The High Life

A report from the site-specific PROJECT 1049 held in Gstaad, Switzerland

BY Elisa R. Linn in Critic's Guides | 05 SEP 16

Having worked together running the space Library + in London and on ‘Pleasure Principles’ at La Fondation d'entreprise Galeries Lafayette, Paris, in 2014, artists Raphael Hefti and Paul Kneale set out a new large-scale collaboration with PROJECT 1049. For the Galeries Lafayette project – a residency and group show where they invited artists and poets – they gave participants free rein along the lines of anything's possible, nothing's binding, and PROJECT 1049 is essentially a follow up, based on similar principles. Ostensibly a summer version of LUMA Foundation’s Elevation1049, PROJECT 1049 takes place in front (and behind) the haute volée facade of the Swiss village of Gstaad.

Setting up for the opening dinner of PROJECT 1049, Gstaad

Drawing on their previous collaborations, and collaborators, Hefti and Kneale (who participated themselves with new site-specific and sculptural works) wilfully dodged any strict curatorial format, instead taking the openness of a ‘project space’ as inspiration. Participants came from a range of creative fields: as well as artists, graphic designers (e.g. Dan Solbach who produced an installation with his students from the Geneva School of Art and Design in the waiting room of the train station), writers and curators (e.g. Laura McLean-Ferris who devoted herself to the the topic of lakes in a collection of texts) and poets (who produced 11 ‘poem-objects’, objects based on written pieces scattered throughout the village, under the tile of ‘Publishing House’). As a whole this diversity created a multifarious programme of new works that engaged directly with the status of the exclusive resort town.

That the project was of a community-driven DIY mind-set, rather than just another exclusive summer jolly, was already evident at the opening event. As opposed to the opulence of a fancy ‘stübli’ dinner, an al fresco alternative was organized by a group of artists overlooking a rolling meadow. Food and drink was followed by a modest but rewarding night walk through the dark with astrology of another kind: satellite hacking explained by a hobby scientist and alpinist.

Megan Rooney, f on your tongue, 2016

Early the next day a group of us took a gondola to the high peak of the glacier. Still a bit unsteady on our legs, we climbed up to the 3000 metre-high viewing platform where artist Megan Rooney's voice rang out from speakers positioned in front of the backdrop of the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc.

For Rooney's performance f on your tongue (2016) a textual collage of phrases, some appropriated, mirrored an inner voice lost in a moment of reminiscence and reverie. Seven Oread-like women with dramatic blue eye makeup – resembling Godard’s reenactment of the Odyssey in his film Le Mepris (Contempt, 1963) – and wearing handmade painted costumes with oversized gloves and bulky fingers hovered in choreographed pattern on the ‘peak walk by Tissot’, the first suspension bridge in the world to connect two mountain peaks. The everyday content of the text clashed with the dramatic setting – the dancers seemed to be performing the rhythm of the words, catapulting its narrative into a higher state.

Richard Wentworth talking about his sculpture Röstigraben, 2016

After the climb down from the top station we turned off on a path where the British sculptor Richard Wentworth had located one of his industrial-looking sculptures: a double pair of yellow steel spades joined back to back, forming a ‘V’ symbol, each connected to the other by a hanging chain. The work, titled Röstigraben (the humorous term used to refer to the cultural boundary between German-speaking and French-speaking parts of Switzerland), addressed language strife between the regions of the Bernese Alps and the canton of Vaud. Wentworth (who warned: ‘artist, never try to explain your work!’), holding the 1945 book Miniature Alpine Gardening by British writer Lawrence Donegan Hill in his hands, philosophized about his sculpture tool's original use: What is it that the landscape does to us, and what do we do to the landscape? Tracing the meaning of the act of digging, ‘man penetrating mother earth’ throughout history, the artist linked it to an everlasting attempt to desperately ‘fix the world’ – a possessive gesture that inevitably comes with a colonial aftertaste.  

Julia Tcharfas, Mountain Medecine, 2016

In an old hangar at the nearby Saanen airport, the artist Julia Tcharfas created her own mini-exhibition within the exhibition (Mountain Medicine, 2016). Drawing on her curatorial work for a show about cosmonauts and the birth of the space age at the Science Museum in London, she reimagined the rigidity of a museum display out of a wooden structure and hosted a survey exhibition tracing a medical history of mountains and attempts to conquer altitude – humans striving to the limits of earth to test the limits of the body, just as astronauts journey to the heights of the alps to simulate the extreme conditions of a spaceflight. Archival images and texts are arranged from right to left and bump up against fallacious artistic objects – miniature climbing grips made out of foam.

Laure Provoust, Into All That is Here, 2016

Walking through Saanen along the river we ended up in a trailer park in which a fully furnished caravan, a makeshift holiday home, housed the video work (Into All That Is Here, 2015) by artist Laure Prouvost. Squeezed on a cushioned corner bench in this musty smelling wood-cladded shack, we lost ourselves in the whispering phrases surfacing from the subconscious of the film’s protagonist that collided with a fast cut assemblage of images and sound evoking desires and sensual ‘appetites’. The mixing of the claustrophobic environment and the video’s seductive atmosphere eventually stirred up an uncanny feeling of repulsion, and relief when you could escape.

åyr, Don’t be fooled by the rocks that I got, 2016

Later in the day the guided tour found itself atop of the hill where the Gstaad Palace Hotel stands triumphant, feudally surveying the town built around its myths and legends since its opening in 1913. One of its rooms served as the backdrop of an installation by the collective åyr. Comprised of a tent-like structure suspended through the room, the work takes up the legacy of visionary architect Frei Otto – a pioneer of sustainable and innovative design – and seemed an ironic nod towards the hotel’s opulent, alpine kitsch interior, a recreation of historic styles. Since PROJECT 1049 relies on its site-specificity rather than a exhibition space proper, it faces the constant danger of dissolving into its background, into Gstaad’s theme park-like authenticity. Yet with this comes the possibility to reveal critical strength under the guise of affirmation. We visitors and artists still felt the thrill of stepping into the vanity of the spectacle, trying hard to figure out a way to pay the 40 Swiss Francs for a martini, before retreating to the safe distance of observers.

Main image: Megan Rooney, f on your tongue, 2016. All images courtesy: Marc Asekhame and Project 1049

Elisa R. Linn is a writer and curator. Her forthcoming exhibition and publication, ‘Song of Growth’, at Weiss Falk, Basel, Switzerland, looks to the intersection of ecological, political and social systems in the work of German artist KP Brehmer.