Zurich & Elsewhere
Modern Matter takes a look at the way in which Switzerland has redefined the global world of contemporary culture: from Lausanne, St. Gallen, Basel and Lucern, to London,
Los Angeles, Glasgow, New York, and Berlin, art’s Swiss influence is expanding a long way beyond Zurich.
P 74 – 77 Valentin Carron
Works chosen by Modern Matter.
P 78 – 80 Olaf Breuning
In discussion with Gianni Jetzer.
P 81 – 91 Kunst Talk
Switzerland calls, London answers.
P 96 – 105 The Best of Young Switzerland
A conversation Between
& Gianni Jetzer
Olaf Breuning and Gianni Jetzer have been friends since the 1990s, and as such, were only too comfortable having a conversation with each other over Skype for Modern Matter: so comfortable, in fact, that Breuning conducted his half of the discussion from the confines of a hammock on the grounds of his ranch, and proudly displayed his sandals for the camera. Both are perfect examples, in their own way, of the ‘Zurich & Elsewhere’ phenomenon (both were born in Switzerland, and now split their time between New York City and their homes in the U.S. countryside) — Jetzer is the former director of the Swiss Institute, and now the curator of Unlimited at Art Basel, while Breuning has shown everywhere from N.Y.’s Metro Pictures to Munich’s Haus Der Kunst, to great acclaim from the art scene and the internet-savvy alike.
The benefits of – and the challenges posed by – the new fluidity of the contemporary art world, both in media and in modes of practice.
Well, for me, first of all, the world is a very colourful place; it’s not simple, and there isn’t one image of it. It was always complicated, but in the internet age, it appears to be even moreso. So for me, as an artist — I feel very comfortable about reacting to that fact with different media, and interacting with that world: make movies, drawings, photos, whatever.
Lately, someone told me that he had seen a show, and I was kind of surprised because the show itself was on another continent. And he said: “No, I’ve seen it on the internet!” And so we had this huge discussion about whether it counts if you see a show on the internet. His firm position was that it doesn’t really matter any more, and he’s probably right, because we see a lot of shows, and we develop an opinion for ourselves even when we haven’t seen them. So there is a fluidity [in contemporary art], for sure, but I think I’m more interested in those blank spots: I’m interested in not showing, rather than showing, and I’m more interested in triggering the imagination than in delivering things directly.
So you would prefer to react against the fluidity of today? You want to make another point with it?
I think that it can be a little like a mirage in the desert. What I look at on the internet is everything that can be shown on the internet. People ask me why performance art is so successful these days, and I think one of the possible reasons is that it looks great. People take pictures, and they put it online, and it looks great, and it’s really inspiring. The same thing for your photographs; I think they work really well on social media, for example, or spread through the internet, because they are quite close to the original.
More on Modern Matter issue 7, Postmodern.
Switzerland talks, London listens
Portraits by Lukas Wassmann
MM: Your interest in Shamanism — it’s something that’s more apparent in some of your work, but is it an influence in general?
FM: I developed an interest in shamanism through the use of psychedelic substances that alter the mind, like mushrooms, or LSD. So I kind of naturally, through experimentation with these substances, came to Shamanism. My first experience with mushrooms was shortly before I had a show at Galleria Fonti in Naples in 2007. But I had used the imagery which, as far as I’m concerned, connects with this kind of experience before I had used these substances, so I was always interested in the mystical, and the idea of images from ‘the beyond.’
MM: What do you think it is which makes Switzerland a popular base for artists?
FM: I think it has to do with the market — that well-established galleries are based in Switzerland. And also in the support that artists get in the beginning from the state. Pro Helvetia is pretty important to artists here who are just starting out. I think there’s a good support system, and there are a lot of spaces — like the Hacienda and others — which help to create an art scene. And to sustain it, most of all, financially.
MM: You were born in Switzerland, but you undertook your art education in Los Angeles — what was the time that you spent working in L.A. like?
NK: I actually did it in different places — I did it, on one hand as well, in London. I went to Byam Shaw for my Bachelor’s degree, and then I was in the Mountain school, as well, in L.A. For me, it was really important to be away from the ‘small town’, and the small country [Switzerland] that I grew up in. [These places] are very different — and there are very different ways in which people talk about art, I find. That was the one thing which I was always really interested in: that in London you would talk a lot, whereas in Switzerland, you don’t talk that much. Which I kind of like, as well.
MM: There’s an interview with the Swiss artist Tina Braecher where she says that the difference between the U.S. and Switzerland in art was that Americans didn’t take art as seriously as the Swiss do. Is that true?
NK: [Laughs] Knowing her, I know exactly how she meant it — I do think it’s exactly that. But it’s not so much that they don’t take it as seriously as that they don’t want to take it as seriously. They like to have humour as the first thing, so they want to keep it like that — they want to keep the humour as their goal, so they don’t want to be serious.
Fredi Fischli & Niels Olsen:
MM: What advantages do you think that youth might bring to the business of being a curator?
F&N: To work at an established institution like the ETH Zurich is quite a contrast to working on an independent project [like Studiolo]. But also, the idea of working with a younger generation like us came from the Institute; the professors followed our program at Studiolo — where we exhibited both art and architecture — and recognized a new mode of curating from the one they were familiar with. They wanted to connect the exhibition program more with their students, and also with a broader audience.
MM: You’ve worked on shows internationally (one, for instance, at Herald St. here in London in 2012) — how does the curation experience vary from place to place? Might there be said to be a specifically ‘Swiss’ approach to arts and curation which doesn’t exist elsewhere in the world?
F&N: Yes, and the context makes a huge difference. In the case of the exhibition at Herald St, we thought about what is close and well known to us here [in Switzerland], but not in the contemporary art context of London. For a long time we’ve been huge fans of the artist Friedrich Kuhn, and although Bice Curiger organized a retrospective at the Kunsthaus of Zurich [in 2008] he never became visible outside of this ‘local’ context. In his work, there are similarities to English Pop Art, so we hoped that this would enable people to connect with it on a familiar level.