In Switzerland, as in much of the world today, art is increasingly photographic. Abandoning the notion of the artwork as a self-contained, autonomous object, many contemporary artists use photography to document and comment on life around them. New technologies—including digitization and speedier methods of enlargement, editing, and reproduction—have helped break down the division between a straight documentary approach and staged or manipulated art photography, widening the medium’s potential for invention.
Contemporary Swiss photography reflects this international state of affairs while also responding to its own particular history. Not Neutral presents nine artists whose work exemplifies the diverse approaches to photo-based art in Switzerland today. Running through much of their imagery is a de-mythologizing current that addresses both the country’s recent past and its current social situation. Some of the artists focus on ephemeral and marginal aspects of everyday life; others call attention to fashion advertising’s commodifications of the self. Many embrace a new existentialism, questioning conventional notions about reality and the ability of science to define it. All reject stereotypical views of Switzerland and challenge the traditional ideal of distanced neutrality.
(born 1956, in Freiburg, Germany)
Daniele Buetti has exhibited widely in Switzerland, Germany, France and Italy. His series Looking for Love explores the process of identity formation by intervening in commercial advertising’s commodification of the self. At times incising onto fashion photographs the names of international corporations that generate such glittering cultural icons, at times inserting provocative tag lines, Buetti renders explicit what the sleek advertising image usually hides.
(born 1953, in Chur, Switzerland)
Now based in Zurich, Hans Danuser has exhibited throughout Western Europe. In the 1980s his work investigated various industrial-scientific practices: gold refining, atomic experiments, animal husbandry, and physical pathology. Viewing technology as by its very nature Mephistophelean—producing threats as well as benefits—Danuser now employs photography to probe physical evidence from science’s taboo zones. His Frozen Embryo Series III renders microscopic processes visible, confronting viewers with abstracted but potent images.
(born 1960, in Zurich)
After studying in Berlin, Paris, and New York, Katrin Freisager returned to her native city. The enigmatic young women in her series To Be Like You recall those in her large-scale seven-part frieze Living Dolls. Both projects critique mass-media body images, uncovering the sense of isolation and alienation that occupies the flip side of flawless perfection.
(born 1959, in Arau, Switzerland)
Currently residing in Basel, Claudio Moser has participated in solo shows in Switzerland and group exhibitions elsewhere in Western Europe. His photographs often address relationships between past and present as embedded within architecture and landscape. In Moser’s work, nothing is clearly formulated and no viewpoint is specific or obvious. For example, in Otterbach a demolished shop window evokes a violent past act that viewers can never fully know or comprehend.
(born 1947, in Zug, Switzerland)
A resident of the Zurich metropolitan area, Annelies Štrba has exhibited extensively in Switzerland, Austria, England, Australia, and the United States. Over the past decade she has been focusing on a project she began over twenty years ago: a series of photographs chronicling her own family. Her contribution to Not Neutral breaks new ground: a series of video stills depicting aerial cityscapes of Berlin and New York. Appearing like X-rays, these works present major cities as exposed, vibrating skeletons—fulcrums for a furious storm of energy.
Cat Toung Nguyen
(born 1969, in Vietnam)
After pursuing graduate studies in psychology in Bern, Cat Tuong Nguyen turned to art; his work has appeared in numerous group shows in Bern and Zurich, where he now lives. Here he juxtaposes quotidian views of Tokyo—a bustling subway station, urban sprawl—with poetic renditions of a snow-covered mountain and a mysterious forest. Challenging photography’s time-honored status as a documentary medium, Nguyen photographs his subjects through a variety of filters, calling attention to vision’s mediating processes and unmasking “transparency” as an illusion.
(born 1962, in Amsterdam)
A resident of Rome and Genf, Switzerland, Marco Polini has had solo exhibitions in both cities as well as in France and Mexico. His Shadowing the Invisible Man is cast in the form of a storyboard for a documentary film. Seen through the eyes of its off-screen protagonist—an asylum-seeker in Bari, Italy, near the Swiss border—Shadowing incorporates photographs and text to conjure up a film that will never be realized, except in the minds of its viewers.
(born 1969, in Hanau-am-Meinz, Germany)
Born in Germany, Peter Tillessen resided in France before moving to Zurich—where he has lived and worked since 1990. His art has been shown in both solo and group exhibitions in Zurich, Prague, and Berlin. The title of his recent book Gold plays off associations with the precious metal that sustains Switzerland’s banking industry (which has recently come under fire for its Nazi-era activities). Tracing a path through the banal world of everyday urban life, Tillessen mines the fool’s gold of illusory and simulated phenomena: supermarket shoppers examining shiny displays, building materials arranged like installation art, artificial flora, alien sightings.
(born 1964, in Brunnen, Switzerland)
Currently living and working in New York City, Ugo Rondinone has exhibited widely in Europe and the United States. In I Don’t Live Here Anymore, he digitally attaches images of his own head to fashion models’ bodies. Positioning this altered self-portrait within the invented world of fashion glossies, he deconstructs high-style clothing, cosmetics, and attitudes. In so doing, he elicits a world in which, via virtual reality, we may all—regardless of age or gender—transform ourselves into the ideal self propounded by the beauty industry.