebi’s banners are placed in more unexpected places. To me, a fabric photo that depicted a “Mother of Pearl Madonna” spanned against a simple woodpile was especially ingenious.

Andreas Kalbermatter’s In turn, work captures all the intrigue of Ernen sounds, some of them subtle, some as familiar as the horn and movements of the Postautobus. His work “Echo Chamber” juxtaposes those sounds with hollow, abstract house models that surround the viewer in a primarily dark room. Ours is the circle of “home” within, but over and beyond that, the work invites a catalog of other interpretations. He had pointedly asked for a space that was at street level, so that it could be – like one’s home ought to be − easily accessible.

Finally, Kathrin Zurschmitten’s video work also lives and breathes in a Spycher below the church, and adjacent to the recently restored Hüs uf der Flüe. On a woods walk, the artist said she had marveled at the patterns of change and decay among the fallen leaves, and wanted to incorporate that same sense of transience in her work. In “up wind up,” she plays with the visual and soothing sound effects of hot air on tissue paper, the single material used in the poetic intervention. And her installation also made a case for the exhibition triggering change: For safety’s sake, this Spycher got its very first hand-railing shortly before the exhibition.

In sum, the second “Zur frohen Aussicht,” which links the past to the present, shows as many artistic genres as there are interventions. Charting the artists’ installations makes a delightful way to visit the hidden nooks and crannies of the village, and to appreciate the approach that seven different talents took as they expanded on − and mastered − the challenge given them.

Ernen, Tuesday, 11 July 2017, by Sarah Batschelet

Visit here the website of the exhibition.

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