SWISS (CULTURAL) ROLL
12.07.2012 / The Word / 0 Comments
Sebastian Scotney on why the Swiss presence in London for the Olympics really will make a difference
Switzerland - and Zürich in particular - will be using its presence in London during the Olympic Games as a vehicle to promote the variety and dynamism of its culture. Fifteen other countries will be opening their national hospitality houses to the public - but the focus and purposefulness of the Swiss cultural programme may well shift some perceptions.
House of Switzerland, at Glaziers Hall on the south side of London Bridge, will open its doors from 20 July to 12 August. There will be a live free showcase for eight Zürich rock, pop and jazz groups, including headliners Boy on July 31st, and Estonian-Swiss singer Ingrid Lukas on August 10th; a "Zürich-London Poster Exhibition" in association with the Design Museum/ Museum für Gestaltung, plus events based around games technology, life sciences and animation/design.
I visited Zürich in June to find out more about the back- ground to this very deliberate policy stance, and to meet some of its main instigators.
The City of Zürich has a population of just 390,000. Include the surrounding canton, with its dense and efficient transport network, and it's 1.4 million. You are never far from water. The city is by a lake which runs into the River Limmat, passing through the city centre. There are also over 1200 water fountains. The countryside always feels near, and artists I met describe themselves as "naturverbunden" - connected to nature. From right in the heart of the city you get uplifting vistas onto open country.
Zürich is home to over 50 museums and to more than 100 art galleries. The weekly culture guide Züritipp has 56 packed pages. There is established culture: the Opera, the Tonhalle Orchestra, the Kunsthaus. The city has an office promoting Zürich as a film location, and Zürich has historically been part of radical and modernist movements. A guide proudly showed me Cabaret Voltaire in the Spiegelgasse, the birthplace of Dada in 1916 (when both
Joyce and Lenin were living in Zürich). Le Corbusier's last work, the posthumously built Heidi Weber Pavilion, is in the suburb of Seefeld.
Alongside that sense of history is the feeling that movements in Swiss culture which have been around since the 1980s are coalescing, coming of age. I was there for the official opening of the Löwenbräu Kunstareal, a converted brewery already universally known as the Kunsthalle.
This ambitious project in a converted brewery brings together the city authorities in partnership with private developers and major art galleries such Hauser & Wirth and the Migros Museum for Contemporary Art, as well as the Kunsthalle itself. The Kunsthalle Zürich Association, found- ed in 1986, reinforces that sense of having arrived. It can now, according to its website, "look back on a 25 year itinerant history in temporary facilities" and take "the decisive step of obtaining its own permanent premises." Director Beatrix Ruf writes of the move to the new building as giving Zurich its position as a "crystallisation point for international con- temporary art."
Another initiative, which came to fruition in June, was the Art and the City project in Zürich West, an area of the city that is developing so fast that the visitor is never far from the shadow of a crane on a construction site. As one active member of the scene told me, "It is almost 100 years since Zürich was last developing as dynamically as it is today".
With 30 public art installations, Zürich-West this summer has been turned into "the biggest open air art gallery in Switzerland". It is a personal milestone for curator Christoph Doswald, an experienced curator and a key player in the Rote Fabrik and Shedhalle in the 80s and 90s: "It started all in the 80's. We were a very powerful movement and we succeeded in getting space for 'so-called' alternative culture, which was not supported at all in the city. There was a very political idea behind it: we were not willing to accept what the traditional Swiss cultural politics practiced for, oh I don't know, 200 years. We were interested in pop culture, in street culture, in crossovers of scenes".
With the arrival in 2010 of another member of the same generation, the former journalist, publicist and entrepreneur, Peter Haerle, as the dynamic head of Zurich's culture department, you get the sense of the pace having picked up several gears. Haerle takes the long view: "Cultural policy is a long-term business" he says.
I talked to one of the musicians who will be performing in the London programme. Ingrid Lukas, Estonian-born and steeped in the Estonian singing tradition, signed by Emarcy/Universal, much admired by influential Norwegian musician Bugge Wesseltoft, told me she loves the opportunities which her adopted city offers: "It's good to live here. Living standards are high. It's good to organise music here ".
As a teenager Ingrid Lukas had been a competitive swim- mer. She told me of her dreams back then of participating in the Olympic Games. Next month, as just one of an extremely joined-up culture team, all proud to show off both the stature and appeal of Zurich as a cultural centre, she will make it to the Olympics. Not as a swimmer, but as a singer.
Leave a comment
Make sure you enter the * required information where indicated.